Name Changer

First of all I apologize for how this post probably rambles on. I’ve wanted to write about my name for a while, and I’m probably trying to cram in too many thoughts at once, please bear with me. Also I don’t mean to offend anyone, or pass judgments on anyone’s particular choices. Everything in here is my own opinion and highlights choices made specifically for me and my situation. My intention is not to preach to anyone, just explain the thinking behind how I got to where I am with my own name.

Also, I know I’ve mentioned this before, but just to clarify: Both my first and last names start with C. P is in the same boat, with a first and last name that start with the same letter. So I started out at “C C” and now I am “C C-P,” and P is “P P.”

I recently received our first Christmas card of the season and the envelope was addressed to “C and P” without any last name. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little bit. I’m sure we will get all sorts of name variations on our holiday mail this year, because when we got married I decided to hyphenate my last name. I believe I’m the first person in my family to have done this, so I can imagine that many will be confused at what the protocol is for addressing an envelope when the wife decides to buck the trend, even though I’ve been putting “C-P” as our return address for the past two years.

From a very young age I felt strongly about my last name. Perhaps it’s because my dad has three daughters and no sons who could traditionally “carry on the family name,” and I think he always imagined that his branch of the “C’s” would end with him. Or maybe I’ve always been stubborn with an acute sense of how I perceive my identity; but anyway, I never understood why a man intrinsically got to keep his name while a woman spent part of her life as one name and the rest as another. Something about it just irked me to the core.

However, ironically, I also admit that I was equally annoyed as a child when movie stars who I knew were married didn’t somehow share a semblance of a name to publicly show their familial tie. I always felt that without some sort of name connection the family lacked a sense of unity, or wasn’t as committed to each other.

I didn’t know how to rectify this in my mind. Growing up in a fairly conservative place, I didn’t really have classmates with different naming conventions. I didn’t know what options were available to me, or that options even existed! As I said before, my family always followed the pattern of a new wife taking her husband’s name upon marriage.

Then in high school my parents began their long messy divorce. I remember feeling strange for my mom… that she was now saddled with her married “C” last name which she elected to keep as a visible sign of her connection to her kids, even though she didn’t want to be connected to my dad anymore. I’m not sure if she ever thought about it, but I certainly did… that her last name could act as a constant reminder of the husband she no longer had. By no means am I saying that I’d want to keep my name in case I’m ever divorced (heaven forbid!) so that I can retain my maiden name without much difficulty, but it was something to think about when I was at a formative age.

It also struck me that I didn’t have the same relationship with my mother’s maiden name—“M”—that I had with my own last name. Of course I always thought of the M’s as my family too, but I was never an “M” in the same sense as I was a “C” (not meaning I was closer to one family or the other, it’s just I felt more like the name “C” represented me as an individual more than the name “M” did). It saddened me to think that if I had children and didn’t pass along my name in some form, then my potential future children might have that same noncommittal feeling about my name as I have about my mother’s.

Then one of my mother’s younger sisters got married when I was a freshman in high school. She was a corporate lawyer, a high powered go-getter, someone with a strong personality who married in her thirties so she had a long life as a “M” before marriage. I was totally shocked when she took her husband’s name without batting an eye. Of anyone in my family I thought for sure she would be different, times had changed. I was almost offended, why was this strong woman deciding to change how she is identified to the world simply because she married a man?

A few years later, I was sitting next to my aunt’s daughter, a blunt eight year old, who asked me what P’s last name was. “So you will be Mrs. P after you get married?” she asked me. “No.” I told her. I could see by the expression on her face that my answer completely caught her off guard. “Why not? What else could your name be?” she asked. “Ms. C-P” I explained. It seemed to be a completely new concept for her.

A Colombian student of mine put it nicely one day… most people from Spanish speaking cultures have two last names because one is from the mother and one from the father: so for example a person named Carlos Sanchez Rodriguez had a father whose last name was “Sanchez ______” and mother whose last name was “Rodriguez ______”.

Anyway, this student of mine didn’t really understand what “maiden name” meant on immigration forms so he would put “Rodriquez” as his maiden name and “Sanchez” as his last. I told him that people in the US would interpret this to mean that he was a) a woman and b) married if he filled out forms in that way. This launched us into a long discussion of last names in the US. Even though he had been living here for several years he hadn’t realized that most Americans only have one last name, from their father’s side, he just assumed they went by one of their two names for simplicity in a class room situation. At one point he declared “But, with only one name that’s like they are an orphan on their mother’s side!” I kind of liked that line of thinking.

As a college student I decided that if I were to marry someday I would want to hyphenate because it seemed to be the best of both worlds—my name and my husband’s name—my identity, and his, with family continuity on both sides. I remember having quite a few heated debates with people about my plan. People told me that hyphenated names were “pretentious,” or too long, or confusing. That a kid would never be able to spell such a name in kindergarten. I think it was the hyphen in particular that annoyed people, but I thought that without the hyphen it would be all too easy to drop the “C” or for people to assume that “C” was a middle name and not a last name, that it would be easier to mess things  up. I thought for alphabetizing purposes a hyphen made it easier because the names were connected, so something would have to be filed under the first “C.” It made more sense to me.

“But what about your kids?” someone asked once, “If you give them the same double/hyphen name as yours, what happens if your kid’s future spouse also wants to hyphenate? Will you have grandkids with four last names? How ridiculous is that? Where does the madness end?” To that I can only answer that I made the decision for myself, and any potential future kids can ultimately make their own decisions about their own naming conventions.

As it became more apparent that my marriage partner would eventually be P, I was adamant about my choice, and the fact that any potential kids will also have the C-P last name (or P-C, at one point I said if he decided to take my name he could decide on the order). P was always fine with me keeping my C, that was never an issue. However I pressed for P to take on the C-P last name as well so that the entire family would share the same name, a stronger, more visible identifier of a family unit. At first he seemed cool with the idea, but after starting his phd program and having some publications under “P P,” and as our actual marriage got closer, he wanted to stick with just “P” for his last name.

He worried that if he changed his name people back in Nepal might find it “weird,” or that it might mess up his immigration documents, or his Nepali citizenship papers. He didn’t know the legal hoops he would have to jump through. I still encouraged the name change, but eventually figured he wasn’t going to budge. I had to be fair, I wouldn’t have been happy if he had continually pressed me to drop my C (which he never did), so I couldn’t keep pressing him to do something he didn’t want to do. When we applied for our marriage license he lingered for a few moments over the “name after marriage” question and I held my breath to see if he would change his mind, but eventually he filled it in “P” and looked up at me apologetically. Ah well.

Right before we got married I had briefly struggled with the idea of just keeping “C” instead of adding “P.” Many of the female international people I knew had kept their maiden names after marriage. This was due, at least in part, to having married in the US and not wanting to deal with changing over all their immigration documents to a new name. Many of my international students at work had kept their maiden names for the same reason—and all the Chinese students kept their names, since it was not a Chinese custom for a married woman to change her name after marriage. I had an American friend in my book club who had kept her name, and when she had a baby the baby’s last name was a hyphenated version of her’s and her husband’s name. I almost felt that by hyphenating I didn’t feel “progressive enough,” but then I would think back to the Hollywood actors that annoyed me as a kid, and realized that it was important to me to have both the names.

In particular I thought it was important to have P’s name as well as mine to denote the influence of South Asian culture in my life. Not everyone will recognize P’s name as South Asian, but those who do have a little bit more knowledge about me when I introduce myself. It kind of “breaks the ice” so to speak or gives me some South Asian street cred.

For example, a professor came to my office recently. I had sold something over the university email listserv and he was coming to collect the item. He noticed during our back and forth emails that part of my last name is “P” and he recognized it as different than the Irish sounding parts of the rest of my name. He was curious because even though he is just as “white bread” as I am, his wife is Filipino and he had known some Filipinos who had similar last names. He wanted to see if I also had a Filipino connection, and started by asking, “I don’t mean to pry, but I was interested in your name, what is its background?” It started a pretty interesting conversation.

Anyway, I digress.

I think the post-wedding transition has felt smoother for me since the “C” is still in my name. On occasion I forget to add the “P” when introducing myself (I’m getting better at it), but it’s easier to say, “I’m C C…… -P” instead of the more awkward sounding, “I’m C C—er—nope, I mean C P.” Sometimes I hear myself saying, “I’m C C-P” and I think, “maybe it does sound long and pretentious?” but ultimately I think I would have deeply mourned the complete loss of the “C” had I decided to change my name. I’m really happy with my decision. Now I just need to gently coax people to use my name correctly.

For my birthday this past August my mother sent me a card that was addressed to “Mrs. P P.” I decided to nip that trend in the bud from the get go. Perhaps it makes me sound like a psychotic control freak, but I called her up and said, “Hey mom, thanks for the card, I just wanted to ask you to please send me mail under the name ‘C C-P.’ I’m not ‘Mrs.P,’ and certainly not ‘Mrs. P P,’ I have my own name.” She brushed it off by saying, “Well, I was in a rush and it was faster to write that.” But I pointed out that in eight years of dating P and many years of living together it was never faster to write his name on my card before. She probably doesn’t really see what the big deal is, but I’m hoping the next time she sends something she will hopefully remember our conversation.

An article in the Huffington Post summed up my feelings about it (although the married couple in the example decided to change their name to a new name combining the two original last names, her sentiment on receiving the card is what I thought echoed my own):

Emily Zeugner, 32, who works in media in New York, and her husband, Amos Kenigsberg, made a similar decision — they changed their last name to Zeeberg.

Ms. Zeeberg explained that changing her name would have sent a message she wasn’t comfortable with, one that that effectively said, “I’m shedding my identity, I’m joining your family.”

“As a feminist, it really bugged me,” she said. “I’m glad that we created our new identity.”

After the two married, they received a wedding invitation addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Amos Kenigsberg.

“I just saw the envelope, and I felt such annoyance, and on a small scale, kind of outraged,” she said. “He gets full billing and his full name, and the only thing I get is Mrs. It just really pissed me off.”

Similarly, friends of ours (the Bulgarian-American couple who got married a few weeks after us) in their newlywed excitement like to call up and say to me, “hey Mrs. P!” and I usually gently correct them, “it’s Ms C-P, how are you?”

Last night we received another Christmas card in the mail from an aunt in Pennsylvania. She made out the card to “C C-P and P P,” and I appreciated her efforts in keeping us all included. I guess the best short hand would be “C-P Family/Household” I guess we will see what people ultimately do. As long as I’m not the dreaded “Mrs P P” on an envelope I’ll probably be happy.

So that’s the story of how I became C C-P. What about other married (or soon-to-be married) couples? Did you change your name or keep it, or part of it? Did you follow a tradition, or make up your own? Is there a story as to why you decided to do what you did?

19 responses to “Name Changer

  1. My mother signed my birth certificate Mrs. A___ H_____, my dad’s name. It was common 42 years ago.

    I changed my name for marriage before, but didn’t do it for the last one. I wanted to keep my last name. I am glad that I didn’t change it. I also gave it to our son, as the not-so-dh left when I was pregnant. My dad probably thought with 2 daughters that his name would not be passed on, but it will now. If I get married again, I will probably just keep my last name.

    The minister at my UU church just came back from Spain. His son married a Spanish woman, and they just had their first child. The custom there is to hyphenate the child’s last name, mother’slastname-father’slastname. So it is common in some countries.


  2. I hate it how women are expected to change their name as soon as they get married. I also wrote a whole post about my disappointment.

    I still haven’t changed my name (after 5 months of being married) and planning to do so only before having a baby but all our invitation cards now reads Mr. and Mrs. AS (my husband name is AS ). It makes me feel that I lost my identity as a single person now and only a side kick in our relationship. I told everyone who listens that I haven’t changed my name after wedding but still there are few south Asian colleagues at work who address me as Mrs S than just M. I tried to correct few times but I gave up eventually when I saw that they are amused that I was annoyed when they call me Mrs. S.

    When I do change my name, I will keep my own surname and planning to be either MJS or MJ-S (You gave me the idea with hyphen). But I am worried about our babies. When I talked to my husband about this, he thinks it will be very complicated to have him and our babies having different surnames and there is no way in the world my husband will take my surname to make things uniform. So we are still on deciding stage on what we are going to do with our kids’ names and I am sure the discussion won’t be easy one.

    I can’t talk about this with my family or his as I already know the decision without even starting the conversation. So it will be my and his decision one day.

    • I’m a total supporter of the hyphen ;)

      Our friends R and S (the ones who recently had the baby) are sort of in this same predicament now. R never legally changed her name (didn’t want to hassle with documents, etc), so she still goes by her last name, but doesn’t mind if someone mistakenly refers to her by S’s last name instead, or sends her something as Mrs. His-last-name.

      But now with the baby she is the only one in the family that doesn’t share a name with him in some form. While she was pregnant I was cheerleading for her to name the baby with a hyphenated last name so that it would share a name with both parents (particularly since it doesn’t seem like she will change her name any time soon, if ever, again mostly due to not wanting to deal with paperwork hassles), but they decided not to. Perhaps I just think way too much into this, and maybe she really doesn’t mind, but I can’t help but feel a little sad. I want for her to have a name connection with her baby, and I guess that’s why I feel so strongly about my naming plans if P and I ever have one.

  3. :) I have been married for 3 years and still retaining my old always amazes me when people get confused with our surnames. sometimes we get mails adressed as Mr.and Mrs. N ( which is my surname) instead of my hubby’s and sometimes it;s Mrs. G ( hubby’s surname) and Mr. N . I will probably hypernate my name too when i start working.. and as for kids i guess they will be surnamed as G. (adding both of ours will be too long indeed.. so unless they feel like they want to add mine later on when they are adults it’s gonna be G )

  4. I stop by Awesomeness’s work sometimes, and a few of his friends there like to call me “Mrs. Awesomeness.” I don’t mind it (I find it kind of cute, actually), but I do “retaliate” by asking them if they’ve seen Mr. Sara recently.

    I think if I had it to do over again today, I might legally hyphenate and then use just A’s last name for social things, as I want. I feel like my maiden name gets lost a lot, and sometimes I feel guilty for pushing for its use in some settings, because I don’t try to use it in others. Eh, it’s a mouthful, but people learn to deal.

    • I should add that, when I’ve referred to him as “Mr. Sara,” I get a big shock and laugh like I’ve just come up with the most innovative and witty play on words ever.

      The only time I’ve really struggled with names was with my advisor’s wedding invite, because she’s a Dr and has a hyphenated name. I googled a bit, then (because I know she’s quite feminist and they both have a good sense of humor) just addressed it to Mr. and Dr. Advisor Name-Name. If I had cared to be more formal, I could’ve figured it out.

      • The admin assistant in my office is fairly conservative, and her only son married a woman with a phd. She has complained to me before that her daughter-in-law had corrected her when sending invitations or cards to their house that it should not be addressed, “Mr. and Mrs. X” but “Dr. and Mr. X.” The Admin Asst. was fuming because her daughter-in-law was basically asking for her title to appear first before the man’s. I think the daughter-in-law was technically right (if you are going by one of those etiquette books) but that didn’t seem to matter to her. With my hyphen, our Admin Asst. probably thinks I’m a bit weird too, but oh well ;)

        I still love your title of “Advisor-in-law.” I need to somehow use it sometime!

  5. When I got married to my Nepali husband in June, I kept my last name for now since his name is pretty long and it always confuses me……so his first name is Binod and then everyone in his family is Kumar BK they abreviate there last name since it is too long to spell out. So I was confused as to change my name to his last name without the kumar part but they never spell it out…on everything he writes BK as his last name so I did not want to be Amanda Danielle Andriola BK (Bishwakarma) so I have no idea what to do……I figure as long as I am living in the US i will keep my last name but when we move to Nepal eventually I will prob. change it. I guess I’m not too attached to my last name, but for now its easier and less confusing than trying to put a hyphen in between it or just being Amanda BK which I do not like, If I change my name I want the whole name to be spelled out….but lie I said before they never write it out so Miss “C” mabey you can give me some insight……I asked my husband about it but he cant seem to give me an answer.

    • Is the “Kumar” a proper last name, or more like an American middle name? P (and his dad, brother, grandfather, etc) all have the middle name “Kumar” but it isn’t (to my knowledge) part of the family name, just a family tradition for the middle (although from what I gather middle names don’t really exist in Nepal in the same way as they do in the US… most people don’t have them, so I don’t know if P’s family is just “different” or if maybe Kumar was part of a last name at one point and then it changed? I’ve been told “Kumar” means something like “bachelor” so it is a somewhat common addition to a male name, but I guess I find it a bit confusing too…)

      I haven’t met any “BKs” yet, but I know a few “KCs” and I believe that there might be readers of this blog who are now married to KCs and decided to take their partners’ last name KC instead of the full form since similarly their partners families also don’t use the whole name spelled out, even on passports, etc. I’m not sure what I would do in your shoes. I think it would feel kind of weird to have a last name that was basically an abbreviation, and I’m not sure how that works with government documents in the US either. Perhaps you have to ultimately choose how you want to be referred to (“BK” or “Bishwakarma”) and then stick to it on all documents instead of occillating back and forth?

      Are there any KCs in the crowd that want to chime in?

      • I love it when this topic comes up in the blogosphere, because it’s a very contentious one and I’m always interested to hear how people have resolved it to their own satisfaction. For my part, I have much respect for the Hispanic application of both the father and the mother’s name for children, and the way in which women happily go through life using the name they were given at birth. I think it really just takes an adjustment to perception to appreciate that a couple doesn’t have to be denoted by a shared surname …

        Incidentally, the way I understand it, “-kumar”, “-bhai”, “-lal” and “-chandra” are suffixes, meaning “brother”, which are added to a man’s name out of respect. In my partner’s community, this term of respect is used by the family of a man’s wife (her parents, brothers and sisters, for example), I think to honour the position of that man within the family. I’m not sure, and it may be marginally clearer in India where the convention may be more carefully followed, but I think people often become unstuck when they move overseas because most Western authorities view your name as being something immutable which, especially where a man is concerned, would never have variants. So I think a lot of Indian men retain their suffixes in all spheres of their lives in the West i.e. “Mr Rajeshkumar Mehta” was probably once simply, “Rajesh Mehta” and “Mr Sureshbhai Chaudhuri” might likely have been “Suresh Chaudhuri” before he was married. There are also the female suffixes “-bahen” or “-ben”, meaning “sister”, for women. I’ve only seen and heard this used by married women – either my partner’s aunties or older cousins or by those who do not live in the West.

        It also seems like Rajeshkumar and Sureshbhai’s children would be given their father’s name, including the suffix, as their middle name regardless of where they live.

        It sort of blew my mind when I realised this … I’d be interested to know whether anyone else has been told this? Just another example I suppose of how cultural naming conventions aren’t universal but also don’t have to be set in stone! :-)

      • Yes all of his brothers and father share Kumar as a “middle” name…I’m not sure about his mother though. I decided that when we move to Nepal, I will eventually take his last name but I don’t want to get rid of my last name either :( my last name is of Italian origin (Andriola) So either I could hyphenate it but not worry about always writing it down on unimportant documents. That way I can have that connection to Nepal but still retain my last name. I just don’t want an abbreviation as my last name so I will be spelling it out when I eventually change it.

  6. Cris en la India

    Just a clarification:
    ‘Carlos Sanchez Rodriguez had a mother whose last name was “____ Sanchez” and father whose last name was “_____ Rodriguez”‘

    It’s actually the other way around. Sanchez would be the 1st surname of the father and Rodriguez the 1st surname of the mother.Suppose Carlos Sanchez Rodriguez has a kid with Maria Garcia Delgado, this child would be ‘Sanchez Garcia’.

    Also we do not take our husband’s surname after marriage, our name is our name forever.

    • ah ha! Thank you for the clarification. I didn’t realize it was the other way around. I actually had a Mexican student in my office today after I wrote the post and her last name was something similar to Rivera Diaz, but she was going by only Rivera in the US. I was thinking that she was going by her mother’s name, but I guess then she was technically going by her father’s name? I also didn’t realize that you keep your birth name throughout life, even if you marry. I learn something new everyday! ;)

  7. When Tri and I married, I was adamant that I would keep my last name. I guess part of it is that I’m attached to my surname. It’s kind of weird sounding but not that common, and it connects me to my roots. I totally respect those who change or hyphenate their names, but I didn’t think I ever would. Then we moved to Nepal right after marring, and I realized how much of an advantage I had by having a Nepali last night, so I started to write my name as Zoe (my original last name) (Tri’s last name). But it gets more complicated because Zoe is my middle name. I have another name, a first one, and it’s always been kind of confusing for people, trying to figure out if they should call me by my first name or middle now, so now, on top of that, I have two last names, which makes for a total of four names (which I guess isn’t really that unusual?)

    But anyway, I think I’ll keep Tri’s last name, even when we go back to the US, because it overtly connects me to Nepal, which is a big part of my life. But when it comes to kids, I’m still not sure what we’re going to do. Thankfully, I have a while to figure it out :)

  8. Cris en la India

    Happy to help!.Yes she was going by her father’s name :).

  9. From India where there are many, many, naming conventions :) My S.Indian community traditionally never had last names, and were identified by their place of origin, as son-of-so-and-so and by a caste identifier. Women had a suffix added to their names when they were married (like madame in French) – so Miss C would become the equivalent of Madame C, wife of so-and-so. When the British came in and introduced paperwork (:)), last names came to be needed, and most people in the community went the usual patriarchal way, using their father’s/husband’s first names as a surname when needed. (My mother ad MIl both did this, our grandmothers followed the old Madame convention) Both my husband and I did that until we were married, and I did not want to be M-husband’s first name. My husband, to his credit, did not see that it was fair for only one of us to to change their name – and we met here in the US, after both of us had enough history with our previous last names that changing it was both a philosophical and practical issue.
    Our solution was for *both* of us to change our names – which we did when we got our US citizenship – that BTW, is another opportunity for a name change without filing an affidavit personally. We picked a name that reflected both of our heritages, was easier to spell and pronounce than our respective fathers’ names (a concern as both our first names are hard on the average American) and one that would flow easily when yelling at errant children :) (OK, the last is a bonus, but it has come in useful – my kids know it’s serious when all their names are used!)

    The issue from the coment above by xaspirefirex re: father’s name as middle name: that is a convention followed by Gujarati and Marathi communities, and possibly those from some other states (I think some Rajasthani communities use it too), but not universal to all Indian communities.

  10. this topic has come up a couple times (although we both know were not going to get married for a while). mero saati has a fairly simple nepali last name and my name is very “white”. Ive personally never liked my last name simply because it has no connection to my heritage.
    here goes the story…..
    i am of navajo descent and am respective of my heritage. and all throughout middle school and high school my friends with “native” names always asked me how i got “ellison” to be my last name. since my whole family is navajo i wondered where the this came from also. so i asked my grandfather where we got this last name. and he told me that his grandfather who was in the “long walk” (when general custard rounded up a large populus of navajo moved them across state than many years later herded them back to the dry, arid lands of new mexico and arizona). And after my great grandfather return to his homeland he was asked his first and last name. my grandfather had a first name but did not understand what last name meant so he was assigned ellison.
    on another note, while at work one day i was approached by one of the parents who asked me where my last name came from. and i told him it was given to my great grandfather. He assumed I was part norwegian because that’s where his family name came from.

    So concerning my last name I don’t mind losing my maiden name simply because I don’t feel connected to it. Not to mention when I attend nepali gatherings many people already assume i’m nepali until I tell them my name :)

  11. I didn’t change my name when I got married. I was torn about whether or not to change but my husband was adamant that I shouldn’t change or hyphenate. My name is German and his is Arabic and he thought that taking his name was asking to be discriminated. Now – 10 years later – I’m happy with my choice. I thought I’d use his name informally, but I don’t.
    We now have two girls and for the same reasons, my husband wanted them to have my name. At first I hesitated – I guess the traditionalist in me thought they should have their father’s name – but I also felt he had valid arguments. At the same time I wanted to give the girls names that reflected all sides of their heritage. We finally found a compromise that worked for both of us: they have their father’s last name as a second middle name but my last name. So his name is there but they can use or drop it as they like.

  12. I haven’t changed my name legally yet. We have been married for over a year now. This is my second marriage and even though I changed my name with my first marriage, doing it the second time around just doesn’t feel the same. I have 2 children from my previous marriage that I have to take into account but now I also have a child from this marriage too so it has become complicated. I think I will eventually get it legally changed but it’s not something that I felt the need t rush into nor do I feel women these days have to change. It’s up to the individual and what they choose.

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