To Change or Not To Change?

The once traditional and anticipated name change has sparked quite a debate among my family and friends, some with much stronger opinions than I ever realized were held. So let’s weigh the options.

Stefko.  It has been my surname for the last 32 years. I am proud of this name.  I identify with this name.  Yet, I am approaching a minor identity crisis in attempting to navigate whether or not to change my surname with my impending marriage.  The once traditional and anticipated name change has sparked quite a debate among my family and friends, some with much stronger opinions than I ever realized were held.  Of particular note, my typically traditional father incredulously argues, “You can’t give up Stefko! It is a dying name. [It’s not].  You’ve been successful with that name. [I like to think my success has been for other reasons.]  Why doesn’t he take the Stefko name instead? [My fiance will never agree to that.]”

A study by Emily Fitzgibbons Shafer of Portland State University assessed some 1,200 Americans view of women with various last name versions relative to their perceived commitment to their role as wives.  In her discussion, Shafer refers to the decision that Hillary Rodham Clinton made in 1980 to adopt “Clinton.”  She did so after suggestions that use of her maiden name (Rodham) cost good old Bill political support. Back then, keeping her last name was seen to many as strange and even offensive, and she was labeled as a “bad wife.”

“Over 30 years have passed since that backlash, but surname choice in the US remains a highly gendered aspect of modern marriage,” says Fitzgibbons Shafer, who highlights recent surveys that found that around 94 percent of women take their husband’s surname after marriage, and that half of the population thinks it should be a legal requirement to do so.

Shafer found that last name choice had very little effect on other women and highly educated men’s perception of a wife, or the standards they held her to. She also found that men with low education levels most often believe that a woman with a last name other than that of her husband’s is less committed to her role as wife. They were harder on her, and believed that a woman’s husband had more grounds for divorce than a woman who had the same last name as her husband’s.

“Low educated men’s bias, coupled with the lack of economic incentive women have for retaining their surnames, suggests that we may continue to see a very low percentage of low educated women (those most likely to marry and interact with low educated men) making any choice other than to take their husbands’ names in marriage,” Fitzgibbons Shafer remarks.

On the other side of this debate, and in line with my father-the-feminist’s line of thinking, there is apparently a rising trend of men taking their female partner’s name.  Check out the Huffington Post’s article, I Got Married and Took My Wife’s Last Name.  Here’s Why.

So let’s weigh the options here.  Benefits of Keeping Your Surname: Changing your name is a NIGHTMARE.  Like, they literally sell wedding packages for hundreds of dollars for someone else to run around and deal with all the red tape mumbo jumbo associated with this.  This doesn’t even take account the brand you have built for yourself under this name.  Changing it can seriously uproot reputation management.  If Campbell Soup has remained Campbell Soup after all the company marriages it has undergone, why shouldn’t I do the same?  Benefits of Changing Your Surname: Get to create a new, fresh identity, singular family surname, demonstrate to friends and family commitment to hubby or family unit.

With many women opting (whether by choice or default) to stay single longer, attending college, establishing careers, it seems the name change debate is more present now than ever before.  

So how about some solution somewhere in the middle: keep the surname for professional purposes, but adopt married surname for personal life? That could work, but then you wind up with confusion among your cross-over friends.  I recently accidently sent out wedding invites to a few female work colleagues with their maiden surnames representing their husbands as well.  Oopsie.  Maybe we should all just create entirely new last names when we marry someone?  You know, first three letters of my last name, last three letters of theirs?  

Or perhaps we should tear a page from the history books and lose our surnames entirely.  The Vikings didn’t use surnames as we understand them.  They followed the system of using patronymics (or sometimes even matronymics): a name that is more simply “Son-of-[insert father’s name],” or “Daughter-of-[insert father’s name.]”

How have you badassladybosses handled this transition? Any wise words to share with your fellow gals struggling to pick a course?

Whitney Stefko (soon-to-be Dover) is a co-founder of BadassLadyBosses.

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