Why I Changed My Name When I Got Married

Drew, Ellen, Me, and my husband, Massimo at Hermit Island, Maine - June 6, 2015.

Drew, Ellen, Me, and my husband, Massimo at Hermit Island, Maine – June 6, 2015.

Wedding season is officially in full force. Having recently returned from my cousin Drew’s beach-side nuptials in woody Maine this past weekend, I have got weddings on the brain. Ever since getting married almost two years ago, attending weddings always bring up all the memories and feelings surrounding my own wedding day.

Of all the decisions one has to make when getting married (and there are a lot!), one that is often overlooked is whether or not the bride will change her name – and if so, to what? This deeply personal choice (it is your name, after all)  most of us don’t learn about until after the wedding. Back when we were first talking about getting married, Massimo and I made the choice together that I would take his name, and here I am to share what factors went into that decision, for anyone curious about some things one may consider when going from Miss to Mrs.

1. I changed my name because I had a choice.

Although we still have a ways to go, here in the US, and in my particular family, we women have the choice of changing our names or not. Some people don’t like women changing their name upon marriage because of the history of the tradition – that when you got married, you were no longer a legal individual, but the property of your husband. Personally, I felt it important to reclaim the tradition, and exercise my freedom to consider the change or not for myself and for my new family of two. I had the choice – and that alone made it worth considering.

2. I changed my name because it was representative of our new, united family.

This is a common reason to change your name: so that everyone will have the same name. It’s a practical reason, but also has its symbolic implications. Having the same name helps symbolize my new role as a wife, and instantly associates me with my husband, and, should we have them someday, our children. In some ways, I feel sorry for Massimo and men in general that they don’t get the same symbolic “re-birth” (for lack of a better term), but I suppose it’s up to the husbands to figure out their own way to represent our covenant – tradition has given me one already and I happen to like it.

3. I changed my name because it mattered to my fiance.

Even though it was I who would be living with a new name, as an engaged couple, it was important for me to respect the opinions and feelings of my soon-to-be husband in such big a decision as a name change. If I was neutral on the idea, and didn’t care either way, but Massimo felt very strongly and always pictured me having his last name, then I would do it. In reality, I was mostly already planning on changing my name before we discussed it, but knowing how much it mattered to him helped me dive in all the way.

I had the choice – and that alone made it worth considering.

4. I changed my name because there were other Devenneys to carry on the family name.

I come from a family with a lot of girls, but we do have two boys that can carry on the family name. Some women want to keep their name (either as a surname or middle name) to preserve it if they have no brothers to do so. I was fortunate enough to not have that pressure on me, and little did I know that nearly a year after getting married, we would add a sister-in-law to the family who happily took on the Devenney name through my brother.

When we were brand-new Mr. and Mrs. - June 30, 2015 in Haddam, CT.

When we were brand-new Mr. and Mrs. – June 30, 2015 in Haddam, CT.

5. I changed my name because I got married young.

I always assumed that if I got married at all, it would be years and years into my career. For that reason, I worried about changing my name after already having a client base and law firm, and how it might affect my professional recognition.Would I change it legally, but keep my maiden name professionally? Would I let people call me by my husband’s name, but not legally change it at all?

These questions are especially significant in the field of law, where your name is not just what people call you, but often the name on the moniker on your building. All these questions subsided and I fortunately didn’t have to answer them when I married at the ripe young age of 23, when the most recognition I had for my last name was the fact that my first-year Torts professor could never, ever say it right.

6. I changed my name because it’s easier for me to change my name than anything else.

As I said, we wanted both of us to have the same last name, and we wanted to symbolize our new life as a married couple. Well then, “Why doesn’t he change his name, or you hyphenate the two of them?” While those options would give us the same result, “Devenney” is a lengthy name to hyphenate, and the fact is that our culture simply isn’t designed for men to easily change their names. When a woman changes her name, it is instantly understood, and we don’t have to answer a lot of questions about why we suddenly have a new name.

When I had to go through the process of changing my name (which took about a year to do thoroughly), all I had to say was, “I got married,” and that (along with appropriate documentation) was enough. I can’t imagine the confused looks and questions that Massimo would have had to endure had he tried to change his name. Everyone would probably assume he was trying to commit identity theft. Until security questions ask, “What is your mother or father’s unmarried name?” it will simply make more practical sense, if anyone in the couple is going to change it, for wives to do so.

Now, I do realize this is a circular argument, because if wives keep doing this then our culture will never change. But I also realize that me – being just one person – am not solely responsible for the 60% of Americans who think women should take their husband’s last name when they get married.

7. I changed my name because no matter what it says on my license, I will always be a Devenney.

At first, I worried that I would lose a part of me if I changed my name – I would no longer be instantly associated with the Devenney name and family. After considering this, I realized that my mother has been a Devenney for over 30 years, and is still easily identified with her parents and brothers, who carry her maiden name. I grew up in the same town as my grandparents and cousins – all of whom had different last names – and yet everyone still knew that we were related. I realized that no matter how long I am a Barbi, people will still know that I was a Devenney first.

8. I changed my name because I wanted to honor the support of my husband on my diploma and in my career. 

The name “Deborah Devenney” appeared on 23 years’ worth of essays, programs, awards, certificates, and diplomas. Every time it showed up, I was able to represent the Devenney name and let the world know that the Devenneys had all helped me get to wherever I was. I got married one year into law school, and although my parents, siblings, grandparents and so on were still extremely supportive and instrumental in allowing me to finish law school, it was Massimo who stepped up and took on the role of supportive spouse full-time.

When I realized that I would be getting married before graduating, I told Massimo that I wanted his name to show up on my diploma, so that everyone would know that it was he who helped me get there. When we each have our own businesses or careers or whatever, our shared name will let everyone know that I helped him, and he helped me. Having the same name is one way we chose to symbolize that mutual support, and share in each other’s successes.

“Devenney” is a lengthy name to try to hyphenate, and the fact is that our culture simply isn’t designed for men to easily change their names.

-debarbibee

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