Recently, a close friend underwent the Social Security obstacle-course-dance of having her name legally changed to include her husband’s surname. While texting me from the waiting room, she remarked that the act of changing her last name left her with a somewhat unidentifiable feeling, difficult to pin-point or describe. She wasn’t sad. She wasn’t hesitant. She just felt funny. It was an emotion that even the wedding itself—that tumultuous moment of vows, bells, and bows—did not evoke. Hearing her remark, I had to admit it was true. For me, the legal name change was a moment of excitement, exhilaration, and some sadness.
Talking to my friend made me ask myself: Why did I choose to change my name?
In the past, a woman changing her name after marriage was a foregone conclusion. It was expected. The woman, in a sense, “belonged” to her husband; her identity was subsumed by his identity. But over time, that notion has become outdated and the choice to keep or change one’s name in marriage has become just that: a choice.
So, why did I choose to change my name? Believe it or not, I’ve had several people ask me this question, some with genuine curiosity, others with flinty-eyed scorn at my apparent subservience to tradition. Their cocked eyebrows demand “How can you call yourself a feminist yet possess a man’s name?” Since talking to my recently married friend, I decided to take a moment, sit down, and really ponder, once again, my reasoning for choosing the last name change. Believe it or not, it was a decision I weighed very heavily, and today, I want to share my reasons with you.
1. I didn’t have any professional titles or higher degrees. This point is pretty straight-forward. Although I do plan to someday attain my doctorate degree, I don’t have it yet, so I didn’t have to worry about my new name not matching the name under which I received that major milestone. Had I been a doctor or an honorary something-or-other, I probably would have kept my original last name if for no other reason than to avoid the hassle!
2. Hyphenation sounded odd. I strongly considered this alternative. However, “Abigail Claire Black-Hobbs” was just too many single-syllable words strung together. It required a lot of breath to speak and seemed like a tacked on string of descriptors. The name felt disjointed and, to be honest, I just didn’t like the flow.
3. I love my husband. Now let me start off by clarifying that I by no means am implying that women who choose NOT to change their names love their husbands any less than I love mine. Not at all. Here’s what I am attempting to say: I believe that an important foundation to a strong, lasting love is to love your partner more than you love yourself. This statement is, and should be, true for both partners. I’m proud of my husband. He is an amazing, strong, brilliant, confident, and conscientious man. He and I truly see each other as partners in life. He doesn’t lord himself over me or exercise some supremacy of manhood. No. “Obey” and “summit” were not written in our vows. Respect, however, was. He respects me, and I respect him. I love his name because it’s a part of who he is, a part of his identity. As his partner, I don’t mind being called by his name, because I’m proud to know him and be a part of his family. He is mine, and I am his. To me, our names are a physical and legal representation of that bond. Moreover, I believe this sentiment can go both ways; if the gent wants to take the lady’s name, why not? Likewise with two wives, or two husbands: It’s a personal decision for any couple.
4. It was a new chapter, a new beginning, a new me. I didn’t view dropping “Black” as a loss of identity or self. Instead, I saw it as an acknowledgement of the monumental life decision and vows I had made, a new door to open, a new path to take, a new facet of my ever-changing identity.
All that being said, I strongly believe that every woman should make this decision for herself. My reasons are not anyone else’s reasons. They’re my own. Changing your name is a big decision and you forever change your legal identity. I would be lying to you if I said the fact that “Abigail Black” —the name that now only exists on old papers and in memory—didn’t make feel nostalgic and somewhat sad on occasion. Yet, at the same time, I love who I was, am, and will become. And there’s no knowing what twists, turns, and bumps the road ahead will bring, regardless of my last name.
Abigail Hobbs is a Maryland-based writer, painter, and graduate student. When she isn’t studying educational theory and binge-drinking black coffee, she pens content for her personal blog Amp & Abi. Her creative-nonfiction writing typically focuses on women—grandmothers, mothers, sisters, daughters—and their uniquely female or universally human experiences.