True Story: My Husband and I Created A New Last Name

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of Sarah, her husband, and their new last name.

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I’m an almost-30 former-teacher-turned-freelance writer in Virginia. My husband is a history teacher, and for fun we draw comics and promote his Christian music.

Growing up, did you have any particular attachment to your last name? Or any strong feelings about women changing their last name after marriage?

My family of origin is awesome. I have three successful, friendly brothers, and my parents raised us with a sense of pride in our last name. I also played a lot of sports, so my nickname ended up being my last name. I still have friends who would be more comfortable calling me Marbach, even more than Sarah.

All that is just to say that marriage seemed like a far-off proposition all the time, so I never gave much thought to the idea of changing my last name. When the time came, it felt like I was being kicked out of the club of awesome and pushed into someone else’s life. “The way it’s supposed to be,” and “tradition,” didn’t feel like good enough reasons to suddenly merge myself into a different family.

When did you first come up with the idea of combining your last names?

Here’s the ironic part: in college I had a professor who created a new last name with her spouse and I was less-than-understanding about it (read: I snickered a lot). When the time came to be Mrs. HisLastName, I just couldn’t wrap my head around years of being, simply, Marbach, to people, and then suddenly taking on someone else’s family identity. It didn’t feel like a partnership or a complete blending of our lives, or any of the things we had been talking about during our engagement.

What were some of the other combinations you tried?

At first, we played around with our names like anagrams. We dismissed Greebach almost immediately. Marson was in the running for a short time, but it sounded so much like Manson and my husband didn’t like that. I would have loved to just drop down to Bach, but once I started down that road, I had an epiphany and texted him “…..Greesonbach!”. He loved it immediately, and it felt right right from the start.

How did the people in your life respond to your decision?

We knew there would be fallout on both sides of the families. I won’t pretend it’s commonplace or normal! We thought it best to let everyone react in private and so announced it in our first family Christmas letter. I got one or two calls asking if it was a joke and then a little awkward silence when I said it wasn’t.

In the letter and in conversation, I found it was very helpful to first admit that it’s weird, but then thank them in advance for being so welcoming. Two years later, there’s still a twinkle in my mom’s eye when she says my last name, but it’s good-humored, and my husband and I have no regrets. Our names of origin feel like they’re missing something to both of us now!

Did any (particularly sexist) people hassle your husband about changing his name?

Especially as a teacher, he’s had to deal with some weird looks and nagging-maybe-rude questions from students and coworkers. On the whole, though, he hasn’t experienced any flat-out “Wow, you’re not a man anymore.” We still get cards written out to Mrs. Josh Greeson, but they’re always from people over 70-years-old, so I figure they’ve earned the right to do what they want (or, at least, it’s not worth the fight).

This choice has, though, allowed me some insight into the perspective of some men (okay, just one). I received my one and only piece of hate mail from a man whose fiancee read my story on The Everygirl. He mockingly thanked me for “putting such an idea in her head” and told me that he hoped I didn’t end their engagement. (Quotations used to express my amusement that he doesn’t think his fiance’s brain is capable of original thought).

I don’t mean to say that everyone should do this — for some women, it feels natural to take a new last name and they might even have looked forward to it for a long time. But to think that it’s not even on the table — that you’re not worth marrying if you won’t change your name — is something I cannot understand. At the very least, bringing the topic up might be the start of a good conversation to make sure you’re both on the same page before getting married.

Is the process for two spouses changing their last names to a new one any different than the process for a new Mrs. changing her name?

I was very surprised how easy it was for him to change his last name. I suspect that more people than we think change their last name — for reasons other than marriage — and perhaps the people doing the paperwork assumed it was something else when they filed ours. We just had the court order from our locality, then took it to the social security department, and then used that paperwork to change over bills and financial information.

If you have a daughter, what will you tell her about getting married and changing her name?

I can’t for the life of me remember where I heard this quote (either Real Simple or Oprah Magazine), but I will tell her to “Go with the choice that feels like freedom.” I hope she’ll agree with me that it’s important to have the same last name for a sense of family unity, but I also hope she’ll know enough to follow her gut. In the end she’s the one who will live with her choices — not her mom, her mother-in-law, or her friends. And so long as she and her spouse reach the decision thoughtfully and with respect to each other’s needs, I don’t know what there’d be to get upset about!Thanks so much for sharing, Sarah! For you married readers – what’s your last name situation? I don’t think I’d change my last name but I’ve always joked that any future husband of mine is welcome to slap ‘Von’ on the front of his last name.

P.S. How to fight fair and How to date a younger man.

35 Comments

Amanda @ Gourmanda

I'm getting married at the end of this year, and know that I won't be changing my last name. I feel connected to my current last name, and wouldn't change it for anything. My fiance understands and is supportive – we haven't broken it to his family yet though!

Funnily enough, we created a portmanteau of our last names for our wedding website here: http://www.chanoy.com.au/. Everyone laughed…but it's a legitimate portmanteau were we ever to decide to both change our names!

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FarStarr

I waited a year after we got married before I changed my name. I decided to keep my maiden name as my middle name because there was no way I was giving up "Starr". Taking my husband's last name has in no way reduced my connection to my maiden name because I still use it all the time. I combined the names for my internet handle. Twenty-four years later and no regrets… 🙂

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NZ Muse

I really love the idea, and if I was open to changing my name at all I think this would be a kickass compromise. Definitely better than hyphenation!

I used to say that for the right person I might, but if I'm totally honest with myself, THAT was being dishonest. I don't think I would ever seriously consider it. Certainly not for my husband's name, which is horribly dissonant with my first name. He was pretty anti for a while, but came around – it was a dealbreaker for me.

I personally disagree that sharing a name = family unity, but I can understand why people think that way.

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Lu

i had an unexpected identity crisis after we got married and kept putting off changing my name. finally i told my husband that i can't let go of my last name because i was one of the last in the family to carry it on. so, he said he'd add my name to his if i'd add his to mine. and now we have a ridiculously long last name that makes us both happy. no hyphens, which drives people nuts for some reason. we're the Carpenter Ortolanos or the "carports" to our friends.

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Michelle

This is awesome! I still haven't technically taken his last name after our marriage, but I did hyphenate on Facebook haha. At first I wanted to keep my last name, but people would actually make fun of my husband to his face. It was ridiculous.

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iris

No offense, but screw those people. If they're going to make fun of your husband simply because you like your last name…they're not worth listening to. Someone needs to drag them out of the 1700s.

Have you heard of APracticalWedding? They have a whole collection of stories about women who did or did not change their last name…I think there's even one story where a woman changed her name back! Here's the link to the name change stories: http://apracticalwedding.com/tag/changing-your-name/

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lindsaymarie

i'm getting married next month (ohmygod it's the first and now i can say that!) and we're both keeping our names. mine has a quirky silent k in it that i've grown to love. i think on holiday cards and the like we'll call ourselves "the mylastname-hislastname family", and we both agree that our child(ren)'s last name will be hyphenated. i had a professor in college who combined names with her husband, like the author, and that being the first time i encountered it, i thought it was The Coolest Ever. i still think it's pretty dang cool, although not the right choice for us.

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iris

This is going to sound silly, but I have a friend with a hyphenated last name. She says it causes all kinds of problems (ex: she cannot check into flights online). Our current computer systems often aren't set up to handle punctuation in names. 'Not an issue all the time, but something to consider!

And then there's other people who are of the belief that if they birthed the kid, the kid gets their last name 😉

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Anonymous

I have a hyphenated last name and that was a problem once, over 7 years ago. I love having both my parents’ last names.

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Anna

I have a combination of last names from my parents that make me unique. I'm getting married next year and I have no intention to change my last names. I didn't ask my partner if that was okey, I just told him I'd keep my names. To me, that's my decision. My name is a big part of who I am. And I can't see why anyone else, husband or other, would have any saying in my choice of name.
I'm all for unique last names and love the idea of creating new ones!

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Tsoniki Crazy Bull

I love that story. My husband changed his last name to mine (a few years after we were married – I never changed my last name at all). At first we hyphenated our kids' last names, but it was weird for us, plus there was no blood relation to his last name for him (Mom's ex husband and she never changed her name before she had him). All these years (almost 10) later and it's still cool to tell the story. 🙂

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Kailey

Thank you for sharing this story! As I get closer to marriage I keep thinking about this issue but can't decide on a solution. I want to keep my last name, and so does my partner, but I don't know what name our future children would take. We both have very similar Nordic last names (ending in 'son') so it sounds pretty ridiculous hyphenated and as much as I love the solution of mixing the two names into a new one…since our names have the same endings it would just create the same name! Does anyone out there know of any solutions to giving children last names when parent's decide to keep their own?

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iris

I think perhaps in Latin culture the daughters take the mother's last name, and the boys take the father's? Or I could just be making it up, but this is one solution…aside from the kids just taking one parent's names or the other's. My mother kept her maiden name, and I have my father's last name. She somewhat regrets not giving the kids her own last name.

The problem is…you probably want the kids to be semi-obviously related to either you or your partner via the name, so you don't get hassled (crossing international borders, picking kids up from school, etc.)

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Nell

A guy I know (maybe jokingly?) told me that if the first baby was a boy, all future kids would have his last name, and if it was a girl all the kiddos would have her last name. That way it's kinda random, but at least the siblings will have the same last name as each other.

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Anonymous

Hyphenating wasn't really an option for our kids, as it would become too long and a bit ridiculous. I'm not changing my name, hubs isn't changing his…our son has my last name as a middle name (and yup, it's a bit weird), and my hubs' name as his last. Doesn't really feel like there's a way to get through it all so everyone is happy…on a bad day, I'm sad my son doesn't have the same name as me, but I'm hella not changing my name, so here we are. I just try to look at it like I gave my hubs this amazing gift by giving our child his last name…and he takes it that way, so there's my comfort.

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Kailey

Thanks for the replies! That's the biggest challenge- having everyone have the same name to avoid hassles at borders, schools etc.

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Chrissy (The New Me)

I kept my last name when I got married, but my husband and I have been together a long time, and we jokingly use combination of our last names as our "family" name. We receive mail as this name, our dogs are listed at the vet under this last name, etc. He lobbied hard for each of us to take the name officially after the wedding, and even though I liked the sentiment, I couldn't do it! But I love hearing about how others navigate this, and I'm glad you settled on a solution that was right for you.

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Kate Rowan

My husband and I came up with a last name that wasn't related to either of our names at all, which worked out great for both of us. It felt like we were our own people, and it was very important to both of us to form our own family unit. We also love the way it sounds with both of our names.

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Jess | Hello Wordsmith

I remember watching 'Father of the Bride' as a kid and *loving* the idea of creating a whole new surname with my future husband. Now that the time is nigh, when the big day comes, I'm keeping my own name. To me it's always seemed odd and unnatural to take someone else's name — I've always known I never would. I feel lucky that this doesn't bother my boyfriend one iota — there are so many men out there who would feel threatened or emasculated if the wife didn't take their name.
Great interview, and this quote made my day: "Go with the choice that feels like freedom." So perfect. xx

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Manisha

I happily changed my last name when I got married. I was eager to start a new identity. I felt like I could become an entirely different person. I married very young so there was no attachment to my maiden name and it all felt like an adventure to me. In Gujarati culture the wife take the husband's first name for a middle name. So when I got married, I dropped the middle name (mine would have been Dave. Ha!) and got a new last name. So now I have just two names. Anyway, the funny thing is that people think it's an Indian last name and assume that I didn't change it. It's actually a Swedish name which I just recently figured out. All this time, my husband's family thought it was a Norwegian name. I think it is a clever idea to pick a new name but I know I'm not clever enough to find a good one. Well done on the Greesonbach!

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Megan

I hyphenated when I got married because I wanted to keep my given name and add his on too! It can cause some problems…. Well, more like frustrations. If computer systems can't do a hyphen, I tell people to just put a space and if they can't do that then sometimes (rarely) the name becomes a compound word ;). Computer systems are forgivable. I think the most frustrating thing about having a hyphenated name is people’s opinions and lack of respect to use my proper last name. I get cards addressed to Mrs. Megan Husbandslastname. Or, even after I firmly establish that my name is hyphenated, they take it upon themselves to refer to me as/or write- just my husband’s last name. As if doing that, my name will magically no longer be hyphenated. Some of this comes from their values and some of it is just pure laziness. Either way I find it very rude. I say, do what you feel. I understand peoples "need" to keep a family name. But what might work for you might not work for me(as with anything in life). As for my husband, he told me to do what felt right and supports me all the way. He will even correct people who use my name incorrectly. If I had to do it all over again I would still hyphenate my name. Can it be a pain in the ass sometimes? Sure. However, I am not going to drop my given name just to make someone else feel comfortable with MY life decisions.

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Lizzie

My husband and I both kept our last names when we married. His is awkward and not phonetic, and he hates it, so for a while he considered taking my name. Ultimately the thought of his parents' devastation at "losing" the family name made him decide to stick with the one he had. As for what our kids will get, we plan to adopt from the foster care system, so our future kids will likely have their own last names already. And if they want ours, I guess we'll have to figure out which one, or both!

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Mary V

Super traditional here — I plan to take the fiance's last name once we're married next year. I grew up with a constantly-mispronounced, eleven-letter, starts-with-Van last name, and my whole life looked forward to changing it to something shorter, or perhaps to something that started with a letter in the beginning half of the alphabet. I'll be going down to five letters beginning with M, and would really like to keep my maiden name as a middle name. But it really will be nice not to have to spell it out over the phone ever again, or run out of spaces on forms.
I have friends who married five years ago, a Webb marrying an Oetke, and everyone we know informally refers to them as "The Webke's". Their two kids now believe their last name is Webke (instead of Webb) and we are all encouraging of the idea that they change the family name formally. I hope this happens if they really want it.
Go you, for coming up with a brand new one, Sarah & Josh! I'd like to see more people choosing this option!

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Kim

Growing up I always knew that I was not interested in changing my name when I got married, and, sure enough, when the time came, I didn't. At first my now-husband made all sorts of arguments about how important it was to him that we shared a name, so I told him he was welcome to take mine if that was the real issue. Needless to say, that stopped the arguing and nearly 10 years later, I have no regrets about not taking his name and he is just fine with it as well. Our first baby is due in a month, and she will have a hyphenated name. The only complaint I have is that his mother won't respect the fact that we do not share a name, and will address things to John and Kim Fulton. To this day it still makes me furious with her, but I would rather deal with one disrespectful relative out of the bunch than always feel as if I gave up a part of my identity for the sake of tradition.

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Sarah Greesonbach

I feel for you Kim — I speak from experience when I say I know just what you mean ;-). Fortunately you and I get to continue to be classy ladies for the sake of our hubands!

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Mandy S

I took my husband's name when we got married. I had thought about changing both my first and last names in earlier years when I was single; I felt particularly strongly about my first name and how it represented me (or as I thought at the time, failed to). I ended up keeping my first name all along, partially for lack of support from the people I cared about the most, and looking back on it now, my name has less of a grip on my identity than I had thought. (Wherever you go, and whatever you call yourself, there you are.) It also makes me feel kind of adventurous to have a different alias in my past.

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Rather Peachy

"Go with the choice that feels like freedom" man, oh, man, such a great post!
I really like my last name, even if I do have to constantly spell or pronounce it for others. Even though I'm no where near marriage, I just can't see myself giving it up completely. I love the idea of combining names and I've honestly never heard of it being done before!

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Wiktoria

I took my husband's name when we got married mostly because his last name is more unusual than my maiden name. Here in Sweden it has become quite normal that the husband takes his wife's last name if her name is more unusual or more appealing. I know several couples hat have done this and I have never heard of anybody giving the husband a hard time about it.

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Janenotmehan

I like the idea of creating a new name -we toyed with that for a little while. I did not want to give up my name – He did not want to take mine – but had some negative attachments to his. We decided to leave things as they were and name the children with his (as both names together are too long for a hockey sweater…). We both grew up and are involved in our community, so we both get called by the others last name and just smile to ourselves when it happens. I always tell our kids that I didn't change my name because I couldn't spell his…

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James Fast Plumber

This is something that my wife would have wanted, but we haven't thought of it back then. It is not something that I would be trilled about but the most important thing in all relationships is happiness and understanding.

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Savannah

A guy my sister knows–he and his then-fiancée/wife, when getting married, decided that neither of them really cared for either of their last names. They didn't create a new last name to share so much as chose one that was already existing… and (true story) that name was Skywalker. (I think this is AWESOME)

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Little redhead

Creating a new name is unfortunately not possible in Belgium, but it's a very cool idea! Here practically nobody changes their name after marriage, taking on your husband's name wasn't even done in my grandparents' time. So the thought of men actually getting mocked if their wives keep their own name seems ridiculous and very old fashioned. Strange custom to be able to pick a whole new name though after marriage, I don't think this is allowed in many countries. Here you have to pay a ridiculous sum just to change one letter of your name.

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