This May, I am getting married. After 8 years of dating, 5 years of cohabitating, and the co-raising of several rescue animals out of wedlock, I am incredibly thrilled to celebrate our official union with our dearest family and friends. As my wedding date approaches, many people have been asking me whether I plan to take my husband’s last name. In the little time I spent thinking about the topic when I was younger and single, I was confident that I’d always want to keep my own name. Now that the situation has become real, I’ve realized that my feelings on the topic are more complicated than I previously thought.
Our names are perhaps our greatest identifiers. They are the first thing you tell a new acquaintance, the top line on a job application, and they are inscribed on our tombstones. They are more than words; they are our identities. I’m a Nelson down to my DNA. I tell terrible dirty jokes like a Nelson, drink like a Nelson, and have a genetic disposition towards eczema like a Nelson. It’s who I am. I know that hyphenating is a popular compromise, but my fiance’s last name is very similar sounding to my own, so it doesn’t work for me (think “Julia Guglia” from the movie The Wedding Singer). My name is the byline that proudly ties me to all of my accomplishments in life. The idea of my future successes being a separate Google search kinda bums me out.
One of the most popular and powerful arguments for women to keep their own name is to assert their identity in a traditionally patriarchal society. We are no longer our father’s or husband’s property, so why do we still use these traditions? This topic is the one that can get the most politically and personally heated when women discuss their thoughts and feelings on maiden names and married names. There are entire women’s studies courses on this so I won’t delve into it too deeply, but my own personal take on this is that we live in a time when a lot of exciting changes are happening. Marriage equality laws are passing in many states. Women are adopting or using surrogates to overcome fertility problems. Overall, there are so many options for us to create a family in our own way. There is no set precedent that needs to be followed. We can write our own rules.
On the other hand, this is not a slam dunk decision for me. My fiance is my bestest friend and I am so very happy to be officially joining our lives together in a more legit way than sharing a Netflix queue. I think there can be something sweet and romantic about the sacrifice of letting go of a name for your loved one, whether it’s the bride or the groom doing the name-changing. A while ago, I read a story about a couple whose lives were shattered when the husband was suddenly killed. Shortly before the accident, he had inflated a beach toy with his breath. Every day after his death, his wife would take a sip of air from the toy to hold his breath inside her. She took the smallest possible amount each day in order to make it last as long as possible, because once it was all gone, she would really have nothing left of him. I found the story emotionally devastating yet incredibly touching. It made me think of the ways that we keep each other alive after we lose our loved ones. I’m about to vow until death do us part, and carrying a shared name is a way to keep each other alive after one of us passes on first. It is epic and dramatic and a little crazy, but so is marriage.
After weighing all of these points, I think it is obvious that the most logical and fair solution is for both of us to take an entirely new name together. We’d both be making an equal sacrifice, we’d still be joined together as a family unit, and we have the unique opportunity to actually name ourselves. So maybe this May, at the conclusion of our ceremony, you’ll hear the officiant announce, “presenting for the first time ever, Mr. and Mrs. Kurt and Kim Cumberbatch.”