My Convertible Life

Monday, September 13, 2010

Naming Conventions

When my husband and I went to the county courthouse to get our marriage license before our wedding, we asked the woman there if we would be able to use the license to change our names at the social security office.

"Sure, honey," she looked at me. "You just take this with you and they'll change your name for you."

"Right," I replied. "And for him, too?"

She looked at me like I'd just sprouted a second head. After going around that same exchange again, she finally sighed and said, "If he's going to change his name, too, he'll need a lawyer."

Weeks later, we took our forms and our marriage license into the social security office, bracing for more crazy looks when we explained that we were taking each other's name and making a double surname for our family.

"These forms are correct?" the social security clerk asked, barely looking up from his desk.

"Yes," we replied.

"Do you want a hyphen in there?"

"No." (My husband felt like we had enough punctuation already with the apostrophe from his last name, and who was I to argue with a man who volunteered to take my name along with his own?)

"Okay. You'll get your new cards in the mail." And that was that.

Now, nine years and two kids later, we all have four names -- and I love it and hate it at the same time. It means the world to me that my husband was willing to change his name, too, without being asked. And it was important to me to keep all of my names while also taking his. We weren't following anyone's tradition, but we did what felt right and symbolic to us.

The downsides are that monograms are really tricky and no one understands what our last name is. Sometimes I don't mind when people skip over my contribution to the double name, but I never know where we'll be alphabetized at will-call or the pharmacy. It's also a lot to put on a kindergartner just learning how to write his first name, only to discover that he has three more to figure out.

I thought of all this on Sunday while reading the wedding announcements (oh, come on, like you never read them). There were only two weddings listed, but both involved grooms with double surnames. For both marriages, it looked like the husband planned to keep his double surname as is, but each bride had a different solution to her married name.

In one case, the bride simply took the groom's hyphenated surname. In the other, the bride created a new hyphenated surname with her maiden name followed by the groom's second surname. That made me wonder what they've discussed doing for kids' names. And did the groom's mother feel slighted that her daughter-in-law didn't take her part of the surname?

Regardless, it's nice to see people finding their own ways through and around the married name conundrum. And if either one of my four-named children ends up marrying another four-named person, I'm promising now to stay out of the way and let them figure it out for themselves -- as long as it's something they decide together.


  1. Wow! What a close and great family you must have! If figuring out how your name is alphabetized is your biggest worry - honey, you've got it made in the shade.

    (shhh...I'm on marriage #3 and therefore my technical name is something like:
    Pamtastic Dawn Maiden Marriage #1 Maiden Marriage #2 Maiden Marriage #3 -try to put THAT on a social security card...hee hee :-) )

  2. Funny you post this now, lately I've been considering (and have decided to) adding my last name to Anna's name, as a second middle name. I kept my name, Steve kept his. My first name gets mangled so often that I didn't want to take his and have both my names being forever mangled. And I was 31 when we got married, so I was pretty attached to my own name. I love what you guys did.

  3. Love this post. There's NO easy answer to the name game, especially when the Social Security office is involved. I went the "traditional" route, but now commonly go by both my maiden name and husband's name as my full last name. The lady at the DMV told me: "You can't do that! You're just makin' up names!" Last I checked, using my maiden name and husband's last name wasn't certifiably crazy. I ran out of there like my hair was on fire and now have whatever she wanted to put down as my driver's license: just let me go!

  4. What a great story! I didn't take my husband's name at first. We gave both daughters my last for their middle. Prompted by a comment from our older daughter at age 5, my husband decided to replace his middle with my last. I did the same and now we all have matching middle and last names. It's a very bonding thing. Much better than a tattoo.

  5. I'm hoping that they decide to keep them all. 4 names? Awesome :)


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