A few weeks ago, I got married. We met in college, traveled together internationally, moved across the country, got a dog, and then moved back across the country. Then, over three years after getting engaged, debating about marriage in general, and the idea of elopement, we had an actual wedding. Not too big, with around 60 people total (and of course our dog was in attendance), but with a fancy white dress and a wedding cake.
Oh, and as part of that whole getting married thing, we also changed our names.
Yeah, you read that right: our names, in the plural. I added his last name to mine, and he added mine to the front of his last name. So, we each have matching, hyphenated last names (the Urban-Watsons).
We took a fairly lax route to come to this decision. I think we always liked the idea of it, but in the last few weeks before the wedding, we weren’t exactly sure if 1) we should just keep our own last names, no name changing at all; 2) make up a completely new last name (I know of a Jewish couple who took a Hebrew word as their last name); or 3) each of us take the other’s last name to our own.
Just me taking his last name and abandoning my own altogether wasn’t even discussed. I’m not going to chastise any person who decides to take their partner’s last name, as they have their own reasons as to why. But my name is my name, and I like it. Urban is a bit of an unusual last name, and I have frequently been known just by Urban, or some weird variation of it. My husband did not want to ditch his last name, partly because it’s his name and part of his identity, and also because the name Watson has an aura of coolness around it, thanks to Sherlock Holmes.
But why shouldn’t I just hyphenate my last name, and he keep his? Because we wished to have a joint name, to further establish that we are partners, a family. From the way we see it (and I am aware people have different opinions, which I respect), if I took his but he didn’t take mine, I would be part of his family, but he wouldn’t be part of mine. One of the reasons why we got married was to formally become a part of each other’s families, and to mark the beginning of our own.
I think we decided the day we got our marriage license what we were going to do. We quickly ruled out making up a last name. While I like the idea, and the unity that it would instill in a relationship while firmly marking a new family, we both wanted to carry our own original names. Ultimately, as we wanted to formally and legally mark each other as family, hyphenating our last names for the both of us just made the most sense.
Deciding on the hyphenated last names was the easy part though. After filling out the paperwork at the Marriage License department for the county, we asked about the name change procedure. We were told that it would be a very simple and cheap process after mailing back the entirely filled out marriage license. We were happy that it would take so little effort. But then my soon-to-be husband mentioned that we would each be hyphenating our names. The woman at the counter looked confused. Looking straight at me, she repeatedly informed me that the woman usually takes the man’s last name, and that it is very simple to do so. In turn, we repeatedly told her that we were each hyphenating our names.
Still clearly flustered, she sent us to the Domestic department, where we were told that they did not know how to go about this, other than to legally change our names in court, after consulting a lawyer. It would cost me under $100 to take his last name, but in order to each hyphenate our names, a court and $1,000 would be needed. Needless to say, we still legally retain our own, individual last names. In a few months or a year we will undertake the grueling task of making Urban-Watson legal.
I left the office fuming, with our marriage license in hand (I quickly made an indignant Facebook status). Living in the year 2014 in the grand United States of America, I had thought that the legal system would have a simple process for either (or both) spouse(s) to change their names. I was not expecting to encounter such official sexism the day I got my marriage license. I’m already envisioning days to come when a to-be-married couple can change (or not change) either of their last names with equal ease. Oh, and I’m also anticipating the day when all marriage license forms list the couples information as “Spouse One” and “Spouse Two,” as opposed to the exclusive “Male” and “Female” titles.
Admittedly, it makes me cringe to hear Mr. and Mrs. [insert first and last names of husband]. I fully respect those who choose to be addressed as such, and the women who take their husband’s last name. But I am not my husband. I am not something that is branded with my husband’s name. I am my own unique person, who recently decided to legally bind someone else to myself. Our hyphenated last names reflect that. We remain individuals, while retaining our family history. But we are now part of the same family.
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