Upon getting married and having children, determining what to do with last names isn’t always cut and dry. Mike explains how he and his wife made their final decision.
What option for last name did you choose?
We chose to keep our names, but add a completely new family name that we and our children would share—Vermeer. This name was significant (as I’ll explain in more detail later) for a few reasons. First, it was of Dutch origin, which was very important to me (as I’m of 100% Dutch heritage). Second, the name itself meant something unique to each of us. Much of my childhood revolved around my time at our family cottage on a lakefront, to the point where that is what I considered home. To this end, Vermeer to me means “from the lake.”
What options for last names did you consider during the decision-making process and why?
We considered taking my name alone. We considered adding her last name as our middle name and keeping my last name as our last name. Having different last names was never an option for me. The process of two becoming one, to me, included having the same family name, which extended to our children. Ultimately we decided on an entirely new family name, each keeping our former last names as our middle names, and chose a name that had significance to us both on multiple levels.
How do you think your education and/or career influenced your last name decision as your prepared to get married?
The biggest influence from this was probably the fact that I had already published three journal articles under the last name of origin, and I was concerned that when I changed my name they would not be generally understood as my work. I solved this problem satisfactorily, for myself, by simply opting to publish any additional papers with both of my last names written out, so that searches for my pre-marital name would still hit on the papers I published under my married name. Although somehow there was already a PhD with the same exact name as my pre-marital name publishing papers in the literature in the exact same area of chemistry as I am, so people are going to be confused no matter what I do.
How do you think your family and/or religious upbringing influenced your last name decision as you prepared to get married?
My parents’ family name holds a great deal of significance to me. It tells others quite a bit about who I am, what family I belong to, and where I come from. The name itself means “the Fries”, implying that I, generally, am Dutch, and specifically am Friesian. Since as far as I know, all of my great grandparents were 100% Dutch, and being Dutch-American was a large part of my identity, my community, and my upbringing, having a name that marked me as Dutch was very important to me. It was also something that connected me to my family in a unique way. For these reasons, I wanted to keep my former name as part of my new name, and it was important that if we chose a new name it was also Dutch. Explaining why we chose the name we did was not difficult, at least not compared to explaining why we wouldn’t just choose my last name as our family name.
If you identify as a feminist, how did feminism and your belief in gender equality contribute to your decision? If you identify with a particular faith tradition, how did your faith or religious background contribute to your decision?
I am a Christian and a feminist. My anger and disgust with rape culture and the structures that support it are what led me to do something that I felt was radical in protest against it. I chose to vehemently assert that I would have nothing to do with it and actively choose to counter it in any way, big or small, that I could. My Christian faith, I felt, supported me in this and drove me to it. Indeed, I felt as though I would be betraying it if I saw the problem and a step I could take toward solving it and instead chose inaction. The only difficulty in it arose in the perceptions of family and friends of how a godly Christian man and woman act as they approach marriage.
If you did not take your partner’s last name, what were your experiences in explaining your decision to keep your name?
It was an extremely difficult and painful experience for my new wife, my family, and me. I was tactless at first in explaining to my family what we were planning to do. I did not realize how important this was to my family or the magnitude of the effect my words regarding this choice would have on them. My father, in particular, felt, to some degree, betrayed and disowned by this decision and the fact that we had made it largely without their input. I am not always the most eloquent person with spoken word or debate (which is what this conversation became), and was not effective at communicating to my family why we chose to do this. The end result, I think, was that my family felt hurt and betrayed, and still does not truly understand my reasons for doing this, and I felt very alone and that I no longer had my family’s support, all in the month or so leading up to our wedding. This was devastating to me as my family is extremely important to me. The whole ordeal has left me still feeling divided from my family in some ways and is very painful to remember or talk about.
Mike is a soon-to-be PhD in chemistry and the husband of Danielle, who blogs at from two to one and is the co-founder of The Last Name Project. This post is part of The Last Name Project, a joint series by from two to one and The Feminist Mystique profiling a diverse set of individuals who are single, engaged, and married about how and why they decided on their last names. The goal of the project is to explore the patriarchal tradition of taking your husband’s last name and the tremendous amount of symbolism and meaning choices about last names still have for women, their partners, and society. If you are interested in participating in the series, email Danielle at danielle [at] fromtwotoone [dot] com or Shannon at hill [dot] shannonp [at] gmail [dot] com.