My Feminist Name Quandary

465px-1883-wedding-licWhen I, Careen Shannon, took David Solomon to be my lawfully wedded (now ex-) husband, I also walked into a feminist name dilemma. But unlike Pamela Paul, who recently wrote in The New York Times about the difficulties of using her maiden name professionally and her married name in other venues, I never considered changing my name to Solomon or even taking on a hyphenated last name. But I did saddle my daughter with a long, somewhat unwieldy name that virtually guarantees she will drop some or all of it at some point, inevitably to the private dismay of whichever parent sees his or her name disappear from our daughter’s public identity.

I emerged from Oberlin College in the early 1980s armed with a hardy feminist worldview that left little room for compromise on important issues like the spelling of the word “women” (which we spelled “womyn” on the T-shirts we made in the Oberlin Womyn’s Collective), the virtues of body hair or the evils of epidurals during childbirth (the last of these being a stance I would later come to regret, loudly, in an angry rant at my husband and my obstetrician while giving birth with little more than ice chips for relief). It is against this background that I now confess that, at one point, I seriously contemplated dropping the name Shannon altogether. After all, it was a vestige of a patriarchal world—one in which a woman lost her identity when she was passed as chattel from father to husband—of which I wanted no part. But would rejecting my father’s name cause a final rupture in my already troubled relationship with my father? The choice wasn’t really meant to be that personal.

So I lit upon what I thought was a brilliant idea. My mother had chosen my first name, Careen, based on a character in a favorite book from her childhood, Gone With The Wind. (Careen, a minor character in the Margaret Mitchell novel, was Scarlett O’Hara’s youngest sister. I will refrain from commenting on the implications of being named after a character in a book that many now excoriate for glorifying slavery and the “Southern way of life” it supported, other than to say that I think my mother deserves a pass on this one. At the time she read the book, she was an adolescent girl, enthralled by the passion of Scarlett’s romance with Rhett Butler and blind to the story’s larger context.) My middle name, Brett, was chosen by my father, also after a character in a novel: Brett Ashley, from Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. (Here, I’ll gloss over the remark my father once made to me about Brett Ashley being a whore. I believed him, until I finally read the book myself and found her to be, instead, a sexually liberated woman, somewhat ahead of her time. And why would he want to name me after the former and not the latter anyway? I’d rather not go there.) I decided the solution was to drop the name Shannon and just call myself Careen Brett. In that way, I’d be rid of the dreaded patriarchal surname while still retaining names bestowed upon me by both my mother and my father.

In the end, after years of dilly-dallying, I never bothered to change my name at all. But when our daughter, Rachel, was born, David and I were both committed to giving her a hyphenated last name, reflecting the names and heritages of both of her parents. In addition, David had a beloved stepmother—who I also came to love and admire—who had never had biological children of her own. We decided to honor her by giving Rachel her step-grandmother’s maiden name as a middle name. And thus did Rachel Vineberg Shannon-Solomon come to be. David and I often joked that someday, when she decided to marry Michael Daniel Smith-Lopez, they would have a hell of a time deciding what last name their children should bear. But we couldn’t worry about that. That was a lifetime away, and we had to stay true to our own values.

As it turned out, Rachel learned early on that nobody can understand Shannon-Solomon when you say it to them. They either hear it as Shannon-Sullivan or they think Shannon is her first name, or they come up with some weird amalgamation of the two (Shannsolon?). On standardized test forms, magazine subscription cards or health insurance forms, there is never enough space to write out her complete last name. It also, I presume, becomes tiresome to have to explain one’s name all the time. Actually, I understand that all too well, as over the years I have been called all manner of variations on my unusual first name—Colleen, Corinne, Karen, Sharon, Shareen—and I don’t even pronounce it anymore the way my own mother does (Care-REEN), but the way most people I have met decided it must be pronounced (Cur-REEN). It’s just easier that way.

As with global warming, Social Security and the national debt, we may simply have foisted upon the next generation a problem to which we could not devise a workable solution. In my daughter’s case, sometimes she is Rachel Shannon-Solomon and sometimes she is Rachel Solomon (but never Rachel Shannon, as the ethnic mismatch still causes confusion). She tells me that when she marries she will take her husband’s name so that she, her husband and her future children will all share the same name—even though she appreciates the values her father and I tried to impart by giving her a hyphenated name and taking her husband’s name is out of synch with her own ideas about equality and autonomy.

But hyphenated names are like mules: formed by the combination of horse and donkey, and incapable of reproduction. So someday, when she decides to become Rachel Smith, I won’t take it personally, and hopefully Mr. (or Ms.) Lopez won’t, either.

1883 wedding license from Wikimedia Commons


Head shot 1 (C Shannon)Careen Shannon is an attorney, adjunct professor of law and writer based in New York City.





  1. Rahul Mereand-Sinha says:

    My wife and I both hyphenated, and we don’t seem to have any problems dealing with confused people about it. When our children get married, they will drop one or the other portion, and they (and hopefully their spouses) will append the remainder to create a new hyphenated name for the next generation.

  2. Shannon Brandt-Asciolla says:

    I too am a feminist. When I got married, my husband & I both hyphenated our last names. When our daughter was born we gave her my surname as her middle name & my husband’s surname as her last name. I’m quite happy with the outcome.

  3. I had completely committed to keeping my maiden name and never changing my name or hyphenating. Of course after meeting my husband to be – changing my name to match his was out of the question – they rhymed! We had decided that we would hyphenate the names of our children. But in the throes of post-wedding honeymoon bliss, I decided to become Mrs. Goodrich-Bazan! Oh my – what a pain it is! And it wasn’t until we arrived at the social security office to do the paperwork that a would realize that both my first name and last name were hyphenated. I just use the second part of my first name as my middle name. Somehow I forgot that part……… So the lesson learned after living with a hyphenated last name – do not do this to our kids – as much as it would have pissed my MIL off (squee!) So they both have two middle names which I am sure will cause headaches in filling out standardized computer forms for the rest of their life. It could have been worse!

    • A friend of with two middle names recently did battle with his state’s DMV. Which is surprising, because you’d think that the NJ DMV would have dealt with at least one other person from a former Spanish colony that uses Spanish naming conventions before.

  4. Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz says:

    I am a feminist as well and after 23 years of explaining/spelling my first and last name on a daily basis, I am still happy with my decision. Today I would not want to have just my maiden or married last names, and while I think that my hyphenated last name may be among the worst I’ve ever seen (probably the worst – especially as a Communications Director!) I find humor in it daily, but mostly find it remains the right and a satisfying decision for me two decades+ later.

  5. Ashlee Moser says:

    I have heard of couples going back into their family lineage and finding a common name or just picking a new one all together.

  6. This problem had a fairly simple solution for me and my husband. Initially we were both going to retain our names, but I found myself wanting a joint family name. So, my husband suggested that we combine our last names. His last name was Matt, mine was Dato so now we’re now Matato. It was a little extra work to legally change our names (yes the process is different than if I just adopted his, strangely enough), but definitely worth it. It was something we were both comfortable with that honors both of our families (although unfortunately his father missed that point). And personally I thought it was romantic as hell. What does continue to irritate me is how when we explain it to people, it’s automatically assumed that the name change was my idea imposed on him… one step at a time I suppose. I’m surprised to find that more feminist men and women aren’t doing this and I admit that I hope to start a trend;).

  7. Meagan Thompson-Mann says:

    I am also a feminist. My last name is created from not one but two ex-husbands’ last names. I happen to like it and give absolutely no damns what other people think of it.

  8. Tracy Smith says:

    In 1980, I just did what every man takes for granted. I kept my own name, without hyphenation. I had no trouble continuing to use my father’s surname, as equality has to start somewhere and at least me and my brother started out the same way and continued with the same lifelong pattern.

    Oh, and I didn’t keep my “maiden” name; I just continued to use my own surname. To call a woman’s surname her “maiden” name after she marries and has not changed her name is to imply that she gets a “married” name by default, whether or not she chooses to use it. A woman’s pre-marriage surname becomes a “maiden” name only if and when she chooses to adopt her husband’s surname. If she does not, it’s simply her surname or last name, period, just as it was when she was single.

    My son got my last name, which he still bears at the age of 32. I think that giving children one or the other of the parents’ names is the easiest solution. If there is more than one child, there can be name alternation — first child gets mother’s, second gets father’s, etc. Or it could go by sex, boys get father’s, girls get mother’s or vice versa. In each instance the children could get the other parent’s name as a middle name. And there’s the name “smush” — Mr Green and Ms Field have happy little Greenfield children, though this solution doesn’t always come up with something mellifluous.

  9. When I was married I told my husband we could each keep our last name or else together choose a new last name for both of us. If a woman has to change her name, why can’t her partner do the same? Yes, patriarchal lineage would be harder to trace that way, but matriarchal lineage has been erased for centuries. It’d be interesting to hear how gay & lesbian couples go about the last name for children thing.

  10. I applaud the article and your explorations. It’s a issue to which no easy solution has yet been created. Sometimes I think it even boils down the vowels themselves — some last names lend themselves more easily to hyphenation (and alliteration) than others. Yet, if change is going to happen it takes this kind of rupture. My partner and I hyphenated our child’s last name to six bulky syllables. When people comment to me how inconvenient this will be my standard retort is, “You know what else is inconvenient? Patriarchy!”

    • Aimee Golden says:

      So true!! We hyphenated my daughter’s last name to five long syllables (it didn’t feel right to give her just my husband’s last name).

  11. Steph Baker says:

    I, too, kept my name. My husband refused to change his to mine, so I mirrored that. Our kids have his last name, but I’ve put my family’s names into their middle names. People ask, “isn’t it confusing to have a different name than your kids?” The quick answer: no.

    I really wanted to combine our names and make a new one. I admire folks who’ve done that.

  12. I wonder how many families have children take their mother’s last name. I’m willing to bet not a whole lot as the Status Quo seems to constantly be the reason for girls/women doing such labeling of themselves like this (Another would be why are only promiscuous girls/women “whores?” Men can’t be “whores?”). Considering how much more important “last names” are to “middle names” (As “middle names” aren’t as required in identification forms. I know, my mother gave me a middle name I hate, plan to get rid of some how one day, and I’m rarely required to use it as much as my last name, which is guess what, that of my father’s…) I always felt how women sort of got a imo, pale by comparison, consolation prize with the whole “middle names” thing as men mostly, if not always, still got to give their children, the so-much-more-important “last names.” This “last name dilema” tells me we are ‘not’ of an equal society, yet. It should be obvious that children get produced by a male and female so giving the “last name” to the children from only ‘one’ of the parents seems to imply that one of the parents is not as “important” as the other. Names ‘are’ how we identify each other in the world, are they not?

    Definitely whatever the solution to this problem is surely to be a hard-on-everyone one as this would surely force us all to ‘adjust’ to a new system. In my “ideal world” parents would keep their “last names” & children would have a hybrid (I think Hyphenated “last names” cause too many problems, especially with the “forcing” of the children to possibly pick ‘one’ of the parent’s “last names.”) of the parents’ “last names” & their family unit to identify with them with would be that of the children’s hybrid “last name” (Hmm, I wonder if I could do that in ‘real life,’ at least for my possible future family?). …Or, we could make laws that give women just as much power of giving children their “first names” as much as current laws give men the power of giving children their “last names?” I would consider “first names” actually equal to “last names.”

    • *boys/men

    • Naming my two daughters was no problem for me. They both have my (my father’s) last name. I felt the children should hold the name of the family they would more closely identify with. I have a large Greek family while my ex-husband had only a sister and mother to speak of and they were thousands of miles away. At some point if either child decides they identify more closely with their father’s family and wish to change names I would be okay with it. A name IS how we identify each other in the world and for that reason I could never drop, hyphenate or change my last name, my father’s name, to another name. I can not even fathom it! I’m sure some family members made comments behind my back but no one has ever challenged me or expressed disapproval to my face. The women and men in my family know how to pick their battles. 🙂 As far as the law goes, being the mother in the hospital room, I had complete power over naming my children.

    • Ahahah, I fail at date checking the article first, oops!

  13. I’m one of the young people who has grown up with a hyphenated name, and I do not in any way consider it “long” or “unwieldy.” Instead, I treasure it, and never plan to change it; it is an integral part of my identity. Should I ever have children, I plan to do some variant of the historic Iberian/Latin American naming system, by which I will — you guessed it — create another, new, hyphenated name.

    • i too was given a hyphenated name at birth (my mom’s and my dad’s) – together, only 3 syllables. my mom never changed her name upon marriage, but socially has always gone by the same hyphenated name that my brother and i were given. i used to not like my last name, but now, getting married in 2 months and deciding what i will do…i think i am keeping my given-at-birth hyphenated name, and will use my almost-husband’s surname socially.

      i want our future kids to have both parts of my hyphenated names as middle names, and probably just give them one simple last name…but we’ll see 🙂

      has anyone else dealt with already having a hyphenated name and then deciding what to do when marrying someone with only one last name?

  14. When I got married the first time, I took my husband’s last name (Bennett) because it was more “normal” than my maiden name (I was tired of saying “it’s Fore, like in golf”). I kept Bennett when I got divorced; as I said, at least I got a better last name out of the marriage. When I got remarried recently, I took the new hubby’s last name because I didn’t want my ex’s any more. I don’t think women should feel like they have to take their husband’s last name, but some of us do it because that’s what we want and the choice we made. I haven’t regretted changing my name either time.

  15. Katharine Bressler says:

    When I divorced my first husband, I had to pay to get my maiden name back, so when I married the second time, I kept my maiden name (although my father-in-law commented that it was a “slap in the face” to HIS family name!). We then gave our children my maiden name as their middle name and my husband’s last name as their last name. My daughter kept her “maiden name” when she married. I think people should just adopt a NEW last name when they marry (although that would probably complicate the work of the genealogists immeasurably!). Alternatively, people could just stop getting married (thereby evading the marriage tax penalty).

  16. Rachel (Wojciechowski) Casey says:

    I got married about two months ago, so this article is quite timely for me. After twenty-five years of hearing people butcher the pronunciation of my maiden name, Wojciechowski, I couldn’t wait to adopt my husband’s simpler, straightforward last name. (I think I definitively decided that I would eventually change my name when a middle school administrator summoned me over the P.A. System by saying, “Will Rachel Whoa… Whoa, I’m gonna blow this one… Will Rachel with the long last name please come to the front office?” That was a pretty rough day for twelve-year-old me.) However, when the time came for me to officially change my name, I found myself feeling ambivalent about the transition. I never realized how strongly my identity was connected to my maiden name. I wanted the convenience of a simple last name, but I had trouble letting go. I don’t feel like there is a great solution in our case. As meaningful as it may be, I don’t want to burden my future children with “Wojciechowski” as a middle name, and in the interest of simplicity, hyphenation isn’t an option for us. I did go through with it and start making the official switch to Casey, but I’m still trying to find a way to hold on to Wojciechowski. Thanks for sharing about your experience, Careen!

  17. Maria Vazquez says:

    It never even occurred to me to change my name when I married, and my husband never even asked me to or questioned me about my reasons. Our daughter has a hyphenated name and she sometimes uses parts of it and sometimes the whole of it, depends on how much space/time/patience she has at the moment to explain the length and pronunciation of all of it.

    I expect if/when she marries she will use whatever name she decides upon, and I am fine with that. As a feminist, I can do nothing else but accept that it is her decision, not mine or her father’s.

  18. Jessica Esperanza says:

    When my husband and I got married everyone assumed that I would keep my own last name and he his, but that never really felt all that genuine to us. We knew my taking his was not something that fit either of us comfortably and for the same reason him taking mine did not work. After some research we found an option that worked comfortably for us but dumbfounded many. We took the 1st half of his last name and the last half of mine and after playing with a few letters put them together, making a brand new last name. We felt that it was still giving a nod to both names while also starting something of our own, which was how we viewed our marriage anyway. We have always made a point of truly striving for equality in our relationship, and this seemed to be a perfect way to do it. It took a lot of explaining, and still does if the topic comes up, but it is a decision I am very proud of, and a name that fits us very nicely. I do acknowledge it may frustrate a few genealogists down the line, but I figure since it was all done legally they can figure it out!

  19. Jessica Esperanza says:

    P.S. what we did is not legal in all states but it is legal in NY where we had it done and CA which is where I first heard of it. Explaining this to the city clerk in northern New York took a lot of proof though!

    • Jessica,
      My husband and I also changed our last name to a new combination name (Matt+Dato=>Matato). While it may not be legal in many states (such as ours in NC) to change your name as simply- showing your marriage certificate and applying for a new social security card etc, it is still possible to do a full legal name change. This usually involves a little more commitment. In North Carolina we had to get a state back ground check, FBI background check and comically enough statements from three locals that we were “of good character” as well as posting on the courthouse bulletin board (I’m thinking some of these rules haven’t been updated in a while). Anyhow, it is possible wherever you are. The one additional caveat is we can both change our names back to our original last names, but cannot change our names again in NC.

  20. When I faced this problem before my nuptials I also took refuge in the fact that I had a first name and a middle name that would never change, I used those names professionally. Like your daughter, I wished to have consistency in my family unit so I, somewhat begrudgingly, took my husband’s name. Now, as I prepare to file divorce I have contemplated taking a whole new name rather than taking back my maiden name. Perhaps a maternal grandmother’s surname?
    I have peers who have, and others who are considering, hybrid names. They’ve come up with a completely new name from each of their surnames, no hyphens involved. When my dad remarried, he took his new wife’s maiden name as his middle name and gave the same middle name to both of their new children; his new wife took his surname and changed her maiden name to her middle name.
    I think it’s time to revisit the whole purpose of the surname. Family structures are changing as well. There are many solutions and I enjoy watching how others handle this cultural conundrum!

    • Britta: After my divorce I knew I wanted to change my name – but to what? I took some time to think about who was meaningful in my life. It was my mom and dad. They were always there for me, my entire life, regardless of my choices. Unconditional love. My mom and I were close heart to heart and dad was the steadfast support. I took my dad’s name “Sidney” as my middle name and my mom’s maiden name “McGaffigan” as my last name. (I kept my first name of Kathi as mom selected it and liked it but I no longer use it.) I’m known as Sidney McGaffigan. Mom and dad close to me, always.
      I hope you love your new name as I love mine.

  21. sirene lipschutz says:

    i really appreciated this article. i have had all of these thoughts myself and am doing the same with my child. however, what i always remind myself of is the fact that it is very american to think it is strange to have a hyphenated last name. people from many different backgrounds have very long names. i too assume my child (due in 3 weeks – we don’t know the sex yet) will drop part of it at some point, but as someone with an unusual name, i see how great it is to have an unusual one and have decided not to let societal ideas stop me.

  22. I’m engaged and my fiance is going to take my last name. He’s getting a legal name change anyway, first and middle, so he might as well change his last to match mine, right? My name is my professional identity, and he’s not a big fan of his family. I don’t understand why more people don’t just pick the better name, or the one that carries more meaning for one partner or the other, regardless of gender. Hyphenating is so awkward, and pretty much guarantees that both names will be lost when/if the children partner up.

  23. I changed my name with my first marriage at 19; it was so much work to change it back when I got divorced 2 years later that I was determined never to do it again. So when I remarried at 27, I kept my birth name. It’s unusual and I have to spell it a lot, but I like the continuity. Here is my complaint: Female friends I’ve lost touch with can’t be found because their names have been replaced. It makes me really sad, but there’s not much I can do — hiring private detectives seems kind of stalkerish!

  24. So you can’t be a feminist AND take your husband’s surname at marriage? I’m starting to feel that this is the theme of the thread and I must say, I disagree and feel that some of my other feminist friends and colleagues would as well. When my husband and I made the mutual decision to get engaged, we also discussed the issue of name change, at my instistence. He and I agreed (again, mutually) that it was going to be my name, and my choice. I got married at age 35, and had no issue with being a single woman for the rest of my days. However, I found a partner who shared my views on politics, religion, and having children and we had a beautiful, simple secular ceremony with our friends and family present in May and I ultimately chose to use his surname after marriage. I never liked my last name, I will not be having children, and I am not property so thus will not be “dishonoring” my father or “honoring” my husband. Further, we both come from families in which the women are strong and successful, and the men have no question about equality. Also, I am extremely active in my state and also with national women’s groups in championing women’s issues and rights. When I’m helping organize a rally or attending a march, my husband is by my side, also working hard for equal rights. I think the argument that taking one’s partner’s surname after marriage excludes one from being a feminist is outdated, and untrue.

  25. As a feminist, I would never take someone else’s name. I have never been married- and at age 28, I legally changed my middle and last names to names I chose myself- no resemblance to any previous names or names in the family- I wanted my own identity. But to honor my mother- I kept my first name.
    To me, choosing my own names- especially the last name- was very powerful.

  26. This one caused a lot of conversation!

    I also come from a unique situation. First of all, my name is “Elizabeth Bennett,” and this started a lifelong obsession with Jane Austen’s books and their implications. I mean, who would give up that name? And it’s a GREAT conversation starter. Anyway, I met my husband in college–as Galician (Spaniard to the rest of the world). According to the rules of that society, women don’t change their names: they bear the surnames of their mother and father, in that order. So, my husband’s last name is “Rodriguez Garcia,” Rodriguez from his father’s fathers, and Garcia from his mother’s fathers (and if I took his last name, people in Spain would be supaaa confused, like ‘You’re brother and sister…whaaaa?’ Not really, probably, but you get the point.). As such, our children would potentially be Rodriguez Bennett (no hyphens). Everyone’s happy!

  27. socsci_prof says:

    I live in a college town with an elite research university. In my son’s school, close to half of the kids have parents with different last names from each other, because there are huge career costs for academics who change their last names after they start publishing. Others have blended names or hyphenated names. Some kids have a different last name than their biological sibling — e.g., the boy takes Mom’s last name, the girl takes Dad’s or vice versa.

    You know what? No one cares. No kids are teased on the playground because their parents have different last names. No parents are accused of not loving each other because the wife didn’t take her husband’s last name or vice versa. Local merchants don’t refuse credit cards with the “wrong” last name. And, the bonus is that the kids grow up being much more tolerant of different family forms — e.g., gay/lesbian parents, hetero parents who aren’t married, etc.

    Family is in your heart, not in your name.

  28. charlene buckley says:

    I favor Marilyn Vos Savant’s idea about female children carrying their mother’s name and male children carrying their father’s name.

  29. The thing is why is it never a question of the man taking on the woman’s last name? why is that not even remotely an option.

  30. I believe the broader discussion we should have is whether women should change their last name at all in marriage. It’s a cultural tradition that we are expected to do – but why? Once married, when the world sees you as a couple, no-one is checking last names for validation. And the life history a woman has with her birth name is now gone – ask anyone who has tried to coordinate a high-school reunion and find the married women. In terms of children, yes they have to have a last name. Pick ONE. The child will love the other parent just the same and not have the ongoing hassle of a hyphenated name.

  31. In the Philippines, where I grew up, the tradition is that the kids normally have multiple names. They would usually have 2 or more first names, where more often than not, one is Maria because of the dominance of Catholicism, then the middle name is the mother’s maiden name and then of course, the last name or surname is the father’s surname.Since there are too many names, if there is no space especially in official forms, the middle name is written as an initial but it normally stays in the name. When a woman marries, she drops her mother’s maiden name as a middle name and replaces it with her father’s surname, which used to be her last name. She instead takes her husband’s surname as her surname. This is of course just tradition and does not have to be followed if personally one thinks it is outdated or non-feminist. For me personally, I believe in the equality of rights for the sexes. I think women and men are different but that not one is better than the other. They just have different characteristics. I don’t know if I am a feminist or not, even though my husband seem to think I am. Having said that, I must admit that I like the way we do it in the Philippines, even though some people may see as patriarchal. Having both your parents’ name in your name as a kid is both a sign of respect and a reminder of you where come from, of your bloodline. One could argue, there is unequal treatment there between your mom and your dad because one’s name appears in official forms as your last name whereas the other’s is just written as middle initial, or in better scenarios, written but lost amidst all those multiple names. But for me, it does not matter. I know in reality anyway that my mother’s voice and opinion was heard and at times, even more important in family matters than that of my fathers. And some societies may seem patriarchal on the surface but are really more matriarchal, or even balanced, in reality. As for the name change after marriage, I married so je couldn’t care less how I name myself after the wedding, but I chose to do it in the Philippine tradition. it was sad for me to drop my mom’s name, but at the same time, I was proud and willing to change my last name to that of my husband. After I still have part of my heritage and identity in my name in my father’s name as my middle name. I considered hyphenating my last name, but my father’s name is 10 letters long already and to add more to that is just too much of an inconvenience for me. I can express my identity and feminism in other more important ways.

  32. My father was born Greenblatt, but my grandfather Americanized the family name when he was still a toddler, whereas my husband’s family name can be traced back dozens of generations in a family Bible in a small town in Sweden. My mother’s last name is also an Americanized version of an Ashkenazi Jewish name that her family dropped. I kept the name that I was raised with, but it was much more important to me that my children be raised in my religion than with my name, so I was perfectly willing to let them have the generations-old Swedish last name.

  33. I never considered changing my name when I married. I was born with my last name and will die with my last name. It’s my heritage, my identity and it means the world to me.
    Why do women give up SO much and then doormat women and men scoff at us when we don’t want to tow the line?
    If women are so keen to give up their names – why don’t they do what women did in the 1950s? Become Mrs. John Brown and you can disappear completely.

    • Tracey-how are you being a feminist by condemning fellow women? And watch who you’re calling a doormat. Some of the hardest working, dedicated feminists I know carry their husband’s surname….and it was their choice, not their husband’s, and not that of small-minded women like you. I chose my husband’s last name for a variety of reasons, none of which I need to explain to so called other “feminists.”

  34. Lois Ava-Matthew says:

    Very interesting stories, thanks for sharing them. I did not keep my birth name back in the 70s when I married the first time. When I divorced in the mid-90s, I couldn’t make a decision about my surname (I certainly didn’t want to return to my birth name, which seemed to belong to some other Lois. My children had their father’s surname.) So, I kept my ex’s name. Until 2005 when I married my 2nd husband. Again, I was not interested in returning to my birth name, and I certainly felt I needed to dump the ex’s name. After playing with possible suffixes to my middle name (Avalon, Avalane…etc), I ended up just hyphenating my middle name to his surname, eliminating my having a middle name (at least one sibling won’t recognize my hyphenated name). Looking back, I wish I’d taken on one of the middle name creations and skipping the hyphen altogether.

  35. radical-dyke says:

    Marriage is not a feminist choice- ever. The institution of women is one built on male violence against women, sexuality slavery and rape. Having a relationship with a man is also not a feminist choice. It puts you at a much higher risk for being a victim of male violence. Men have shown throughout history they are dangerous. There is a reason some feminists use the word “womyn” btw. It’s about reclaiming language. All of our words in English to describe women are incomplete with the male version in it. Take the “male” out of the word female and its just an incomplete 2 letters that stand by nothing on its own. To make it about women men have just added on to the default which is the male terms. Male are considered the default humans in patriarchy. This article is not very insightful. Like they say- feminism is the theory, lesbianism is the practice. The born this way movement started so gays would stop being tortured by straight people. Heterosexuality is a social construct.
    The term “heterosexuality” only started to be used in the late 19th century by the male psycho contingents and was first coined by a German man apparently (this is in the context of Freudian psychoanalytical backlash against women). It was invented to replace the term “normalsexual” – which was probably too overtly political – and to oppose it to “homosexual”. The men in the psychogenocidal departments invented it for the following purposes:

    pathologise lesbianism (and homosexuality) and treat it as a deviance to be cured punished. / pathologise women who resisted PIV and marriage and chose to bond with women instead;
    define men’s sexual ownership of women as the norm (= their use of women as dick holes and breeders = rape /impregnation / forced childbearing /abuse);

    define men’s sexual ownership of women as a “sexuality” and “sexual orientation” so to hide the violence of it;

    naturalise it, that is, define it as a natural biological drive in both men AND women.

    More on a radical view of heterosexuality:

  36. Finally, someone brings up the point if you don’t take your husband’s name, you still have your father’s name. There is no legacy of the female line unless a first name is passed down. As women, the only feminist choose we have is changing our names and then giving those new last names to out kids. Only then, do we have a name legacy. I find the fact I do not have a name based on my mother’s line or any female ascestor really troubling.

  37. Interesting article and the comments, ladies! 🙂 I really enjoyed reading them. I am not yet even engaged or anything (not that it’s a must, but I like shiny things – though I know the origins of the ring being a ring and it makes me squeamish – I’d rather prefer engagement….earrings?) but I live together with my boyfriend of 2 years and we do talk about marriage and etc. from time to time. If all goes well, it will happen – and I don’t mind, I like the stability of this, as well as the legal advantages to being married, at least in my home country, where you get better mortgage options, right to visit your spouse in the hospital and get info on his health and etc.

    Should we get married, I plan to just simply hyphenate my surname with his. We thought also about creating a totally new surname, but there is such a lengthy process with it, it’s just easier to hyphenate. The kids will get his surnames I guess, or maybe both surnames without a hyphen, we will see. We are from different countries and I want to retain my heritage by keeping my surname (that, btw, isn’t my father’s but my maternal grandfather’s – my parents never married) + adding boyfriend’s Finnish surname with a beautiful, poetic meaning of ‘meadowy’. Gotta love that, especially as I love meadows and nature in general. 🙂

    I AM feminist to a huge degree, but I think I can show my girl power! in other, more important areas too, e. g. like working in a very male-dominated field of game design and thus setting an example for other womYn – it’s all good and possible, we can rock anything – even if we are Michaela Anna MY SURNAME-HUSBAND’S SURNAME 😉

  38. MaryLou Smith-Jones says:

    I have no problems with hyphenated names. I just think it reasonable for those who have them to use them consistently or not at all. As an explanation – when I worked in a pharmacy I can’t tell you how many times I got chewed out by people who would have their medications phoned in from a physician’s office that used the non-hyphenated version. So when they arrive to pickup and make reference to the hyphenated name we have to go on a search expedition. Of course they blame the poor clerk and launch into a lecture about what hyphenated names are and how they should be treated alphabetically. But when you explain to them what happened – they don’t apologize and storm out. It also happens the other way where they give a surname, firstname when the prescription was phoned in under the hyphenated name. Again, they blame the clerk for a mistake that is theirs. Call YOUR doctor and fix the problem. “Society” isn’t responsible for the identity crisis.

  39. Weeza Matthias says:

    Most likely no one will see this. I’m writing because I have a point not in the above thread. I married a man in 1974 and kept my own last name, despite my being willing to take his mother’s “maiden” name because she was an only child and the name was going to die (proven by good research). When he wouldn’t “do that to his father,” I couldn’t see changing to his there was a brother already with children. Came out lesbian in ’78 right AFTER divorce (not cause but eventually would have been). Now am going to marry the Love of my Life who I met online when I was 60! We spent months trying to find a name which reflects each & both of our spiritual lives. Finally found one: Firebolt. We both are fiery beings. And the final point, I was never willing to give up my name until now. There is a depth of love in this relationship that I am willing to join in a way I’ve never felt before.
    And, please, could the folks above who are being judgmental express themselves without putting others down? While I agree with much of their analysis for MYSELF, as a lesbian feminist, I support and RESPECT the choices others make. To me that is the primary tenant of feminism.

    • Careen Shannon says:

      Hi Weeza. I am the author of this article. Just letting you know that I saw your comment. Love your story!

  40. C Brienz says:

    Hello 🙂 The pick a last name discussion can be really straightforward. I asked my soon to be husband if wanted my last name. He said no. He asked me if I wanted his last name and I said no. We kept our own names until our daughter was born. We discussed naming our daughter and each of us wanted her to have our last name. Since we couldn’t agree on which name and we valued all having the same last name, we picked a new last name for her (we chose the name of the lake we were married by, preferring something with sentimental meaning to us rather than a mashup of our last names), and then my husband and I both changed our name to match the one we choose for her. Names can be changed with a bit of court paperwork and a processing fee. I think a name should reflect choice, and as long as an informed choice is made, whatever name you pick (even if it follows patriarchal naming conventions) is fine.

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