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Ed Housewright Headshot

Can I Please Have My Name Back?

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Women often debate whether to take their husband's last name upon marriage.

Shouldn't men have a right to ask for it back upon divorce?

I'm serious. If a woman doesn't want to be married to a guy anymore, why should she be allowed to keep his last name? It wasn't hers before they married.

I'm not trying to be vindictive or petty. I'm genuinely wondering why the question of giving back a man's last name never comes up.

I should disclose that this issue hits close to home. I've been divorced twice, and both my ex-wives have kept my name.

I can understand why Wife No. 1 did. We were married for nine years and had a son together. I never expected her to revert to her maiden name.

But I was stunned when Wife No. 2 opted to keep my name. After all, we were married for only two and a half years. We had no kids together. And we haven't talked since the divorce was final almost three years ago.

Also, Wife No. 2 had been married before. When she divorced that time (after a longer marriage), she began using her maiden name again. So why not after our divorce?

"Why did you keep my name?"

Wife No. 2 and I have communicated only once since our split. It was via email. She asked if I'd seen any cookware she thought she might have left behind. I had not.

I didn't know she was still using my last name until I saw her email address. It had "Housewright" in it. I was miffed. Should I be angry? Should I bring it up? I was more confused than anything, but I decided to ask her. I knew I might spark a sharp reply.

"I'm surprised," I wrote her, "that you're still using 'Housewright.' I thought you didn't want any reminders of the marriage."

I watched my computer screen for what seemed like an eternity. Would she even respond? Finally, she did.

"It's the name people know me by," she replied. "So I decided to keep it."

"Well, OK," I wrote back. "Just wondering."

Her reply didn't make any sense to me because, as I said, we were married for such a short time. But I had no desire to get into a fight. So I dropped the issue. After all, how do you ask for your last name back? It's not like asking for a house or a car.

Still, I've wondered about the last-name question since. And I've devised some common sense guidelines, I think, on when a woman should relinquish the man's last name and when she should keep it.

It's OK to keep the man's name if:
• It was her first marriage
• You had a child together
• You were married more than five years

Conversely, give the name back if:
• You had been divorced before
• You didn't have kids together
• The marriage lasted less than five years

So what do you think of my criteria? Am I being reasonable -- or an ass? At the very least, maybe I'm starting a debate.