Dear Brides: Will You Change Your Names?
Today, I tried to order a thank-you brownie basket from a company I’d never used before. When I went to check out as a guest, the website prompted me for information, starting with my title. Here were the options:
Mr & Mrs
Dr & Mrs
Mr & Dr
Seriously? The MS option was near the bottom – just above the MR & MR and MS & MS categories that you had to scroll down to see. How did MS, which once had pride of place, get bumped down to option #8? This infuriated me. MS is not some pesky maiden aunt you don’t know where to seat for the wedding party. In a huff I closed my browser, determined to take my gift basket business elsewhere.
I can’t recall when I transitioned from MISS to MS, but I have held on to that title through young adulthood and these twenty years of marriage. When I got married, I thought choosing to keep my name was not a big deal. Many of my peers opted to do the same. And almost as many chose to change their names when they got married. No biggie. That was their choice. They had their reasons, and I respected them.
It wasn’t until people started questioning my choice that I began to bristle. I might expect it from my parents’ generation. I can still recall my mother’s loopy handwriting as she addressed cards to, for example, Mr. and Mrs. John Smith. But my parents' friends did not question me. It’s the younger folks – in more recent years – who started to wonder why on earth (okay, I added that part for emphasis) I had kept what they referred to as my “maiden name.” I just call it my name.
So much for live and let live.
Was the tide turning back? Are women who keep their names the exception to the rule? I questioned a friend of mine – a peer and fellow non-name changer – who works with a lot of people who are on the cusp of marriage. Or their first marriages, anyway. She told me that one of her co-workers was about to get married, and he was afraid to tell his mother that his soon-to-be wife was planning to take his name.
“My mother's of that generation of women,” he told her. “You know, the women who did not change their names.”
So, we’re that generation now?
Out of curiosity, I turned to my niece, who has been steadily attending weddings since she graduated from college six years ago. She confirmed that, among her friends, the trend skews towards the bride taking the husband’s name. I asked her why. Did they think about it? Did they make the choice without thinking?
“I don’t know if it was a debate, but they say it felt natural,” she said. “They liked the idea of having a family name in common.”
Okay, I get that part. Thinking back to those Christmas cards my mother used to send out, it was so much easier to send a card to “The Smiths,” or, “The Smith family,” than to “John Smith and Jane Doe and family.”
And while her friends are not yet jumping on the baby bandwagon, their second reason for changing their names anticipates the arrival of little ones: They want to have to same name as their kids do. I get it. In fact, many of my peers were guided by this same reasoning when they got married. Keeping their name meant less to them than sharing a name with their kids. (Although, for what it's worth, I don't feel any less connected to my children because we don't have the same last name.)
And what about hyphenated names, I asked? While she did not know any hyphenating couples, we both wondered what the plan was for future generations. What happens when Joe Smith-Doe is engaged to Jane Jones-Walker? Will they, in turn, become the Smith-Doe-Jones-Walkers?
And what name, I asked my soon-to-be-married niece, will you choose?
“For me it felt normal to not change my name,” she said. “My name feels like a big part of my identity and I didn’t want to give it up.”
Not that I would judge her if she decided to change it. But, honestly? I was relieved. I may not share a last name with my kids, but I’m delighted to share one with my niece. Happy wedding day, Ms. Babakian!
So, back to Fairytale Brownies and that gift basket I never sent: If you are going to demand my title, the least you can do is give me more whimsical options, like Goddess or Hunter/Gatherer. Or perhaps you should make the whole thing a write-in category, allowing for less gender-specific titles, like Keeper of the Flame, or Pundit.