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To Be or Not to Be

25 Jul

In just a few months I’ll go from divorcée to married woman. In a small family no-fuss ceremony I’ll be marrying for the second time. And while that in itself is exciting, it does pose a dilemma. What should my last name be? We are often identified and defined by our names. For women it can be even more difficult given the tradition of taking their spouse’s last name.

My first marriage was brief. However, in my youth I thought nothing of dropping my maiden name (I don’t agree with dropping middle names as we already sacrifice enough). In hindsight I wish I had given it more thought. My mother and others suggested then as they do now to hyphenate my name. However, given my aversion to again removing my maiden name, an already long full name will lengthen beyond the number of letters in the alphabet.

In my time of being a divorced woman I have given a lot of thought to what’s really in a name, my name. With the exception of the three years I was married, I have always been LaToya Davidson. I have grown into and worn that name, I honor my family in keeping it and I quite honestly like my name. In the not so distant past taking your husband’s name wasn’t even something to consider, you just did it. You had to. However, while marriage means the coming together of a man and a woman, does it mean the woman has to take her husband’s last name?

My fiancé has stated on numerous occasions that he doesn’t care. “Keep your maiden name or change it, it doesn’t matter to me. We’ll still be married either way.” I don’t know if I’m over-thinking it, maybe he’s telling me what I want to hear or if it is as he says, it’s not as big of a deal as I make it.

Surprisingly I found changing my name to that of my ex-husband’s relatively simple. I remember calling my credit card company on our honeymoon and them simply changing it with no questions. They did congratulate me on my marriage though. That was it. At the time it was exciting changing over my license, passport and other things. It was like a new toy or gadget, child’s play. Then life happens. However, when it was time to return to my maiden name it was much more difficult and time-consuming. Besides the brevity of the marriage, we had no children and so I didn’t think that, in theory, carrying his last name until the end of my days was warranted.

According to About.com, “between 60 and 80 percent of brides take their husband’s last name when they get married.” LiveScience.com says, “throughout most of the 1800s and into the 1900s, U.S. common law abided by the doctrine of coverture. Under coverture, a married woman had no rights to her own property or to make contracts in her own name — and indeed, she had no right to her own name at all. Her husband took on all legal rights for the couple.” That’s certainly antiquated as women are not the weaker sex. Coverture, LiveScience.com continues, “didn’t fully fade from the U.S. legal system until the 1960s and ‘70s; remnants included laws in some states forbidding women from taking out their own lines of credit.” However, with the marked shift in the legal and social views on women and their identity, there are twenty or so percent of women who believe that there’s no “law” to change their names.

At the end of the day it’s a matter of choice, what’s right for you. LiveScience continues, “Surname decisions are now a free choice, but statistics suggest that most couples still take the traditional road. A 2009 study published in the journal Social Behavior and Personality examined New York Times wedding announcements from 1971 to 2005, and found that the number of brides keeping their surname was about 1 percent in the 1980s, rising to 9 percent in the 1980s and 23 percent in the 1990s, before declining slightly to 18 percent in the 2000s. Brides with more education or a high-powered occupation were more likely to keep their names, as were older brides.”

I’m still torn. Do I change my last name, do I hyphenate? My views on keeping my maiden name are similar to the ones mentioned on both websites, maintaining personal identity and because professionally keeping my maiden name means that I don’t have to reestablish myself. I’m getting married, not becoming a different person. After all, I’ll be wearing a wedding ring. I suppose it’s the struggle between tradition and being a modern woman. I could take his name legally but professionally still go by my maiden name. It’s a jumbled mess. I’m more stressed about making the name decision than I am about the ceremony itself.

There’s so much in a name that I don’t think changing it should be taken lightly. Taking or not taking your husband’s last name doesn’t make you love or respect your spouse any less or any more. I’m certainly grateful to have the choice but the question, what’s in a name, hasn’t been more difficult to define as it is now.

This article appeared on page 5A in the 7/25/12 issue of The Union-Recorder.

For the articles referenced in this article see Should Your Change Your Name When You Get Married? Taking His Name, Keeping Your Own Name, and Options In-Between and Women Still Prefer Taking Husband’s Last Name.

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