Chrissy Teigen and Amy Schumer joked about keeping their names, but women tell Moneyish it’s a difficult decision.
Taking a spouse’s name can be as difficult a decision for some women as accepting the proposal.
Sharokina Pazand, then 24, had “no doubt in my mind” that she would take her husband’s name when they got engaged a decade ago. But she started getting cold feet about giving up her name the closer she came to the wedding day.
“I was Sharokina Pazand for 24 years. That’s the only person I knew myself as,” Pazand, now 33, told Moneyish. She had just launched her event planning business under her name, and didn’t want to cause any confusion — so she stuck with Pazand. “Who knows if I’ll change it when we have kids in the future — but today, I’m so happy that I’m still Sharokina Pazand,” she said.
About one in five women married in recent years have kept their maiden surnames — particularly higher-income urban women, according to a 2015 New York Times report. And women who marry later (35 to 39 years old) are 6.4 times more likely to keep their names than women who walk down the aisle between the ages of 20 and 24, according to a 2010 study.
Helen Epstein, who was an established journalist and professor when she got engaged, insisted on keeping her own name. “His parents were horrified. But I could not imagine changing my name at the age of 34. I had been writing with the byline Helen Epstein for 14 years by then. My students called me Professor Epstein,” said Epstein, now 70, of Lexington, Mass.
“We’ve been married for over 30 years now, and I’ve never regretted my decision to keep my name on everything, including my credit cards, passport and voter registration, as well as on my books and articles,” she added. “I believe every woman must make up her own mind about this, but I’ve never given my decision a second thought.”
Then again, Jody Townsley Morse, 41, from Cleveland, Texas took the names of both her first and second husbands. She uses the ex’s last name as her middle, and her new husband’s surname as her legal last name.
“Reason: I have a daughter with my first husband,” she said. “I wanted to make sure she didn’t feel weird about not having the same name as her mother. Plus, it’s much easier with doctors, school staff, etc. if parents have the same name as their child.”
Amal Alamuddin famously took George Clooney’s last name when the pair wed in 2014, and Kim Kardashian has added West to the end of her name after tying the knot with Kanye West that same year.
Some women simply don’t like the way their new name would sound. Comedian Amy Schumer didn’t take her new husband Chris Fischer’s name when they wed in February, as she joked in an Instagram Stories video, because that would make her name Amy Fischer.
“Do you remember who Amy Fisher is? The Long Island Lolita,” she said in the clip, referring to the infamous 1992 case of the then 17-year-old who shot the wife of her 38-year-old lover Joey Buttafuoco. “No, I’m keeping my last name,” Schumer said.
And some women can’t bear to let an amazing maiden name go. That’s why Hollis Heavenrich-Jones, 57, from Chicago hyphenated her name with her husband’s. “I happen to think it’s quite beautiful, and didn’t want to lose it,” she told Moneyish.
Since Heavenrich-Jones is a mouthful, she and her husband gave their son Spencer just the last name Jones — and now the 12-year-old wants to legally change his name to be the same as his mom’s. “He thinks it’s cool, and has used it on his artwork,” Heavenrich-Jones said. “We’ve told him he can change his name when he turns 18 if that’s still what he wants to do.”
Chrissy Teigen jumped on a recent Twitter thread where women shared why they did or didn’t give up their names, noting her husband John Legend “didn’t even take his last name.” Legend’s real name is John Stephens; he adopted his high school nickname as his stage name.
my husband didn’t even take his last name? https://t.co/BMo6OsgcVv
— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) March 22, 2018
The model clarified that “I am not anti-taking the last name at all. I was going to. [I] just never got around to it and it isn’t even the name he goes by … I just don’t see how the choice affects anyone else — why do people care so much!”
They care because there are a lot of emotions wrapped up in whether to take a partner’s name or not, thanks to the practice’s misogynistic past. U.S. women weren’t legally allowed to keep their maiden names in every state until as late as 1972. Married couples were seen as “one person” by law, and that person was the husband. Property and finances were in his name, and her identity was known only in relation to his, as in “Mrs. John Smith.”
“I kept my last name because I’m not my husband’s property,” Jerin Arifa, a Queens feminist activist, told Moneyish. Her husband of seven years fully supports her decision. “My Muslim faith tells me that a person cannot belong to another. I belong to no one but myself.”
Arifa, a first-generation immigrant from Bangladesh, explained that wives in her home country keep their last names — a practice quite common in much of the world. In fact, Quebec, Greece, France and Belgium have laws in the books requiring that women keep their maiden names for legal documents, and it’s custom for women in Korea, Malaysia and many Spanish-speaking countries, including Spain and and Chile, keep their own last names.
“I don’t understand the practice of favoring one family’s last name — and therefore past, present and future — over another,” Arifa added. “I wonder if most people understand the history of why women in the West began taking their husband’s last name?”
Some women have come up with creative compromises. Johane Filemon took her husband’s last name, and made her maiden name her middle name. ”I did not give up who I was, but added onto whom I was becoming!” she told Moneyish.
Kimberly Faith told Moneyish she now goes by her first and middle name because both her father and her first husband’s last names carried a lot of baggage. “Why couldn’t I simply be me? We spend our entire lives belonging to someone else. There is great power in stepping into your own identity,” said Faith, 49, who works as a public speaker and executive coach.
And some women keep their own names simply because they don’t want to deal with the hassle (and hundreds of dollars in fees) of changing their name on all of their legal documents entails.
“The process is long and tedious. Even for changing my hotel rewards account, I have to submit documentation like my marriage certificate!” said Faith. “Every time I went through a change, I could not help but think, ‘No (married) man has ever had to go through a name change — ugh!’”
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