In 1984, two years after purchasing a bridal salon in Beverly Hills, I was ready to change the established name of the business and truly make it my own. At the time I bought the salon, it was the only one in L.A. county that had any kind of cache, whatsoever. I worked day and night for two years and kept the original name because I was afraid to change it -- the place had been going strong for 30 years under that name, after all.
After much consideration and creative thinking, I decided to launch a six-month ad campaign announcing a name change, choosing a theme most apropos for the day. In all of my store windows facing Wilshire Boulevard, displayed on large posters on easels, and in print bridal magazines, the campaign proclaimed: "You're getting a new name? Well...so are we!"
The theme I chose worked so well that, within a year, no one even remembered the name my salon used to be for decades.
The campaign was brilliant largely because it was appropriate for the time: In those days, the average age of a bride was around 20 to 22 years old and I had never heard of anyone keeping their maiden names. The norm seemed to be, at least from my perspective working within the industry, that every bride became Mrs. So-and-So.
Today, however, that ad campaign wouldn't really make much sense. Rather than being an expectation, name changing has become a careful decision that women (and some men) make while considering their personal connection to their given names and the professional establishment of those names.
The decision to change one's name is complicated, to say the least. Women choose to change their names (or not) for several reasons: Some find it just simpler once children come into the picture to have one name for all family members; some with names that have been a challenge all their lives find the opportunity to have another one very appealing.
Then there's the decision to change your last name entirely, move your last name to your middle name (thus relinquishing that name, too) or hyphenating. (And, with that, you have the decision of, are you both hyphenating or will just the woman hyphenate?) It's enough to make your head spin.
As someone who is known by my name -- I renamed my store Renée Strauss for the Bride, after all -- I understand why women today want to keep their maiden names for career and professional identity reasons. Women pull their own weight work-wise and it may seem antiquated to have to take on a man's name and "enter" into his household.
I changed my given name when I married my first husband. I loved it and I immediately identified with it -- in fact, I barely remember ever being referred to as anything but Renée Strauss. (Even reaching out to former classmates on Facebook, I struggle to say my maiden name. I just never felt like it suited me.)
When I married my second husband -- the love of my life -- I did not want to change my name, so I kept Strauss. (Deep down I know he would love it if I changed my last name to his, though.)
Realizing my lack of identifying with my maiden name -- and my decision to keep my first husband's last name -- has allowed me to better understand (and support) the decision my future daughter-in-law, Sarah, recently made about her own name change situation.
It is a great honor for someone to take your family's name as her own, especially when you're a parent welcoming another child into your family. So, when I discovered that my soon-to-be daughter-in-law, was keeping her given name, I admit, I was disappointed.
But, of course, to be truly disappointed by Sarah's decision to keep her name would have made me of a hypocrite, considering my own last name situation. My wonderful and wise daughter-in-law to-be has always liked her name and one of the several reasons she is choosing not to take my son's name is because she feels extremely proud to be part of her family, given their involvement in the community. To her, relinquishing her name really feels like giving up part of her identity.
But Sarah, and any woman for that matter, doesn't need to have a reason for why she wants to change her name or keep it, as far as I'm concerned. The decision is personal and doesn't require anyone's approval. Changing one's name does not necessarily mean you abandon your past. It can mean you are embracing your future. It doesn't send a message that you are turning your back on the family that nurtured and named you. Likewise, not changing your name doesn't mean you're any less committed to your husband and marriage.
I encourage today's women -- and men -- to do what feels right for them. When my first cousin -- a daughter of Holocaust survivors with no brothers to carry on the family name -- got married, her husband proudly changed his name to show respect and devotion to her family with the hope that their name would carry on to further generations. This might be an unusual decision but not unheard of.
What's in a name? Well, only you -- and your partner -- can answer that question for yourselves. Sure, I might still be just a teensy bit disappointed that Sarah will not share my son's name, but I certainly respect her for making the decision that feels right to her. And I'm just as proud to be her future mother-in-law, no matter what name she wants me (and the world) to call her.