Six Women Explain How They Decided to (or Not to) Change Their Last Names After Marriage

It's a personal decision but hearing about other women's experiences might inspire your own.

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Photo: Carlie Statsky Photography

The topic of changing one's last name after getting married has swayed significantly in recent decades, and even more so in recent years. As with most things wedding-related, couples now feel empowered to adopt the traditions they connect with and skip the ones they don't—the new bride changing her last name is the perfect example. Though our grandparents' generation might not have thought twice about a woman changing her name shortly after marriage, there are a number of reasons why you may be weighing your options. Whether you have already established a professional career under your maiden name or you find the tradition archaic, there's absolutely no rule that says you need to trade in your last name for a new one. And if you are all for changing your last name, go for it!

The takeaway? Do what feels right for you. Wherever you fall on the last-name-change spectrum is perfectly fine, as no one should judge you for such a personal decision. If you're still on the fence, consider these stories from women who have been in your shoes. We asked six women to explain why they decided to change—or not change—their last names after they got married.

Since Naomi S., from Charlotte, North Carolina, never knew her father and was estranged from her mother as an adult, she says she didn't have very strong ties to her maiden name. "No one else in my family had the same last name as mine and I always felt that mine was something that I owned," she says. "When I began to date my husband, who is from a very large family, I realized it was a little sad to go through life not connected to anyone else through my last name, so I decided to take his because I wanted us to be a family that is connected in that way."

Sarah H., an American citizen now living in New Delhi, India, decided to change her last name while she was working in television news in Charlotte, North Carolina. A more generic name, a colleague told her, might be beneficial when working in the broadcast space. "As a staunch feminist the idea of taking a man's last name horrified me, but one day I said to my husband, 'I'm changing my last name to yours for professional reasons.' He laughed because he'd been trying to convince me to do it for a year. I have no idea if I've gotten more jobs because of it, or less, or if it even matters at all."

Natalie W., from Albany, New York, did the very opposite—she opted to keep her last name for professional reasons. "I'm an author and have written four books with my maiden name, so it is a huge part of my identity and career. Of course, I could keep it professionally and use my married name personally, but I want to keep it in some official capacity," she says. While Natalie did consider using her maiden name as her middle name, it didn't quite pan out. "I also love my middle name, so the practice of changing my middle name to my maiden name is troublesome, too—then add in the fact that my married name is already a hyphenated name, and we're looking at one seriously long name!"

Long Island City, New York, resident, Leah W.'s reasoning for keeping her maiden name was both professional and personal. "I got married a month before I turned 31 and, at that point, I'd been an attorney for seven years. I felt like, professionally, I had established my own identity and wanted to maintain that identity. Personally, though my husband and I are amazing, loving partners, we're pretty independent people and it didn't feel right to me to take his last name. Also, from a feminist perspective, when you change your name and are referred to as Mrs. 'x,' formal etiquette says that that signifies that you 'belong' to the person's last name you took, and for me, that wasn't going to fly," she explains. "It can definitely be a challenging situation, since sometimes one partner might feel one way and the other partner might not agree, not to mention when family members start weighing in and don't agree with the decision, but overall it's what was right for me."

Though Nandita G., from Atlanta, Georgia, has been married for nearly 20 years, she still stands by her decision not to change her last name. "When my then-boyfriend and I talked about the possibility of getting married someday, I indicated that I was born with a certain name that identified me as who I was, and that I was not planning on changing it. I'm also rather proud of my maiden name. My late father was a highly decorated police officer and his name is my middle name, so keeping my maiden name lets me keep his memory with me in all that I do," she says. "My husband, daughter, and I have different last names, though my daughter has expressed interest in adding her grandfathers' last name (my maiden last name) to her own when she is older, as a way to honor her grandfather's memory.

Mary W., from Phoenix, Arizona, has the interesting experience of having done both—changing her last name when she first got married and then not changing it the second time. "In my first marriage (the starter one, when I learned how not to have a relationship), I took my husband's last name, but when we divorced, I went back to my original last name. When I married the second time, I decided to keep my original last name. In a way, it was superstition—the first time didn't work, so I decided to do something different the second time, but after my second husband passed away, I did try to change it," she shares. "After 'test driving' my new name for a while, I decided I'd stay with my original one because so many people knew me by it. When someone asked me what my name was, I would hesitate, trying to remember how they knew me. How could that not seem suspicious? Didn't I know my own name?!"

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