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What’s in a Name?

September 23, 2021

What’s in a name?

A lot, actually. Names matter. Owning them, saying them, claiming them, changing them, even discarding them – names matter.

In fact, they matter so much that there’s a ritualistic quality about naming things, isn’t there? We create entire ceremonies around naming our babies. And when we change our names, for whatever reason, it almost always marks a shift in our identity. And it almost always plays out in the community – legally, ritualistically, or sometimes both.

 For marriage, this shift is experienced as a pronouncement at the end of the ceremony. At the end, a declaration is made around the couple, pronouncing them as a couple to their community and announcing the new nomenclature. It’s a fun, celebratory moment packed with significance and meaning.

In the West (that is to say, the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant convention), the wife usually assumes her husband’s last name. By and large, this remains the standard, but it’s certainly not the rule.

I recently had a conversation with one of my brides about her last name. When we were hired, she had one last name, but she changed it during the course of planning. Intrigued, I asked her about it. During her first marriage, Ann assumed her husband’s last name. The marriage ran its course but, because she had two children, she kept the name. As she prepared to marry the love of her life, though, this last name became an interesting topic of conversation. Because . . . names matter. They carry weight and history and tell stories and hold memory. Did she want her first husband’s last name on her new marriage license? Did her fiancé? Not really. So began a long, tedious, and expensive process to reclaim her maiden name – a name, by the way, she will keep even as she remarries.

Rather than simply defaulting to old systems that may no longer make sense, explore alternatives. The key is to be intentional and consider the options. With couples marrying later in their lives, more women are keeping their last names. Some creative couples blend names for an entirely new name (a process that does require additional legal paperwork). On occasion, a husband assume the wife’s last name. For same-sex couples, it’s really a mix of all of the above. 

While having those deliberate conversations about guest lists, flowers, and music, also discuss vows, marriage dynamics and, yes, names.

Because names matter. Identity matters. And choice matters.

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