The Great Last-Name Debate

Here is a fun experiment for you to try on your husband-to-be. Ask him if he would have considered taking your last name instead of keeping his own when you got married. Based on what I have experienced, I bet that most men will immediately say no and provide you with a very creative answer.

I unwillingly participated in this experience recently with my fiancé, Nick. We were driving in the car, talking about our upcoming wedding, when he asked me if I was going to take his last name. I said that I had been planning on it but would definitely miss mine. The Flowers last name had always served me well and it was one that people remembered and could always spell. Nick agreed that I did have a great last name and said that he never liked his.

“Why don’t you take my last name when we get married?” I proposed casually.

The silence that followed told me I had struck a nerve.

No, he finally said, but he didn’t stop there. He told me that if I “forced” him, it would be a deal breaker and end our entire relationship.

Stunned, I sat quietly mulling this. Nick is an extremely progressive and open-minded man but on this subject it seemed that he was completely inflexible. My curiosity was piqued, so I asked him to explain why it was so important to him, and I got the following explanations:

My last name is a legacy passed down to our children. I told him he would absolutely be correct if his surname was the only thing that would win him the Iron Throne in Game of Thrones, but in today’s society, there was no noble legacy to pass down.

It will end his line since he is the only male left. Yes, I agreed, but is that really so bad? Nick’s father was adopted, so Nick never really knew his grandfather. When Nick was a young boy, his parents divorced and his father has been out of the picture for the last 10 years. When I pointed this out, he agreed it wasn’t the best line to continue, but he still stayed firm on his decision.

I should be proud to take his name. Shouldn’t he feel pride to take mine? Why was my last name so inconsequential and his more important? It didn’t seem right, but again he couldn’t seem to explain it.

I want our children to have the same last name. I do, too, but why is yours the “obvious” choice?

The debate raged on in our house, so we decided to bring it to our listeners on our radio program on 101.9 The Wolf in Sacramento, California. The responses we got were telling. Not only did we get men calling in with the same excuses Nick had already given, but we had women calling saying that I was being too much of a feminist. This took me off guard. Of course I am a feminist! I believe in the equal rights of women. I believe in equal pay, an equal voice and in this case an equal consideration in our future. In response to that, some of the listeners said that I was challenging the social norm and that I could hyphenate if I really wanted to.

Unfortunately, they were missing the point. Why is my name not equal to my future husband’s?

For the last 33 years I have been Kristen Flowers. I have worked hard to build an entire career around that name, as did my partner with his, but why am I the one expected to throw it all away? There was no conversation about which last name we should choose once we got married. It was just expected that I would take his.

Needing more answers and a wider focus group, I turned to social media. On our radio station’s Facebook page I asked the question again, “Why does a woman always have to take the man’s name in marriage?” I got the same usual responses, but two in particular caught my eye. One woman simply said “because.” Another said that she would think “her husband would be less of a man” if he agreed to take her name. Again, I was shocked.

Before this discussion was brought up I had always planned to take Nick’s last name. I never thought twice about it but now I am left with a more complicated feeling. What does that say about me as a person if I do take his name? It hurts me to know that I would never be Kristen Flowers again.

I don’t have the answers, but I am fascinated by the discussion. I certainly respect those women out there who choose to take their husband’s last name and I would never want to put anyone down for it. I’m simply looking for a good reason and I don’t feel “because” quite solves this debate.

See more commentary about feminist marital name-changing here.

Photo of Mr. and Mrs. Egg salt and pepper shakers from the 1950s from Flickr user Joe Haupt under license from Creative Commons 2.0


Kristen Flowers is a radio gypsy who's lived all over the United States! She is currently a morning show host on 101.9 The Wolf in Sacramento, working with her fiancé Nick Steele. Off the air she writes for the Girls on the Grid blog and works on her first novel.