Growing up, I always worried about changing my last name when I married. It may seem like a strange worry for a young person to even think about, but I did. And it wasn’t for any type of social or professional reason; it was vanity actually. I loved my last name: Ferguson.
Ferguson is a common enough name that people know how to pronounce it and spell it. And it is unusual enough that there weren’t five other kids in my grade with the same last name. I even loved that it is toward the beginning of the alphabet (teachers love alphabetical order for some reason).
I would occasionally practice saying my first name with different last names and often felt like they came up short. This led to a decent amount of anxiety about taking on a less-than-stellar last name.
But it never really occurred to me that I wouldn’t take my husband’s last name.
Even when I was a little older and started dating guys who I might potentially share a last name with someday, I still never considered keeping my own last name. (Although, I did toy with the idea of keeping Ferguson for a pen name.)
So when I decided my husband was the one, I breathed a sigh of relief that my new last name would be Sommers. (It’s pronounced like the season.) It was definitely further down in the alphabet, but I loved the way it sounded. I’m even guilty of scribbling “Mrs. Nate Sommers” in my journal like a love struck teenage girl. And you can bet that I snatched up my email address with my new last name the second I had an engagement ring on my finger (we all know how difficult it can be to get your domain name).
After being home less than a week from our honeymoon, my name had officially been changed on my social security card, license, and bank accounts without so much as a second thought.
Then a few months later, I was talking to another newlywed and she mentioned that she had kept her last name. I knew this was a fairly common practice, but I was interested in her reasons. After talking with her, I could see her side and I started to think about the options I had passed up—keeping my own last name, hyphenating our two names, my husband taking on my last name. Luckily, I didn’t regret my decision. Sure my husband could have changed his name just as easily as I had changed mine—and maybe that is where tradition comes in—but I was happy to take his name. Mostly because I was happy he gave it to me.
In the three years we have been married, I have thought about my decision to change my last name and how it was such an easy choice for me to make, even if it wasn’t conscious at the time. My reasoning was traditional: I wanted others to know that we belonged together; that we are a unit. My reasoning was sentimental: I wanted neighbors to pass by our house and say, “That’s where the Sommers live.” My reasoning was logical: I didn’t want it to be confusing when friends addressed invitations to us or when we had to decide what our children’s last names would be.
Some may find those reasons a little outdated and I can understand that. But for me, if I was willing to marry Nate, then why wouldn’t I want to share a name? Sharing a name represented sharing a life. I suppose I’m just grateful he had a good name to share.
M.C. blogs over at Nate + M.C. 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.