My Wife Didn’t Take My Last Name
My wife, Berna, and I are rapidly approaching our 2-year anniversary, which is making me contemplative. We’ve done a lot of things in our relationship very differently — some things differently from anyone else we know. For example, Berna didn’t take my last name, and I also didn’t take hers, nor did we blend them, nor did we keep our own ‘maiden’ names.
Wait. So, what other option remains?? Berna and I actually chose a new last name for both of us to share.
At the time we made this decision, we were the first people we knew who did this. Since we’ve anecdotally heard of just 3 other couples in ‘My aunt Ellen’s friend Sue’s nephew’ sort of stories. This was a highly unusual choice. So, why did we make it?
Well, first let’s talk a bit about decisions in general.
The idea that what’s right for me may not be right for you is becoming more widely accepted. At the same time, the options I have are often the same options you have and if I think I’ve selected the ‘best’ of those options for myself, it can be hard to not think it would be the best option for you, too.
Maybe we would be more honest with ourselves if we would change our language and say ‘I believe everyone has a right to make their own decisions and I respect differences but I wish more people would make the same decision as I have because it’s worked out for me so well and I’m inclined to think others would benefit, too.’
At least, this stance would be honest for me in this circumstance of “who takes whose last name”. There’s nothing wrong with trying to persuade someone to make a given decision; it’s immoral only when we try to force something on someone else. So we’ll see if I persuade you of anything, or if you’ll read this only as a curiosity.
For Berna and me, me taking my name or she taking mine would seem as if we became the other’s property. Patriarchy hasn’t been a thoroughly awesome thing throughout the ages, but why would overcompensation to matriarchy be any better?
On the other hand, we concluded that we wouldn’t really feel as if we were truly joining ourselves together if we blended our names or retained just our own. We additionally thought it would be very complicated with kids in the picture if we retained just our own — whose last name would the kids take? Would they be ‘more’ their father’s or mother’s children?
Probably the most frequent question we get on this topic is: do you hate your families or something?
The answer? No.
We also didn’t make this decision because either of our ‘maiden’ names was ugly or just to be ‘rebellious’.
We love our families. Part of me will always be a Cruz and part of Berna will always be a Delica. Changing your last name doesn’t simply wipe away 25+ years of one’s life history. We didn’t ‘leave’ our families in the sense of breaking off all ties.
However, we highly value the concept that we both ‘left’ our families in order to form a marital bond and start a new nuclear family of our own.
We wanted to communicate to the world that when we joined our two lives together, we created something entirely new and patently different from any one of our families — the unique combination of two individuals to form a new shared identity. While our families are part of the two of us, our families of origin are only indirectly part of our partnership.
That our choice was free of any motivations of spite or resentment was made perfectly clear to us when we considered that we’d one day encourage our own children — male and female — to make the same choice: to set aside the family name they’d been born into [that Berna and I were so carefully selecting!] and find a new name to represent the new lives they were starting with their life partners.
Really, name changes at times of special life-changing events have historically been a theme in many cultures. We appreciate the extra gravitas this tradition lends to something as big as joining the rest of your life to someone else’s.
Picking a new last name for both of us encapsulates our values. It communicates subtle, yet significant distinctions between what we believe the other options say about self-identity, power, affiliation, society & culture, and our attachment to each other vs. those we have with anyone else.
We made the decision roughly 8 months before our wedding. I’m not sure how the idea originally came to my head, but, during a car ride, I simply blurted out an enthused and curious “what do you think about us choosing a new last name for both of us?” and Berna immediately jumped onboard.
We scoured online databases and got books from the library. We created a spreadsheet of our favorite names, their meanings, and their origins. The very first time that we sat down together to look at names, ‘Bennett’ was the very first one that was of remarkable interest to us both. We liked how great it sounded with our names (and the names we’d already agreed upon for our future children) and we thought the meaning of “blessed” rather nicely summed up every other characteristic we’d like to have our family name represent.
From then on, even as we continued looking and strongly considered other names (e.g. Old English names such as Æðelræd that would have been a spelling nightmare for young children [and everyone else]), we always use ‘Bennett’ in our example when we were preparing people for this big change.
Scarcely more than 10 weeks before the wedding, we needed to reach a conclusion. We decided that although the name may be hadn’t hit us like a thunderclap, ‘Bennett’ had slowly become the only name we could imagine sharing and passing on to our children. And so, Bennett it was. Note: 2nd most frequently asked question is if we picked ‘Bennett’ because of Pride & Prejudice. No, again!
I legally changed my name in my home state a few weeks in advance of our wedding.
Two years later, we both feel very comfortable as Bennetts. It suits us entirely. Of course, all things different take a while for others to feel comfortable with, but we now feel accepted — if not also respected — for our choice.
As you might assume, my family had always expected that I would change my name upon marriage. Plus, I was the last of my brothers to navigate all the details of marriage decisions, so paths had been paved, and I’d been very much so doing my own (very different) thing for many years. So, I can scarcely do anything to shock my family at this point, and it wasn’t a big departure from what was expected anyway.
Berna and I really appreciated the graciousness and respect particularly from his side of the family, though. She was the first in her family to marry, so everything was new territory. She’d been living in Ilocos (where her family has deep roots) her whole life until she met me and started going on wild adventures. There had already been a lot of new, big changes. Then, we said we had picked out a new last name even though she is the firstborn daughter and had also been a junior on top of that. That’s no small deal.
We were lucky to have supportive families. Even if someone wasn’t thrilled or didn’t really ‘get it’, no one gave us a hard time, tried to bully us into making a more traditional choice, or attempted to guilt us in any way.
Berna and I still think that what we’ve signified by choosing the last name new to both of us is deeply meaningful and a clear symbol of our very egalitarian relationship. It was the right choice for us.
We think it would say exciting, encouraging things about our society if this course of taking a new last name became more and more widespread. At the very least, we look forward to encouraging (but not forcing) our own children to follow in our footsteps in this particular area.
However convinced of our own choice we are, we still respect people who make a different decision from ours. Maybe you took your husband’s last name, or your wife’s. Maybe you plan to combine the two or just keep your own. More power to you!
But, whatever choice you make for yourself — regarding your name or anything else — just think it through. Make sure it’s your own. Make sure you’re not just stepping within the lines laid out for you by others, whether your family or society as a whole. Make sure you’re also not overreacting to what others may have tried to dictate to you.
Know the ‘why’ behind what you choose. Make sure you’re living out your values. This life is yours alone. Call your own shots. Dance your own dance. We never regret decisions that come from places of authenticity within ourselves.