Married Names: Change, Hyphenate, Combine, Invent, or Keep?

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If you’re a strict traditionalist, your decision will be easy. You’ll change your last name to match your groom’s, and maybe keep your surname as a middle name. This is overwhelmingly the popular choice for brides in America. However, for many modern couples, juggling two sets of last names is becoming an increasingly-boggy area. Do you hyphenate both names? Combine them into a new, mashed-up version? Keep your own names? Or does one of you shed your identity and assume the name identity of the other? 

If you don’t want to change your name because you’ve already built a professional reputation with the one you have, because you want to carry on your family tradition, or because you just happen to like your given name, you may encounter some opposition. Spouses choosing to keep their names, especially female spouses, can be perceived as “less devoted” to the marriage. Don’t worry–if you choose a non-traditional route, your actions over the years will show your marital devotion more than any letters of the alphabet. As you’ll see with the ideas below, you do have an array of options.

One Spouse Changes to Match the Other’s Name

Couples with the same last name have an easier time with administrative tasks, especially if kids are involved. If you have matching last names, you won’t have to explain to each new teacher that you really are your child’s parent. Anything that involves signatures and official identification, like making travel reservations, or signing important legal and medical documents, won’t require intricate explanations. Plus, if you and your loved ones share a name, it helps you to feel connected as a family. This option isn’t just for women anymore. 

One or Both Spouses Hyphenate 

Hyphenating your last names into one joint name is one simple solution, as long as you can agree upon which name comes first. If you plan on becoming parents, you may wish to both keep your own last names and hyphenate the children’s names. Although, as noted above, having a different last name than your child can be complicated.

Using a hyphenated name neatly solves the problem of combining family identities, but it creates a few complications. Will future generations be expected to keep adding names in an infinitely-long string? Additionally, hyphenated names can be unwieldy. Some computer systems (including those of prominent airlines) have trouble with hyphens, leading to proof-of-identity confusion while traveling. Hyphenated last names are often too long for pre-made forms, such as standardized tests and government documents. As a last caution, watch out for names that don’t combine well. If James Brown marries Emma Poole, no one wants to end up as the Brown-Poole family.

The Spouses Combine Last Names

You’re a Taylor. He’s a Fillmore. You both become Taymore. Not all names combine well, but if yours do, it’s a viable option. One disadvantage is that it makes it difficult for future generations to trace their lineage further than your name split. On the other hand, this name-loss conundrum is nothing more than what women’s families face with the traditional method–especially if they don’t have male children. Keep detailed family records (which is becoming increasingly easy in the digital era), and you won’t have to worry. 

The New Couple Takes an Entirely New Name

Like the above option, this can present a genealogy problem if you don’t keep impeccable family records. However, if neither spouse feels particularly attached to either last name, marriage can present the perfect opportunity to change it entirely. If you fell in love on a camping trip, go ahead and become the Sierras. If you’re getting married in wine country, you can become the Brandywines. If you already have your favorite kids’ names picked out, go ahead and pick a last name that sounds great when they’re all spoken together. 

Maybe you’ve been at the back of every alphabetical list your whole life and you just want a name that starts with “A.” You may encounter some resistance from your families if you abandon your surnames altogether, but you can try to explain your reasoning and the meaning behind your decision in a way that your family members will understand. 

Everyone Keeps Their Own Names

In the Internet age, maiden names are becoming more of a mainstay, either standing alone or surviving in hyphenated form. This is because by the time people are getting married, they have already built a reputation around their names and don’t want to lose name recognition. When potential employers and other important connections “Google you,” they’re looking for work and experience that is attached to the name they know. This will hold even truer for later generations, as social lives are recorded more and more in the public sphere. On the other hand, if you’re looking to escape youthful indiscretions, a name change might be exactly the ticket you seek. 

Remember, no one can tell you that you’re making the “right” or “wrong” decision. Names are an intensely personal business, and you’re entitled to do with yours what you wish. Just make sure that your spouse and you can come to an agreement before the marriage; after all, it’s only the first of many compromises and joint decisions that will be settled over the course of a long and happy lifetime together.