Ashley Dawn Rutherford Esq.

Should we change our name when we marry?

I have not posted for several months. My life has been turned upside-down, and I have never been happier.  For one, I got engaged to my soulmate in December, and we are planning an October wedding.  Secondly, with his support and encouragement and after deep thought, I decided to pursue my real dream. . . to go out on my own.  

I joined a friend from law school that is running a small, successful law firm.  His partner was taking the California bar exam, and he wanted me to join in as a named partner.  Our law firm name - Campinha-Bacote & Chang, LLC - is now Campinha-Bacote & Starling, LLC.  Starling reflects my soon-to-be married last name.

This was an extremely difficult decision for me. I've been practicing a couple of years, and, like many others, all of my professional and personal accomplishments have been achieved as Ashley Rutherford. Additionally, being independent and proud of who I am, I have had a hard time giving up that part of me. I could hyphenate, but if I did, my signature block would be so long, I would literally have to start it in the center of the page. So, after careful consideration, I have decided to assume my husband's last name and after a small transition time, drop "Rutherford". 

My decision also became part of news article this week. I have attached the article. I would love to know everyone's thoughts. The article argues that less women are keeping their maiden name because these women believe that they have achieved equality. However, that is not the reason that chose to change my name.

I chose to change my name because I think of marriage as a team. It is my opinion that the team should all have the same team name. I want children, and my children will also have the team name.  However, my decision has very little to do with my thoughts on equality.

Thus, I wanted to hear your thoughts. . . 

http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/life/stories/2011/06/02/two-become-one.html?sid=101

 

 

14 Comments

K.M.L.H.

Thanks for posting this Ashley!  I think it is a subject that many women struggle with.  I too got engaged in December and am planning an August wedding.  (Given that I’ve just graduated, one bonus of an August wedding is a new last name before I start my career.)  However, I have found that this is one of the questions I get pretty quickly after people learn I’m engaged.  In fact, among several other friends who have gotten engaged, it has been a popular topic of conversation. 
I have friends who view their last name as a huge part of their identity.  It’s part of most of their nicknames, it’s been a huge part of who they are, it’s associated with all of their accomplishments, and they are not ready to let it go.  At the same time, they are torn by the idea that their children will not have the same last name, that their relationship is a team, or that their last names will simply be too long if not hyphenated.  For some, it’s an ethnic issue, because their last name is part of the meaning of their entire name.  
I have seen many creative solutions such as making the last name a middle name, hyphenating both last names, even adding the future wife’s last name as a second middle name for the husband.  At the end of the day, I think it is a personal choice and regardless of whether it’s about equality, a team spirit, or our own identities as women, the most important part is that we support other women in whatever decision they make for themselves.

caratuttlebell

I chose to use both my maiden name and add my husband’s last name, and I’ve used that version of my name for years professionally, but if I had to do it over again, I would have kept my maiden name.  I did not anticipate what a struggle it would be to sustain my chosen identity.  Even though my email signature, official HR forms, and social security card reflect my full name, my maiden name is routinely dropped from employer-assigned email addresses, my paycheck, directories, conference registrations, flight itineraries, etc.  Most of the times I just let it go.  Occasionally, when I seek correction of their error, sometimes deliberate, I am forced to explain that I have kept my name, and I am often laughed or groaned at, as some sort of “modern woman,“even now in 2011.  So, unfortunately, this decision remains a political one for women, and it’s all about equality.  Every woman’s choice either affirms or deconstructs the practice.  The choice to go with a “team name,” that by default is that of the husband cannot be separated from the issue unless it was just as likely that your husband would take your last name and the children would also have your last name (which they could, or you all could hyphenate and go by both your last name and his).  I’m afraid it is about equality, unless you just flipped a coin.

Peg

I changed my name when I got married at 22 y.o.  Looking back, I feel strongly that it was a decision of a woman who was much too young to be getting married and too young to appreciate her own self worth as an individual.  I’m still married to the same man (14+ years later) but I regret very much taking his name.    Maybe that is easy for me to say since hindsight is 20/20 but that is why I share it here.  Honestly, a part of me, even at 22 didn’t want to take his name but I was too weak to bring up the possibility of keeping my name so I just went along with what was expected of me —a tell tale sign that I was too young to get married.

ashenoy

I agree that the “team” aspect is very compelling.  As a woman, I feel the same way - it’s nice for the whole family to have the same last name.  However, the most interesting part of this issue for me (and it is mentioned only briefly at the end of the article) is that there is very little discussion about the man changing his name.  Why does the “team” have to be under the husband’s name? 
It would be nice to live in a world where the woman wasn’t the only one grappling with these types of decisions.  I find it problematic, and a sign of continued ingrained inequality, that the “norm” in our society is still to do things the man’s way and to consider anything that contradicts that to be abnormal or unconventional.  I understand that the discussion is about statistical  non-convention, but why is it not normal for a couple to decide whose name sounds better with both spouses’ first names or which will make for better initials or some other means of deciding?  And why do kids have to have the husband’s last name?  Why can’t they have the wife’s last name and then the husband is the one who has to decide if he wants to be part of the team?  Why is it that when we have this discussion, the only two options seem to be taking your husband’s name or keeping your maiden name (and then being left out of the team). 
I know every woman has to make this decision for herself and respect whatever decision each woman makes, but I’d be interested to hear if any of the women who had this discussion with their spouse (besides the woman in the article) discussed taking the woman’s last name instead of the man’s?  How did that discussion go? 
A woman I know is giving her child her last name.  Her reasoning?  “When he carries a a baby for 9 months and then pushes the baby out, he is free to give him or her whatever name he wants!”  And the best part?  Her husband is seriously considering taking her last name now (they’ve been married for awhile).   I wish that this was considered a completely “normal” option as well.

Dr. T

<html />Why does “team-playing” so often mean the self-effacement of the female player? Because even a team has a star player, and clearly, it isn’t you. It’s one thing to make a sacrifice for the sake of the family unit’s perceived cohesion, but perpetuating the tradition of dropping the wife’s last name is absolutely not a practice in gender equity. It’s just another privilege of maleness in a patriarchal society.

Ashley Dawn Rutherford Esq.

I’m glad to see that this made such an interesting discussion. But isn’t the point of equality and feminism to have a choice? I considered all choices, and this was the one that suited me and my family best. I am, however, surprised by how many people just assume that as a female lawyer, my choice had to be to keep some form of my last name. 

Dr. T

<html />Feminism does work to increase women’s choices.  Women now have the choice to keep their own names or choose new ones or keep with tradition and assume the names of the spouses.  Feminism provided the choice, but not all choices women make are feminist/supportive of gender equity or social change.  Some choices obviously perpetuate sexist traditions.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t understand why women might choose to do so or that the reasons they do so are invalid; it just means that it doesn’t serve a feminist aim.  Feminism takes many forms.  No “perfect” feminists exist; no one here is expecting this.  We must navigate a sexist society and live as best we can in it, and sometimes this means not picking a particular battle.  But when we know we’ve deferred to sexist traditions, when we’ve done something that continues a gender biased practice, no matter how thoughtful our decision, we can’t validate it as somehow feminist.  That is the height of Sartrean bad faith.

Piper Hoffman

If you’re a team, why didn’t he change his last name? Why didn’t you both pick a new name to represent your team? I agree that feminism increases women’s choices, but it’s primary mission is equality.
I posted a longer discussion of this a while back: http://ms-jd.org/women-what-wrong-your-last-names

ashenoy

Ashley - I agree with you, actually, that part of the movement is to provide women with choices and so my comment was really a question as to whether there was a discussion of him taking your name?  And, if so, how you both decided to use his last name.  That possibility was not discussed in your article, so it appears that the decision was only between you taking his name or keeping your own, not a decision among many choices, one of which, presumably,  is him taking your name (which in an equitable world would have been an option). 
 

Ashley Dawn Rutherford Esq.

You have all raised wonderful points. But, perhaps I am just traditional. I don’t think that makes me less of a strong, equal partner in our relationship. (However, I would be less equal had not chosen to change my name. But, then again, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t marry someone that forced me to do something that I did not want to do.) 
I have no interest in us taking new names to represent our team (personally, that just seems odd to me). I don’t want to hyphenate - its just too long. Had my last name been Green or Grey or something short, I would have used a hyphen. I have not been practicing very long (2.5 years), so I didn’t feel that it was necessary to keep my last name. Had I been practicing 5 or 10, I think I would have been forced to keep my last name. Probably most importantly, I love his last name and don’t mind taking it. My religious beliefs promote unity in marriage - hence, I wanted us and my future children to have the same last name. Additionally, I have a large family and several brothers. They will carry our last name. He is the only boy in his family. 
These reasons may not promote equality, but they are my reasons. I went through this debate carefully over a period of months, and I am happy with the choice. 
 This has been a very interesting conversation! I’m surprised so many people believe that they can judge a relationship - or primarily, the woman and her standing in the relationship - by a name. I will keep all of this in mind.  

jess3

I think you missed the point here in reflecting on what others have said.  No one is judging you or all of woman.  They are simply pointing out that what you defend as a choice really did not consider all the possibilities out there—or did not consider those other possibilities as choices worthy of consideration.  The others here are pointing out your reasons for choosing to change your last name stemmed from your paradigm that either you keep your last name or you don’t.  You did not consider that your husband could change his name, that both of you could change your name, or that your children could have taken your name.  Feminism may be on some level about choice but more so about expanding what can be taken into consideration when making a choice.

jessie

Here’s how you know it’s about equality:
I have a couple friends who, when they had their first child, designed a new name for their family. Generally it’s some combination of both family’s names or something with some cultural/personal significance.
In every case the strongest resistance comes from the father’s family. And in every case the protest is directed at the new mother - it’s her fault their son is leaving the tribe.
No one thinks a guy would want to do this, because it’s a crappy weird thing to lose your last name, and the tradition is for women to fall on the sword because they’re not in a position to protest.
My mom changed her name and occasionally mentioned how difficult it was for her. She was not a professional and married very young, but she had a perfectly developed sense of self and protested the practice in principal as well. She couldn’t imagine not having the same name as her children and she didn’t consider the creative solutions that are no coming into vogue. So she changed her name.
As for me - I won’t change my name. I used to think I would because I didn’t like my last name when I was younger. But now that I’m confronted with the option, there’s no way. That said, creating a new name is just as unappealing, not because it’s unusual but because it defeats the purpose of keeping my name.
I also don’t feel strongly about which parent’s name our hypothetical children bear. Either way it’s unfair. Some people have suggested alternating, which comes with its own problems. For now we have jokingly agreed to this: the dad gets to pick the last name and the mom gets to pick the first name. Period. We’ll see how it works.

Peg

I agree that it’s “crappy and weird” to lose your last name.  So many women think that it is a way to show committment to the relationship or show love or show that she’s a team player.  I couldn’t disagree with that more.  This is really a very oppressive concept in our society and very unfortunate.  When your kids ask you why the family doesn’t all have the same last name, just tell them that mommy and daddy had two different last names before they ever met each other just like and their future partner/spouse and they will have had. 
Personally, I can’t believe the poster put her husband’s last name on the name of her firm, before they are even married.  I’m shocked actually. Talk about giving your accomplishments to your fiance.  There is an implicit transfer of ownership there whether she wants to admit it or not.  That would have been like me instructing my college to put my husband’s last name on my diploma even though we weren’t getting married until after graduation.

RachelJewellery

There is actually less expectations for the female in the marriage to change her surname nowadays, and women are free to keep their surnames as they wish. However, some of us still do due to respect for the marriage and our partners. Marriage is not only the exchange of a piece of jewellery, and like she said, it is working as a team. And sometimes, being in the team means sharing a team name.
Rachel Collinson

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