If you have any interest in getting married someday, you've probably wondered at some point whether you'll change your name to your spouse's.
A recent Google survey conducted by the New York Times indicated that women keeping their names is on the rise, with nearly 20% of women deciding to keep their maiden names after getting married and 10% opting for hyphenated names. But while some believe taking your husband's last name is now a sexist and retro tradition, that doesn't mean women have stopped doing it: According to a 2013 study of 14 million married women on Facebook, 20 to 79 years of age, 65% of women in their 20s and 30s changed their name after they got married.
That reality can be jarring when played out in real life, as we saw when feminist role model Amal Alamuddin chose to take George Clooney's last name after marrying him. "Dear Mrs. Clooney: why why, WHY, in 2014, would you take your husband's name?" Australian writer Tracy Spicer wrote in an open letter to Alamuddin Clooney, calling her "an appendage, an accoutrement, a chattel."
Even in 2015, the question of whether women should take their husbands' last names (or their wives') is an open-ended one, without a right or wrong answer. As Mic found out with a recent Google Forms survey of both married and single women, there's a wide range of reasons why women would choose to take their husbands' last names, and vice versa — and they have nothing to do with women seeing themselves as "chattel."
Here's what they had to say about it.
For some women, their name is a crucial part of their identity.
Although the majority of women are still changing their names after they get married, the trend has been on the downswing in recent years. According to a 2009 longitudinal study in Social Behavior & Personality, more women have been opting to keep their last names after getting married, a trend that started in the 1990s.
Alexandra, 25, says she doesn't "have any intention" of changing her last name, citing the double standard of women feeling pressure to take their husbands' last names, while men are rarely faced with the issue. "It's a part of my identity, just as my partner's last name is a part of his identity!" she told Mic. "I wouldn't expect my boyfriend to change his last name, so why should I change mine?"
Elly, 28, echoed that sentiment. "Wouldn't change my name simply because it's how I have always thought of and identified myself," she said. "I don't see why marriage would need to change that identifier for me — it would still be me, just a married version! For me, it's not necessary to become a different person simply because you exchanged vows."
But some just don't want to deal with the hassle of changing it legally.
Mieko, 30, told Mic that she decided to keep her maiden name after seeing her mother go through the hassle of changing hers when she got married, which was required by law in Japan at the time. "Luckily in the U.S. it's not required to change when you get married, so why do it?!" she told Mic. "[It is] such [an] old fashioned concept that is a plain pain."
A 22-year-old woman who did not disclose her name had a more 21st-century solution to the name-change conundrum. "I probably won't change my last name after marriage because it's a lot of paperwork and my probable husband's last name is lame," she said. "I would maybe change it on Facebook."
Some women really want to embrace the name-changing tradition.
A recurring theme in Mic's survey was that many women want to change their last names simply because they like taking part in the tradition and want to make it easier for their children, not because they see it as giving up a part of their identity. One anonymous 26-year-old woman said that while she likes her last name and her fiancé doesn't care if she changes it, she might change it after their wedding, in order to "feel married."
"We already own a house together and I'm worried nothing will seem to change after we get married unless I change my name," she told Mic. "The second reason is to have the same last name as my kids some day."
Sabrina, 28, echoed the sentiment: "I think that I would want to change it, but not really out of tradition; more out of a sense of forming a union with someone," she said.
Sometimes, the person you marry just has a "better" last name than you do.
For women who are simply not attached to their names in any meaningful way, changing it is pure pragmatism. "I always figured I'd take his name. I have some traditional/old school quirks and I'm scarred from being last in line in my youth," Kathryn, 28, told Mic. "I have joked with dates that if they don't fall into the first few letters of the alphabet, it's just not going to work out."
Elisabeth, 26, who was teased for her last name as a child, also simply prefers her partner's last name to her own. "I've been in a relationship for almost seven years, and I want to change my last name to his when we get married because, [to be honest], my last name is super ugly and his is sexy and mellifluous and Italian," she said. "So I'm probably going to change it for that reason alone."
Colleen, 30, changed her name when she got married for a similar reason. "His name sounds much better and easier to say on the air at work and I always wanted my first name to be Bailey," she told Mic. "So now I can give the name at Starbucks for my cup and it isn't a lie."
That said, many women want to keep their names out of an obligation to their families.
Even though Elisabeth says she'll probably change her last name, she feels "a certain degree of guilt" about it. "I'm in a family of all girls, so if me and my sister both change our names we won't pass on the family name, regardless of how fuggo it is," she told Mic. Similarly, Becky, 29, said although she wasn't planning on having kids, she decided to keep her name when she got married, "because it is a big part of who I am and honestly there aren't a lot of us left."
Leslie, 33, also decided to keep her name to maintain a connection with her family. "I'm the last branch on the family tree to carry the name. My dad was an only child and he has three daughters. My sisters changed their last name," she told Mic. "That leaves me to carry the torch until it's extinguished."
That's why some women are adopting hyphenated last names.
In order to retain their last names while simultaneously signaling their devotion to their partners, some ladies want to have their cake and eat it too by opting for hyphenated last names, in the same vein as actors Courtney Cox Arquette or Kaley Cuoco Sweeting. "I might do a lil' combo thing (e.g., my name and his name), or just keep mine," one 30-year-old woman wrote.
Another 26-year-old woman said that while changing her name after marriage "just seems far too patriarchal" for her, she's discussed the possibility of getting a hyphen with her boyfriend. "We both agree that if we do have children, in the long run it would make our lives easier if we shared a last name," she wrote. "By hyphenating both our names, we can each have a part of one another's family names and so can our kids."
The only "right" choice? Not to judge other people for their own choices.
Above all else, the main takeaway of the survey was that when it comes to changing your last name, women don't think they have any right to pass judgment on one another. "I don't have a problem with those who have changed their last names or want to, because it is their choice and I respect that," Sofia, 26, told Mic. "But me, no way, baby."
Becky, 29, who also didn't change her name when she got married, said she nonetheless thought about it long and hard before making her decision. "I think making an actual choice about it, rather than just assuming [it was the right thing to do], was the most important part to me," she said.
Although the decision to change your last name should theoretically be an open one, free of prejudice or judgment, it's important to acknowledge that the choice is not free of cultural context.
"Women who marry men are encouraged socially to take their husband's name. Men who marry women are never taught to think of changing their name as an equal option," a 26-year-old woman told Mic. "If a woman wants to take her husband's name, fine, but I wish it were more of an equal conversation, and we're really far from that now."
But unlike in the past, when women were legally required to change their last names for their marriages to be recognized, women now have the freedom to make this decision for themselves. In the end, "I'm thankful to have choices," Kathryn, 28, said.