The other day my friend called me excitedly. She'd just received her new driver's license in the mail making her new married name official. I assumed she was keeping her maiden name. For one, it's a great name (no problems with spelling or mispronunciation). Two, she works in the entertainment industry and keeping one's maiden name is usually easier. Instead, she was happy to change it and thrilled to have the new last name. I got married a few months ago and kept my maiden name. For my entire 10-month engagement I struggled with whether or not I wanted to take my husband's name. I know for some women this is not a hard decision. Some women know they'll always take their husband's name. This wasn't the case for me. Also, I've learned that there are many last name options out there for brides-to-be (exasperating my struggle):
· Happily change last name to husband's name
· Keep maiden name
· Hyphenate both names
· Keep maiden name professionally but change it legally (Katy Perry legally became Mrs. Brand, Jennifer Garner is legally Mrs. Affleck, even Demi Moore legally took Kutcher)
· Make maiden name new middle name and take husband's as last name
· I even met a couple that blended their two names together to create a new married name that they both legally changed theirs too. (This seemed kooky, but good for them for thinking outside the box)
· Change your last name years into the marriage. Who knew, but you can change your name at any time
· Some men take their wife's last name (rare, but it happens)
For me, it's never been an easy decision. My name has always been complicated. I've lived with a hyphenated last name my entire life. People have been asking me to explain my name since I was a little girl. (No, my mother did not mix her maiden name with my father's name, he was hyphenated.) My name doesn't fit on airline tickets and it's too long for my driver's license (it's on two lines). The first time I was asked if I would change my last name was in the 4th grade by a 5th grade boy who was teasing me. Personally, I don't recommend living life as a hyphen. It's complicated. When someone hears two words when they only expect to hear one, they are easily confused. I am constantly misfiled, incorrectly alphabetized, mislabeled and lost in computer systems. Complete strangers ask intimate and personal family questions because apparently I must explain the origins of my hyphen. I used to look forward to the day when I could drop my cumbersome name. I vowed I wouldn't date a man with more than five letters in his last name. My freshman year I went to a dance with a boy whose last name was Key. After practicing writing Claudia Key on my notebooks endlessly, I thought he could be the one.
Then something happened. Actually, nothing happened. I didn't get married. Slowly, I came to like and appreciate my name. Once I reached 30, I was convinced I would never take another's name. I'd had this name too long, and after this many years, I've learned to love it. I know who I am with this name; I don't know a new-named version of myself.
Personally, I had two major issues with changing my name. First, a lot of women are getting married later, and many have established themselves with their maiden names. My friend and I have similar careers in comedy and writing, so I was surprised that she would effortlessly change her last name. She said she could still be known by her maiden name professionally (for bookings, credits, titles, resume, etc.), but legally she'd have her husband's last name. This had always been a concern for me. I've been writing and performing under my name long enough that changing it would confuse a lot of people. But in this day, it seems easy enough to have one name professionally and another name legally. I live in LA, and this is becoming a fairly common practice, but it does make addressing holiday cards a little more annoying. So maybe one of my reasons to keep my maiden name wasn't really compelling anymore?
According to an Indiana University study, "71 percent of respondents agreed it is better for women to change their name upon marriage." However, ever since I was a teenager, I've always been resistant to the reasons women change their names to begin with. I understand that it's tradition. I understand that couples are building a new life and new family together. But there is a part of me that is jealous that men never even have to think about it. I'm the sole defender of my name. My father has passed away, my older sister is married, and my mother has remarried. I'm the last one left. This makes me want to keep my name forever. I don't want to resent that my family's name will be erased while my husband's name keeps going. My husband's last name is short, and my life would probably be easier if I took it. Do I just let my family name become non-existent? Then again, having children with different surnames annoys me too. If I carry a baby for nine months and go through childbirth, I sure as hell deserve my name attached to that child. If I'm building a family, having a name that completely separates me from the other members of my immediate family doesn't seem like the best option. My mother's maiden name isn't represented anywhere in my life and doesn't have a new generation to carry it on. Will mine be lost to my children as well? A part of me believes that I already have one man's name, why do I need another?
Weighing these ideas along with the myriad of name options, I whittled down my choices. I can continue to keep my maiden name. However, the option of changing it legally while keeping it professionally is starting to grow on me too. Then I realized, I could make one decision now, and another decision a year from now. Like everything involving a wedding, there is pressure to make a decision immediately, but you don't have to. You can change your last name at any time. As long as you're prepared to spend some time at the DMV and Social Security office (and later sending the documentation to change passports, banking info, IDs, credit cards, etc.), you can do it when you feel like it. Maybe we should try the guy's name on for size for a little bit. See if you like it when someone introduces you as Mrs. XYZ or you get mail as The XYZs. I may change it when I have children, or then again, maybe I won't. Maybe this sounds like a Scarlett O'Hara/I'll-think-about-it-tomorrow type of attitude, but I do believe it's a big decision. And ultimately it should be a decision I'm happy with.
I do know that right now I couldn't part with my name. I couldn't part with the identity and history I have attached to my name, and I couldn't part with who I believe I am with this name. I love my husband immensely, and while I have decided to keep my maiden name, I love that a Claudia 2.0 possibility is out there, if or when I'm ready for it.