Why I Changed My Mind About Taking My Husband’s Name

No, it wasn’t about smashing the patriarchy.

Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

To take or not to take…

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

-Yoda

Actually, nowadays, a couple has options when they get married. They can do the hyphen thing. The husband can take the wife’s name. They can change their last name completely by combining their favourite hobbies and becoming The Gardenknits.

Therefore, a woman taking her husband’s name is no longer the social norm. But for most of my life, I believed that was the only option.

I played the name game

Since I was a little girl, I dreamt of taking my husband’s last name. Every boy I had a crush on, every heartthrob from Hollywood and Hong Kong, all the cute members of 90s boy bands, I would play the name game, seeing how my name would sound and look like with his last name.

Katharine Carter

Katharine Kwok

Katharine Sawa

Katharine Taylor-Thomas

And the list goes on…

This tradition stayed with me for years with every boy I dated. I honestly thought I would take my husband’s last name when it came time for me to walk down the aisle. That’s what I saw on TV. Every little girl who grows up marrying her Prince Charming ends up becoming Mrs. Prince Charming.

I secretly judged women who didn’t take their husband’s name

For years, whenever I met a friend’s mom, a teacher, a coworker, a manager or a woman in the news who didn’t take her husband’s name, I would secretly judge them. I’d think she hasn’t embraced her marriage; she doesn’t really love her husband enough.

I would think that she’s one of those old-school bra-burning feminists, deliberately going against the social norm to maintain her independence, smashing the patriarchy and eventually they’ll get divorced.

Why did I judge these women so harshly?

I didn’t want to repeat my parents’ fight

My mom has a different last name than my dad. My dad is traditional and my mom is a free spirit. It always bugged him that she didn’t take his name. This caused so much grief between the two that I didn’t want to repeat my parents’ fight when I got married.

Every time we crossed a border, if we got stopped or questioned, my dad would blame my mom because she had a different last name than us. He’ll make snide remarks about how my mom only kept her last name as an act of defiance, breaking traditions for the sake of breaking them. He’ll complain about how stubborn she is, how much trouble she creates when we travel and why we have to wait because of her…and so forth.

And I honestly believed him. So when I got to the age where I started dating, I made a little promise to myself that whoever I ended up marrying, I would take his last name. I wanted to officially become part of a team, a united front where it’s “us against the world”, not “me versus him”.

Then I got married…

So when I got engaged, I told my husband I’d take his last name. He said it was my choice and supported me either way. After our wedding day, I changed my last name on my Facebook profile. I was planning to do it for real. I had the list of paperwork that I needed to complete sitting on my desk.

I bookmarked the government sites that I needed to visit. I had all my documents in a folder labelled “to change”. For those who don’t know this, changing your name requires a ton of tedious paperwork. Here were some of the things on my list:

Passport, driver’s license, banking information, credit cards, academic degrees, professional associations, licenses and certifications, employer forms, medical identification, property ownership documents, home and car insurance…

And of course social media accounts, blogs, websites, anything I had written with my name on it (which typically doesn’t get changed)…

When procrastination is a sign…

Time passed and the folder started to collect dust. Every so often, I’d look at it and tell myself I’ll work on it this weekend. Then the weekend would pass and I’d make excuses to work on it the next holiday. Then it was the next month and then we were celebrating our first wedding anniversary.

Other priorities like having kids piled on top and before I knew it, I started taking apart the folder and using the documents. When I was jotting down our grocery list on the blank name change application form, I realized this really wasn’t something I valued. One night, I sheepishly changed my name back on Facebook (probably stirring up some divorce rumours) and decided I won’t be taking his last name after all.

History doesn’t always repeat itself

Social and cultural landscapes have changed and most won't bat an eye when they see a woman with a different last name than her spouse. From my personal experience, not having the same last name as my husband hasn’t affected much of our day-to-day life. Whenever we apply for things together like a mortgage, folks generally don’t assume we have the same last name. When we travel as a family and we get stopped at the border, it’s not because I’m not like the others.

After over half a decade of marriage, we have never fought about this. It’s not a point of contention like it was when my parents raised me.

I don’t feel the need to have the same last name as my kids. My kids will always be my kids and I will always be their mother; it’s an unbreakable bond built with blood, sweat and tears. Our family of 4 is a united front no matter what we call ourselves. We are joined together by love, not by name.

I’m proud of my choice, identity and history

Sadly, no matter what a woman decides, there will always be someone who will judge her. If she takes her husband’s last name, some will think she’s old-fashioned and bending to the patriarchy. If she doesn’t, some will think she’s not committed to her marriage and has a vendetta against men.

As a feminist, I believe in having choices and making decisions based on my values and beliefs, not what society expects. I’m happy with my decision because it was mine to make; I didn’t let anyone’s opinion affect me. I’m proud of my history, my name and all the things I’ve accomplished with it. I feel empowered to carry it until I die and glad to have it live in this digital space thereafter.

Now if only banks could stop using our mother’s maiden name as part of their security questions…

So Readers, what did you do when you got married? What influenced your decision?

Hello, Love

Love changes us. Love makes us human.

Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP

Written by

Sum (心, ♡) on Sleeve | Author. Speaker. Wife. Mom of 2 | Embrace Culture. Love Yourself. Improve Relationships | sumonsleeve.com/books

Hello, Love

Love changes us. Love makes us human.

Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP

Written by

Sum (心, ♡) on Sleeve | Author. Speaker. Wife. Mom of 2 | Embrace Culture. Love Yourself. Improve Relationships | sumonsleeve.com/books

Hello, Love

Love changes us. Love makes us human.

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