What’s In A Name?

Nov 17, 2022 | humor, inspiration, Language, life, sage wisdom, Travel

I recently took a group tour abroad with what we politely call “mature” people. Most were couples, and something that stood out as unusual for such a group was that most women had different names than their husbands.

I commented to one of the women that I found this remarkable because “back in the day,” women changed their names when married. This is understandable in second (or third marriages), but several of these folks had been married forty years or more. This woman pointed out that the women I was referring to did not have advanced degrees. Is that it?
If you had an advanced degree, did you not change your name when you married? Hmm.

I married at the age of 20 back in the very dark ages, and it did not seem to even be an option. It would be “weird” to have a different name than your husband. After 22 years of marriage, I did think about a name change when I got divorced. It was much more common then. However, my name changed when I was adopted by my stepfather at age 8 and married at 20.

Therefore I had this “married” name for much longer than any other. So I kept my name. When my daughter married, it was not even a consideration. Of course, she kept her name. Why wouldn’t she? Thus my married daughter and I have the same name.

I once had a friend who changed her first name also when she got married because she wanted a less ethnic name. A few years later, she found that an ethnic name was helpful for specific employment purposes and changed it back. And this was a woman with an advanced degree.

I work with divorcing women and always discuss name changes with them. In my state, they get a free name change with a divorce. Men can as well, but rarely do. I point out that it can be something other than a name you have ever used. You can be Sunshine or Rainbow. I even met a woman who chose Newborn. By the way, I detest the term “maiden name.” What does that even mean? How old-fashioned. I use “former name.” Even though one can get a free name change with a divorce decree, changing your name on your passport, social security card, employer ID card, credit card, etc., is challenging. Seems hardly worth it.

This naming convention is only the norm in some countries. In some, the custom is to combine both names. For example, in Iceland, you cannot change your last name to your husbands, but you can change your middle name to his last name. Confusing. Any more confusing than what we do?

Some of my women clients are concerned that they won’t have the same name as their children. I point out that it is not unusual for children to have a different name than their mothers. I cite my own grandson. This raises the question, why does the American naming convention determine that children have their father’s name? There is no such requirement. Don’t get me started on hyphenated names. A whole new challenge.

Maybe both parties in a marriage should change their names to something else. Wouldn’t the family tree researchers have fun with that?

So what has been your experience with name changes? Do you have some cultural norms? Do you wish you had done it differently?


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