Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Last Name Debate

So I didn't take my husband's last name when we got married. There were a lot of reasons for this -- some that were really clear at the time and some that are still kind of vague.

All of my married friends except one have taken their husbands' last names. Even my friends in academia (that strange world where women are known to speak their minds and occasionally say intelligent things) have changed their names. I don't think that it is anti-feminist to change your name. But I also don't think that it means you love your husband more or it will make you a stronger family unit to have the same last name as your kids.

Some of my friends' husbands would been upset if they hadn't changed their names. I knew that D would have liked it if I had taken his name. I considered his feelings. But I also considered my feelings. And I knew that if he loved me, he'd get over it. It just didn't seem that important to me. Or maybe it was important to me to win that first battle.

Some girls I know were super excited to change their name. Either they liked their husband's name better than their maiden name, they had been raised in blended families and wanted a last name that made them feel part of the marital unit, or they saw taking their husband's name as one more sign of their commitment.

I liked my maiden name.

My parents and brother and I were all Taylors and I wasn't especially eager to completely disassociate myself from them (those of you who know them are shocked by this, I realize).

I had been in graduate school for a year and I liked the way Brooke Taylor looked in the corner of my papers. Brooke Duckworth seemed like a stranger. A stranger with a goofy last name.

I couldn't quite imagine myself standing up in front of a room of college students -- who were just a few years younger than myself at the time -- and calling myself Mrs. Duckworth. It sounded like a character in a Disney cartoon. A character with feathers and webbed feet and probably an apron and possibly a lisp. That just didn't feel like me.

But the real reason, I think, is something a little more complicated. Because, truth be told, I was ALREADY freaked out about the enormity of the commitment when we got married. Love, honor, cherish, co-sign a mortgage, make a budget, share a dog, wear a ring, clean the bathroom, never date anyone else again ever, holy crap. I mean, I just wore a huge white dress, made some crazy promises, exchanged rings, and attempted to waltz in front of all our family and friends as a sign of my love and fidelity. Did I really need to go to the social security office to make this MORE official?

At 24, I was one of the first of my friends to get married, and I was kind of freaked out by the whole thing. It just seemed so... real. And adult. And crazy. I bit my best friend's head off the day of my wedding because she kept saying, "I can't believe you're getting married!" and I was freaking sick of hearing it. Because I couldn't believe it either and it was stressing me out.

I think what she meant was "I don't know what happens after this but I don't want things to change just because you're getting married!" And I didn't want things to change either. I didn't want to lose my identity. I didn't want to be a boring old married person. I didn't want to be different from the person I was before I got married.

And, no, I don't think changing your name makes any of that happen. But I got married relatively young. I wasn't finished being Brooke Taylor yet. I'm still becoming the person I'm going to be. And I like to think that person is still Brooke Taylor. Who is also Brooke Taylor Duckworth.

My in-laws assume I changed my name. As did most people in my family.

Sometimes I'm still not entirely sure why I didn't. Sometimes I wish I had. Save the hassle and all that. Also people sometimes look at me weird when they find out I kept my married name. I just didn't feel like a Mrs. Duckworth. Now, I don't mind using my married name if my maiden name is attached. I don't mind using my maiden name by itself. People know how to spell "Taylor" and no one mentions the goddamn mighty ducks when they meet me. I don't want to hyphenate. I just want three names. Plus my middle name. Which makes four.

It seemed to be a bit of dilemma, and I wasn't sure what I wanted to do about it. So I did... nothing. My name didn't change because of inertia. It seemed like a lot of paperwork for something I wasn't all that excited about.

I guess I often use D's last name socially. Most people who meet us assume I took his name. The lady at the bank changed my name without even asking me when we opened a joint checking and savings account, although my driver's license still has my maiden name. It's never been a problem. I sign whatever name I feel like, usually using all three names unless it is something for school, in which case I am always just Brooke Taylor. Sometimes I think that it would be a good idea to add his last name to mine (an afterthought, if you will, like Hillary Rodham, who added Clinton 5 years later) for legal/medical/travel/official political issues that might come up. Just so people would know we belong together. I like the idea of us being a pair. A set. A shared last name. I get that.

But while I love being part of "The Duckworths," I also like the idea of having my own name. One that does not invite quacking. Somehow having different last names still suggests to me that we're together because we want to be. Not because we are legally bound in some kind of formal ceremony.

Plus it was kind of awesome to fill out the passport application with my maiden name and then write "Duckworth" in the "Other Names or Aliases" section of the form. Mrs. Duckworth is totally my alias.


  1. There is another reason for taking your spouse's name - in my case, I was tired of always being "last" in our alphabet-driven world because my maiden name was Vance. Going to Baker really saved time.I had 31 years of Vance and was ready for a change.

  2. This is true... Duckworth would certainly put me in line ahead of Taylor

  3. one word...PEED.

    Why did you not share your brilliance with your cousin?

  4. What a cute couple you are! Love your dress! I also got married when I was 24. Back then (25+ years ago now, eeek...), most of my friends were still switching to their husbands' names... & while I'm a feminist, I've never been a trailblazer. ; ) I thought about hyphenating, but my Ukrainian last name hyphenated with his Italian name seemed sort of bizarre -- although I've heard much more bizarre combinations in the years since then.

    Ultimately, I thought about how I would have to explain to my father-in-law -- who had treated me so wonderfully & welcomed me warmly into the family (even if I wasn't Italian, lol) -- why I wasn't taking his name. I just couldn't do it. So I took dh's name, although I use both names on Facebook & in relation to family history, etc.