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!
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.