Sunday, August 8, 2010

This one's for the boys

Your name or mine?

She loves you madly and wants to have your kids. She also wants to keep her name. Understandable desire or red flag?

When John Westover got married in 1978, his bride kept her name. “She had a heritage and a life that pre-existed me,” he says. “I never saw it as a problem. In fact, I kind of liked it. She was holding her own ground, and that I liked.”

Historically, many Canadian women stop using their maiden names and start using their husbands’ when they get married. The tradition is still strong and many women, particularly younger women, still do. But what does it mean if your new wife doesn’t want to take your name?

There are probably as many reasons as there are brides: cultural identity, professional reputation, family ties, children from a previous relationship, or maybe her name is just shorter or easier to spell over the phone than yours is.

Or perhaps she looks at it the other way around: is there a good reason to change her name?

Would she love you more? Would you love her more? Would you feel more married?

Westover, a registered clinical counsellor, says that names haven’t been an issue for any of the couples he has worked with in his decades of practice. It’s generally socially acceptable for a woman to use either her original name or her husband’s and it isn’t a major problem for most people, although traditions still hold a lot of power.

Sometimes a husband’s parents are hurt or offended if a daughter-in-law doesn’t use their last name, feeling that she is distancing herself from them, refusing to become part of the family. Relatives on either side might not acknowledge her choice, referring to her by her husband’s name.

On the other hand some people, like Pamella Moore’s new mother- and sisters-in-law, don’t see why anyone would make the change. They wondered why she bothered.

Moore says that her decision to take her husband’s name had more to do with business than anything else. She and her husband Michael work together designing and building custom furniture, and it just made sense to her that they both have the same name. Before she and Michael married, Moore had used her former husband’s name for 16 years but didn’t feel that it belonged to her and she didn’t have any strong feelings about going back to her original family name. Names are surface things, she says, they don’t define who you are.

Michael Moore concedes that it would have felt a little weird if Pamella had kept her former husband’s name, but says that it was entirely her choice to take his name.

He points out, however, that it’s a lot of work to make the change: everything from her driver’s license to bank loans, from the name on her Social Insurance Number records to her library card, from the deeds for their house to credit cards and cheques, must be dealt with.

The logistics of making the change was one of the things that Gabrielle Leja considered when she got married. Her name held strong family and cultural ties for her, so she wanted to keep it, and the time and effort involved in changing all of her documents made the decision even more logical.

Leja’s husband Doug Lamb had no objections. He says that there were several factors involved with Gabrielle’s decision, including their different religions and the fact that they were both established professionally and socially before they got married.

While women may have any number of reasons for changing or keeping their names, men seem to have only one for accepting their choices.

“What did it matter what name she chose?” says Spence Partlo, who has been married for nineteen years. “I have her heart.”


This article has also appeared in Groom Magazine


  1. It's funny how time changes all.......I wish i had kept mine - no offence to the man,though :)

  2. I think what you've said is key, Lisa. It's not about whether we love the guy and think he's the greatest thing since sliced bread, because generally when we get married we are soooo starry eyed about him.
    It's about us women, what we want and need – and has very little to do with him.

  3. Back to my maiden name I went. I proably will never change it again.