Opinion: Changing One’s Last Name

 

Our engagement announcement!

Back in August, I got engaged. From then on, it didn’t matter who I spoke with, I would automatically be asked a slew of questions. “Have you set a date yet?” “Where are you getting married?” “What’s your new last name going to be?”

When getting married, it is easy to get wrapped-up in everything behind the “event.” Even the most out-of-the box weddings, ultimately are about a ceremony binding two people in a legal contract. This act goes back hundreds of years; doesn’t get more traditional than that. While sorting through taffeta covered gowns and sampling cake options, it’s easy to stay traditional, down to the woman changing her last name.

With that said, it’s not for me.

Of course, when I tell be people I will be keeping my last name, I am immediately considered a rebel. Although it’s not a common practice, by no means have I considered this rebellious. Yes, I like his last name. No, I’m not keeping mine because I think we will be getting a divorce (although statistically speaking, it’s a good point). This also seems like a good time to point out; my future husband doesn’t want me to adopt his last name. As he put it, “It’s weird.”

Oh, have I mentioned how no one has asked him if he will be taking my last name? Is that really so absurd?

When you think about it, your last name is part of your identity. For 25 years I have had the same name, which I’ve liked. It might sound silly, but I love my signature, and am delighted whenever I get to sign a receipt. All through high school, people actually referred to me solely by my last name. It’s even in songs! Other women might not be able to say the same thing. For example, my mother hated her maiden name, and jumped at the chance for a new one. The point is, the decision isn’t necessarily simple.

During my first long term relationship, I was buying into it all. We were going to tie-the-knot after college, have two children (a boy and girl, of course), and I was going to be Mrs. Caitlin Rose Woods. Although my potentially new last name complimented my middle name, that wasn’t why I wanted it. If I looked at other couples around me, it’s just what they did, so I figured it’s what I would do too. Being in love was a new, wonderful thing, and I wanted everything I thought came with it.

My enthusiasm to keep things traditional wasn’t too surprising. We started dating when we were only 18. I hadn’t figured-out my own identity yet, so it was really easy to absorb someone else’s ideas. Having that sort of life was expected of my boyfriend, it was what he wanted too, and by default it got passed down to me.

We broke-up a couple months after I turned 22. My whole world did summersaults and crash landed as a pile of rubble. Those early years are when you create your identity, discover who you are, and since I was being shaped by someone else, I no long knew what I wanted. It was frightening at first, but it soon became liberating. I could do whatever I wanted to do. Plan whatever future I wanted based on the things I solely liked and believed in.

Maybe it was because I was running from a fate I was almost trapped in, but I soon realized I didn’t want anything he and I had planned for us. I still ultimately wanted a long term, monogamous relationship, but the logical part of me didn’t see the point of actually getting married.  Yes, for the sake of legalities, it eventually made sense to get hitched, but there was definitely no rush, and there was definitely no reason to give-up my last name.

The tradition dates back to when women didn’t have their own identity. They didn’t have rights, and they were basically treated as property. Now women can be their own person, have a job, and own a house, so there is no legal reason their name must change. By no means am I condemning any woman who chooses to change her last name, but it shouldn’t be considered radical if she chooses not to. There needs to be a societal shift in order for this to become accepted. Ultimately, it is the woman’s decision to do what she wants with her name, her identity, but to me, changing one’s last name for the sake of tradition alone, is archaic.

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