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When a Writer Gets Married: On Name Changes

Walking the feminist walk can be a treacherous thing, and it gets especially weird and difficult once you get engaged.

Which, by the way, I am.

Also I have a new tattoo. And blonde hair. I'm sorry I've been keeping things from you!
Also I have a new tattoo. And blonde hair. I’m sorry I’ve been keeping things from you!

No matter who or what you may have been prior to announcing your engagement to a man, once you have the ring all of a sudden it’s like, people are calling you by his name and asking when you’ll have babies. BABIES. I love babies, but if the resentment I feel when I have to walk my dog in the morning is any indication, it is SO not time for babies yet.

The name issue in particular has got me and my fiancé totally flustered. We have months and months and months to decide what we’re doing, so our discussions about it usually get waved away with a “Oh, we’ll figure it out later.” But eventually, we will have to figure it out. 

I will continue to use my maiden name in my writing career, that’s a given. Spivey is an excellent and unique last name; I’ve only met one person with the same name who wasn’t related to me, though in fact she may have been distantly related since we had relatives from the same relative area.

But what about in our day to day lives? What about future kids? Because my last name is so excellent and unique, I’m really rather attached to it. I’m also very attached to family lines. My brother is the only male Spivey in my generation, and he’s fairly determined never to leave my mother’s house, let alone have kids. I’ve always imagined it’s left to me to make new baby Spiveys to carry on the name.

Unfortunately, fiancé Matt is also the only male in his generation, and since he’s appropriately fond of his own family name, he’d rather imagined himself continuing the family line as well. He also has fairly conservative grandparents that he actually likes. (I, regretfully, couldn’t care less about the opinions of the grandparent of mine who would cause a stink if he took my name instead of the other way round.)

My only wish is for Matt and me to have the same name. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much to me whose it is. Yet, there is still a big blaring bullhorn shouting in my ear that while it’s totally fine if women want to take their husbands’ names, some of the 90% of American women who still do might not realize that they have other options, and that as a brave feminist I could use one of those options and be an example to others.

Deep down, I think, there must be some happy feminist alternative, where Matt and I can be equal partners in the marriage, satisfy/not offend our families, and still have the sense of family for ourselves and our future children that comes from all having the same name. I’m not the only one with this problem–one of my favorite bloggers, Grace, has also tried to tackle this issue

I thought our solution might be in the Hispanic method of apellidos. People from Hispanic families have two surnames, their mother’s maiden name and their father’s family name. When a woman marries, she keeps her father’s name and adds her husband’s name, and the family is addressed by the combined names of the couple, the same one the children get. Alas, this doesn’t actually help us, because unless Matt and I both added our mothers’ maiden names to our current names, Matt’s name wouldn’t change. It would still be only me taking his name, plus I’m sure people would accuse us of cultural appropriation (which, yes it is, but…okay yeah, even if it’s because I think it’s a really awesome way to keep both family names involved, it’s still not okay, I know).

So my new plan: just pick a brand new name.

Seriously. I may actually be giving this serious consideration. I’m a writer. I have NOTEBOOKS of names in my head. There’s no rule saying we have to keep our family names. No legal one, anyway, although I know some courts have made it difficult for men to take their wives’ names. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be a totally random name. For example, all the scant internet genealogy I’ve done has told me that Spivey is a derivation of a Welsh name–so what if Matt and I just picked another Welsh name?

Obviously we don’t want to get too crazy. I wouldn’t choose anything unpronounceable  We’re not gonna rebrand ourselves Skywalkers or Ponds or anything. Just something new, that’s ours.

Am I crazy, people? Crazy to think that not just me, but also my husband should maybe start our new married life with a new name? Crazy to think that Matt and Cait Benbough sound like the coolest people ever? Or Warlow? It’s derived from the word for warlock. Just saying.

5 thoughts on “When a Writer Gets Married: On Name Changes

  1. Another thought, just for consideration:

    When I was in middle school (and this was forever ago, so imagine how progressive for the times 🙂 Early ’80s), there were two teachers in the district. One at my school. One was named “Holley,” the other “Hardey” (I forget which). They both hyphenated, so one became Holley-Hardey, the other Hardey-Holley (again, I forget which, and whether their original names became the second half or the first). And I’ve no idea what they did about childrens’ names, later on.

    Nice thing about something like this is it preserves continuity in a way that keeps conservative family members happy(ier). But there’s a good bit going for the ‘completely new name’ idea too…

    1. Yeah, we’ve thought about hyphenating too. Then the issue was whose came first. I never thought of flipping them that way! I’ve seen some people suggest hyphenating alphabetically for the whole family.

      That’s probably what we’ll end up doing if we decide not to be super radical and pick a new name just for ourselves. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  2. I’m not at all surprised that anything derived from warlock is on your list. I like it.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about people throwing out the “cultural appropriation” issue. It’s completely acceptable for you to borrow a custom from another culture, especially because you’re doing it in the same interests of blending a new family while honoring your old family name. I think my concern with creating a new name is that you lose that bond to your extended families. If you were to hyphenate, at least you’d both still be connected.

    The world is becoming more progressive, and I’d venture to say almost half of children don’t share a last name with both of their parents these days. Whatever you guys choose to do, society is prepared for it. Just make sure your decision is yours, and try to worry about what your families think absolutely last. This will be the first ultra-important decision you make as husband and wife, and while you can consider the opinions of the people you care about, the two of you need to make sure any compromises are between the two of you, and not anyone else.

    1. Haha, thanks. “Benbough” is derived from a nickname for archer (bendbow). So there’s that.

      It would be strange and a little sad to not have that connection to our parents. That is definitely the biggest hurdle in my mind to picking a brand new name. I don’t think anyone on my side (except the aforementioned grandparent of mine) would be bothered, but Matt’s family is a little more together than mine, haha.

      Thanks, Mel. 🙂

  3. Families get over it. I kept my name in a time when that was rarely done. Everyone adapted. When C was in school, I used to hyphenate my signature with both last names so that teachers knew her parents were in the same household. The best part about keeping your own names (both spouses) is that nothing has to be changed – credit cards (and the credit you established for yourself), driver’s licenses, social security, etc. – all stay the same. In the early 80s, I ran across a few problems with companies that had not yet adjusted to couples with different last names, but now it is a non-problem. And C has a connection to both lineages and a sense (and I hope, pride) of the history that produced her. I think if you take a new last name, you lose a bit of that. Especially in the future, when your children decide they want to look up some family history on ancestry.com and there are no other Benboughs. 😛 Oddly, this type of thing came up just recently for me since my paternal great-great-grandmother was murdered by her husband and my great-grandmother (their daughter) apparently raised by someone else. We had no record of her last name until a relative found a report of the murder in the Baltimore Sun from 1888. For quite a long time, that side of the family line was lost to us. (Speaking of feminism, the murderer got off scott-free, since it was an “accident” that he chased her down the street with a knife and gun, while she carried her baby and shot her in the face when she ran back in the house. In those days, women were truly property.)

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