Kicking Ass and Taking [Last] Names

Hi all!

I have a question for you – would you ever consider taking your partner’s last name?

Kara Pierson photography

I don’t think I have mentioned here yet that my partner and I are engaged. It’s really a cute story, and I just might share it with you someday! The wedding itself is a couple of years off, but I have been thinking about whether I will want to make a name change then.

My partner and I have had a few discussions about this and a number of choices have come up, which are as follows:

1. First, we could do nothing. Our names could just stay the same. My feeling about this, however, is that I want some marker of our marriage, something permanent that signifies our union to ourselves and to the world. When we marry, we will be forging a new family, and ideally our last names would reflect that.

2. The hyphen is another option, but our last names don’t necessarily have the best ring when put next to each other. Also, if we did the hyphen thing, our last name would be fourteen characters long. Unwieldy to say the least! Plus, whose name goes first in the line-up?

3. Then there’s the possibility of one of us taking the other’s last name. My partner even suggested that she could take mine and I could take hers so it would be equitable. Part of me thinks this is a wonderful idea, yet another part of me wants our surnames to be the same, to signify our unity as a couple and family. Someday when we have children this would probably also be helpful in terms of practical everyday issues, like school forms.

4. I’ve really been thinking heavily about taking my partner’s last name. I actually really want to, but I can’t pin down exactly why. I do want to be a part of her family, and taking her name would be a wonderful symbol of this. However, I’m wondering how much of my desire to take her last name is related to patriarchal brainwashing.

Last year, Portia de Rossi took Ellen’s last name and opened up a Pandora’s Box of debate. If the femme lesbian takes the more masculine/androgynous partner’s name, are they in some way succumbing to heteronormative pressures? If I take my partner’s last name, will it only further induce the ignorant assumption that she is “the man” in our relationship?

5. And finally, there’s Option Five, which is we make a new name for ourselves, either from some combination of our last names or just whatever the heck we want.

Just now as I was writing this, my partner said, “If we make up our own last name, I want it to be Tattoopierce. Or bmxgolfer. Like a screenname!”

“Yeah,” I responded. “Or sexylady69!”

“Can you imagine?” and we fell into a fit of laughter, as we continued to make up more and more ridiculous potential last names.

In all seriousness though, I honestly don’t know which of these options we will choose. I know this is a personal decision and I shouldn’t be concerned about what anyone else thinks. But I am interested in why I so strongly feel an urge to take her last name. Am I analyzing too much? I just don’t want to surrender to the patriarchal propaganda I’ve been fed all my life.

So what do you think? Would you ever consider taking your partner’s last name? Why or why not? Do any of the options I’ve laid out here fit for you, or some other choice that I haven’t thought of yet? Please, enlighten me in the comments!

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22 Comments on “Kicking Ass and Taking [Last] Names”

  1. April 15, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    I would not, but I am also anti-marriage (I was married to a man for a few years and didn’t take his name either, BTW.) I feel very strongly about two people in a relationship remaining individuals and even when I was in a hetero marriage, it was very important for me to keep my name because it was MINE. But like I said, I won’t be getting married again. I think that all the rights and privileges that come with marriage should be accessible without the institution.

    • April 15, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

      I absolutely respect your opinion and choice to keep your own name!

      Also, I’m curious about your last assertion. I value your perspective and would love to hear in your view how a society would offer those privileges to its people without an institution like marriage.

      • April 15, 2011 at 10:20 pm #

        I think if two people want to enter into a legal contract they should be able whether they are married or not. I wish the law would recognize many different types of relationships and families, rather than just the traditional marriage and blood-relatives. Obviously, that is not likely to happen soon, though. I am a strong supporter of the position laid out here: http://www.beyondmarriage.org/

        I would rather see domestic partnerships offered. Marriage to me is a religious institution steeped in patriarchy and heteronormativity. I don’t subscribe to either and reject assimilationist agendas of the major LBGT rights groups.

        • April 15, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

          Interesting – thanks for the link! Food for thought for sure.

  2. Wendy
    April 15, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

    I think the hyphenation of your names sounds nice! I’ve been thinking about this because I think it would be weird if I changed my name when I was married- in all likelihood my medical degree will have my birth name on it, so I would be practicing under a different name from that. On the other hand, I do like the idea of sharing a name with my partner.

    • April 15, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

      Haha really? I think the hyphenation sounds like a knight of the Round Table. Either that or a sorting house at Hogwarts.

      Hmm! Practicing under a different name.. Hadn’t thought about that issue. Good point.

  3. April 15, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    I’m actually with Wendy and would like to add the hyphenation to our names. However I have told Jess I would be more than happy to take her last name. With both of us being femme we wouldn’t be looking at the Portia/Ellen debate either.
    Kara XOXO

    • April 15, 2011 at 11:50 pm #

      I think hyphenation is a great idea if it works for you! Just wanted to make sure it didn’t sound like I thought all hyphenated names sounded like sorting houses..haha. Just the combination of my and my partner’s last names.

  4. July 25, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    Hello! I know this post is a few months old but thought I’d throw in a comment. I’m planning to take my girlfriend’s last name when we get married–my parents kept their respective last names and I always found it a little annoying as a kid. I want to make it clear to the world that we’re a family, a unit (and not sisters!) and I like that power of a joint last name. I’ve also never felt particularly strong about my own last name and think her’s is nice and simple.

    The one issue I think about is that not all of her family is supportive of her lifestyle–in fact, most aren’t. I worry about offending them by taking their name. Something I’ll need to think about more, I guess.

    • July 25, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

      I agree with you! I love the idea of creating a family unit – I think that is why I am so drawn to taking my partner’s last name.

      Also, I know it is difficult but I wouldn’t worry about offending her family members by taking their last name. As long as you and your partner are comfortable with it, that’s all that really matters. If they want to be, people will be offended by LGBT relationships regardless of whether you try to accommodate their insecurities. So if taking your partner’s last name will make you two happy, then I think you should do it!

  5. August 6, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    Interesting post & good questions! I think Whitney & I will hyphen our names… though it is kind of funny because Im a vegetarian (what a surprise) & her surname is Bacon.. oh dear haha. Either we join names, or she’ll be taking mine. I don’t know why but that feels more right if one of us were to take a surname.

    When joining names it is true you have to see how ti sounds & if its too long. ButI agree about creating family name & also for the children to have the same surname etc.

    I think if you want to take her surname, then go for it! why question it?

    M x

  6. Lauren
    August 8, 2011 at 2:31 am #

    The good thing about having brothers is that you are not responsible for carrying on your family’s last name. I am taking my girlfriend’s last name with no regrets. It rolls off of the tongue better than my last name with her first combo. I think it just depends on the specifics of the relationship.

    • August 25, 2011 at 5:34 pm #

      Haha! So true about carrying on the family name. Although my parents had two daughters, so I’m pretty sure they weren’t expecting either of us to keep our names.

      And good to hear that someone else is taking their partner’s last name. If it feels right, it feels right!

  7. Genny
    August 8, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

    This is an interesting topic. From my own experience with my parents, they both kept their last names and made mine into a hyphenated name, a combination of both. In many ways, I love my hyphenated last name, and it’s so unique. My mother is American and my father is French. It’s representative of my self-identity as a mixture of both cultures and languages. So, I’m a strong advocate for hyphenated last names, or even a combination of both your names, if length is of any concern, which I completely understand (- my name is so incredibly long). On the other hand, if you feel strongly about changing your name, then maybe that is the best decision in your case. In the end, the most important thing is your happiness.

    • August 25, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

      Hyphenation is definitely the most equitable. And it’s good to hear that you love yours! Maybe that means that our future kids would love their last name too if Ash and I decide to hyphenate.

  8. Megan
    August 24, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

    My partner and I are engaged, were getting married after I graduate with my bachelors degree either this may or next may, I want to take her last name. Neither one of us are butch, I am more feminine, but I dont think that because the more feminine is taking the others last name that it is falling pray to heteronormative society.

    • August 25, 2011 at 5:38 pm #

      Congrats on being engaged, and your future graduation!

      I think I think you’re right about taking the last name not being related to heteronormative brainwashing. But then I can’t help but also wonder if I feel that way BECAUSE I’ve been brainwashed! This is seriously some Matrix-type shit

  9. Mariana
    September 6, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    Oh, Julia, you’re so great! It’s wonderful hearing how much thought you put into it seeing as it _is_ actually a rather difficult situation. As many before me have already established, creating a family union is important but thenagain you don’t want to lose yourself in the process. And above all: reinforcing heteronormative behaviour in a lesbian invironment would suck. For everyone. But then, there’s this part of me that goes: so what if your future wife wears sneakers whereas you don’t? You don’t have to walk up to every person you meet and apologise for wanting to take her name. Every question has a long and a short answer, and as long as you know in your heart that the long answer is a pretty darn good one, you shouldn’t have to care about the conclusions other people will jump to. Follow your gut feeling and make sure to discuss this delicate question whenever you meet curious people. I think that option would be the best for lesbians everywhere. Invite people in for discussion and explain the hassle to people who have never given it a thought.

    When me and my former girlfriend discussed this it soon because clear that I was, and still am, very emotionally attached to my surname whereas she wasn’t. (My surname is the most famous surname in Sweden ((Johansson)) and thus, tells people about my cultural heritage.) To put our names together would’ve just sounded odd and since her name would be an alliteration with my surname it played out really well. We we’re both femme and all that jazz so the patriarchal propaganda wasn’t an issue. Let’s just hope everything works just as smoothly with the girl I will actually marry!

    Good luck to you!

  10. December 2, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    All feminism feelings aside I always, always loved the idea of taking Lucy’s name. It sounds good with my first name, my own last name is not exactly what dreams are made of and somehow I do like that sense of belonging. I want that unity :) Surely in a girl on girl relationship, no matter how boy-ish one of them may be, patriarchy can’t actually exist.

    • December 2, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

      I don’t think you can leave feminism aside when talking about marriage, though. It is inherently a patriarchal institution and no amount of lesbian weddings can erase that history. It would be naive to think so.

  11. Chey
    January 21, 2012 at 8:24 pm #

    We did an exercise like this in an anthropology class I was in and a really interesting question that came up is not about the married couple but about the next generation (that is if you have one). If your names are separate or hyphened – what do the kids take? The hyphened one comes into play with grandkids and children marrying. Could they possibly hyphen their already hyphened last name. How does this work?
    Of course this entails a lot of personal choices for a lot of people. We were studying kinship and systems where people trace their heritage through names. Also got me thinking about genealogies in 2112? How will people find you in history?
    I know these are sort of tangents, but maybe worth a a thought or thought-experiment?
    Best of luck!

  12. November 13, 2012 at 12:00 am #

    Sorry I am late to the convo, but we are newly engaged. My girlfriend and I have had this conversation on many occasions.

    Topics that influence the discussion:
    1. We don’t have any typical male/female roles. Yes, I’m in the army, but I am also more comfortable in heels and a skirt. We will both definitely be wearing dresses in our wedding.
    2. We are both very easy going and not extremely attached to our last names.
    3. I have already had 3 last names in my life due to a full-family name change at age 13 and a bad-idea-for-a-hetero-marriage at age 21. Kim doesn’t like the idea of me having to go through the headache and cost of changing my license, passport, social security card, etc. again. She is extremely thoughtful like that!
    4. Our names are both long. Imagine a poor child with a 16-letter-plus-hyphen last name… And we’re also keen on a long first name for our future children (yikes!).
    5. I would be a practicing medical professional with a different-than-my-last-name degree if any changes were to be made (even though I rally like the sound of our names combined to one word, this would get weird). Also, being in the military changing of the name is a pain and so are the workplace headaches of homophobia.
    6. Of course we want our family to be recognized as such. We don’t want any questions at school or when traveling, at the doctor’s office, etc.
    7. Kim is her Father’s only child. However, he does not have the name of his birth father, whom he never knew.

    So, it is somewhat likely that Kim will take my name when we tie the knot, but it is still up for discussion!

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