Luke was careful to ask married women about their experiences and changing their last names before writing this article.
Getting Married? Congratulations!
So, you found Mr. Right, the perfect fish in the sea? And he agreed while on one knee to be your one and only? Then congratulations on your engagement! You are going to get married and live happily ever after. I hope it's the fairytale wedding you always dreamed about. You know, the one with where he sweeps you off your feet and carries you into the sunset on a unicorn. Just kidding, but seriously.
For one woman I interviewed, it started with a boy named Jason Miller in the sixth grade. He was the tallest boy in class and in every game of M.A.S.H. she played, she used to write his name plus her name in hearts all throughout her notebook. She had pages dedicated to writing Mrs. Miller over and over. He was her first crush, and she dreamed they would get married.
Surprisingly enough, they did date for a year in college. She thought it was fate. You bet she wrote their names together again. It was nostalgic but also important because she finally realized what it meant for her individuality. Suddenly, "Mrs. Miller" didn't look right. It wasn't her. She wasn't ready. And taking a Women's Rightscourse, she wondered what kind of misogynistic culture she was being subjected to.
History of Changing Maiden Names
Many people don't realize how recently women were given rights of any kind. The march for equality in the early 20th century was leaps and bounds beyond women living only a few hundred years before. Prior to the 14th century, European women were seen as their husband's property. Unfortunately, this sickening oppression still exists in some parts of the world today. It wasn't until the 15th century that women started taking their husband's surname as a symbolic show of their union--a coupled pair of "one flesh and one blood." The movement had begun.
Originally, the tradition of taking the husband's surname was a step toward equality. However, this practice continued unquestioningly across the United States for the next 200 years. It wasn't until 1856 when a woman named Lucy Stone was the first to break the tradition of taking your husband's last name. This inspired other women to keep their maiden names. Now, a New York Times poll suggests that around 20% of women keep their maiden names, and 10% hyphenate their old and new last names. This trend tends to fluctuate throughout the years. Currently, the practice of keeping your maiden name is on the decline.
Psychological Grief Cycle
For those of you who are thinking about changing your last name, it's important to recognize the reality of this process. Unfortunately, the government will not accept the "she + he" heart doodles scribbled throughout your old diaries. Changing your name takes months, money, and many trips to the mailbox. While many dream about becoming the next "Mrs. Dr. Perfect," few women actually realized what it meant. Have you considered how changing your maiden name will affect your identity?
This experience can be scary, but rest assured that you are not alone. Many women (and people) giving up their last names go through a similar grief cycle to the Kubler-Ross model of the Five Stages of Grief. The model describes the process of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance when dealing with something precious lost. When some women get married, although they don't realize it at the time, they could experience all these phases to various degrees.
I think it's important to be real about how taking your husband's (or partner's) surname is a life-changing event. They don't teach this in school, so I wanted to share the experience some women report having with others in hopes that it might help. While you may or may not share in their grief cycle, I have broken down the process of losing a last name into five familiar phases.
Phase 1: Fantasy
The fantasy phase is girlish glee. It consists of writing your new last name with your first name over and over again. You practice your new signature, play with your new initials, and make sure there are no awkward combinations or acronyms with the letters.
This phase could go all the way back to your first crush. It's reminiscent of the times you wrote his/her and your name together and circled them with hearts. You play with these names and daydream about what marrying such a person would be like. You imagine how your new name sounds and are careful to find a good combination because nobody wants the name Julia Gulia.
While this phase is exciting, you may be blinded by hearts and roses. You might think the most impacting aspect of changing your name will be how your signature looks. You may fail to recognize the importance of your maiden name. Many people don't realize how much a name is part of their identity until they actually change it.
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Phase 2: Reality Check
In the second phase, you are recently married and have taken to the grueling task of changing your last name. You suddenly realize how much of a pain in the ass this process is going to be. There are going to be long lines at the DMV, forms to fill out, and letters to mail. You realize that you have to change your social security card. Once you get that back, you'll have to change your driver's license and passport. After, you can change your credit cards and banking account information. Eventually, you might have to change your e-mail address, work, and benefits information (medical, dentist, etc.), update your social media, and inform relevant contacts. This process could take months.
Phase 3: What Have I Done?
The third phase could bring up many different feelings. Doubt, fear, and regret might make you wonder if you made the right choice. Giving up your identity for the past twenty or so years could throw you into an existential crisis. Some people grieve the loss of their old name and old identity.
One woman said, "It felt like I didn't know who I was anymore. I didn't realize that I would be sacrificing a part of myself when I changed my last name. I become paranoid. Am I trapped now? Did my husband trick me into taking his last name? Has society brainwashed me into supporting my own oppression? There was a desire to burst free."
Phase 4: Rebellion
The fourth phase is a rebellion against your new name and possibly your new husband. You might try signing your name in new ways that emphasize your first name; for example first name and last initial only. You put some real thought into whether or not your husband is trying to take over your life. Did he trick or force you into taking his last name? You might be angered by the idea that you just sacrificed your whole family's name (and basically family) for some man.
Another woman I interviewed shared her thoughts on the matter. "I started to wonder, 'What did he do for me? Why didn't he take my last name?' I started to question cultural norms and gender roles. Either way, my feminist bone came out and I clearly saw the inequality of men and women in the United States. It was despicable."
On top of all this, she was struck with a terrifying realization: If she got a divorce, she would have to go through the entire name changing process all over again. She shuddered at the thought.
Phase 5: Acceptance
The final phase is acceptance. You've leveled out (although your husband might now wonder what he's signed up for). You, on the other hand, know perfectly well. You've completed the cycle of grief and have actually started to embrace your new identity. You realize that a new name means a new you and that you can be whoever you want to be. Out with the old, in with the new.
Although you're not as excited as the fantasy phase, the acceptance phase is more genuine and authentic. You begin signing and introducing yourself using your new, full name. Eventually, you'll develop pride in this name. As you spend more time with your new name, you realize that you aren't losing any part of your old self. Rather, you are adding to the intricacy and intimacy of who you already are.
You Are Not Alone
Someone out there may think this is dramatic, but these cycles are very real and reflect the process many women go through. Getting married and sharing names is part of the adventure (for some), and adventures can be scary. Sharing our experiences and processes could help others feel more connected and less alone. No two women are exactly alike which makes each of their stories even more powerful.
Did you have a similar thought process when changing your last name? Share your experience below.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 JourneyHolm