Saturday, August 6, 2011

Keeping Your Maiden Name

Many brides find that the dilemma of taking their new husband’s last name is the most difficult decision to make in marriage. As women, we have grown up with one name that represented our family, our heritage, and our history. Now, we are deciding between the name that we’ve gone by since childhood and the name that has been newly introduced by our husbands’ families, history, and traditions. So, the topic of debate is whether to keep our maiden names or to take our husbands' names.

In choosing whether or not to keep my maiden name, I asked a few of my unwed friends for their advice on the matter. I got some mixed answers, but there were a couple of responses given without hesitation in support of taking the man's name, as these ladies had made up their minds long ago. It could be because they don’t like their maiden names, or because they believe in the tradition, but for whatever the reason, to them it is an unquestionable step in the process of getting married.

I, however, was not so easily convinced. The decision to either keep my maiden name or take my new husband’s last name involved much research, advice-gathering, and deep consideration. I found many compelling arguments for both sides, which influenced my decision and eventually allowed me to come to a conclusion.

Statistically, taking the husband’s last name is by far the most popular option. Although keeping one’s maiden name has gained popularity over the past forty years, approximately 80-90% of brides today take their husband’s last name[1].  Other than simply following tradition, brides may choose to take their husbands’ last name because a) they like their husbands’ last name more than their own (wouldn’t you take “Smith” if your maiden name was “Smellie-Butts”?), b) they want to have the same name to avoid confusion once they have children, c) legal and tax reasons, or d) many other personal reasons. There are also very strong reasons for keeping one’s last name, as well.

The least popular option is rarely the celebrated one. Like most things that go against the grain, the idea of keeping one’s maiden name has been met with harsh criticism from many standpoints. Wives who do not take their husbands’ last names are sometimes considered to be radical feminists or disloyal wives, but there are many reasons besides politics that would make a woman keep her maiden name. These include a) if you prefer your own name to your husband’s (Julia Gulia, anyone?), b) if you want to hold on to the link to your family’s history and heritage, or c) if your career or networking is built around your family name (do you think “Ivanka Kushner” shoes would sell as well as her given name? You had to Google what that was, didn’t you?). Career women who have built a reputation around their birth name have a particularly hard time giving up their maiden name due to the career-affiliated implications.

Research shows that women who keep their maiden names after marriage earn significantly more money in their lifetime than new wives who take their husbands’ last names (about $500,000 more). This is because work produced under a maiden name can often not be traced back to a woman after she takes her husband’s name. Therefore, women who do not change their name following marriage are able to keep their careers on track and do not experience setbacks due to the inevitable restructuring of their reputation under a new name. Not surprisingly, the most common age group to take their husbands’ last name is brides under the age of 24, because their careers have most likely not developed to the extent of those that brides 25+ have.

If you are unsure whether or not you want to take your husband’s last name, then you can consider many different options in regards to changing your name. These include:
·      Having a hyphenated name or two last names (ex. Jane Doe-Smith, Jane Doe Smith)
·      Taking his name as a middle name (ex. Jane Smith Doe)
·      Having your husband take your last name, or add your maiden name as a middle name
·      Keeping your maiden name, and giving that name to your child as a middle or hyphenated last name (ex. Junior Doe Smith)

If you decide to keep your maiden name, there is no harm in occasionally using your husband’s last name if it is beneficial to your current situation. If making a reservation at a restaurant under Jane Smith instead of Jane Doe gets you a table, then do it! Many women who keep their maiden name make it a non-issue when it comes to addressing cards, referring to the family as a whole, etc. Demi Moore may have kept her maiden name due to her film career being based on that identity, but her Twitter name is, after all, mrskutcher.

Bottom Line:  Hopefully you’re one of the lucky women who don’t stress over the idea of keeping their maiden names. However, if you are having trouble deciding whether or not to take your husband’s last name, be sure to invest time and deep consideration in to the decision. The deadline you face (your wedding) is not the last chance you have to take your husband’s name – with all the paperwork that needs to be filed, there is no rush. Remember that you are not the only person involved in this big decision – talk to your fiancé about his priorities. Is it important to him that you have his last name? Does he believe that it is your right as his wife and partner to keep your maiden name? Your fiancé’s perspective on the subject might help you make a decision. Don’t feel like you have to conform to any orthodox or feminist ideals, but instead pick the name that best works for you based on your own priorities and feelings. With or without your husband’s last name, you’re still a family.



[1] http://miami.cbslocal.com/2011/05/24/study-keeping-maiden-name-could-net-women-more-money/, http://womensissues.about.com/od/feminismequalrights/a/maiden_name.htm

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