True Story: I Took My Wife’s Last Name

Do you know any husband's who took their wife's last name? Would you want your husband to take yours? Click through for one husband's name-changing story!

My friends Dave and Libby on their wedding day. Aren’t they painfully good-looking?!

Tell us a bit about yourself! 

My name is Dave Holden (née Hendricks) and I’m originally from the Northern Minnesota Iron Range and grew up in the northwest suburbs of Minneapolis.

I’ve lived in the city proper for the last five years and spend my free time running around the lakes, crafting unnecessarily elaborate goofs with friends, and injuring myself on a bike year-round. I am 38, but with the impulsiveness and risk assessment of a much younger and dumber person.

What’s your wife like? 

She is the most wonderful person I’d ever met. She is warm and kind and instantly makes anyone she meets feel like the most important person in the room. If you have a “How stunningly gorgeous my partner is…” series, I could fill several entries. She points out every dog to me and packs band aids and granola bars everywhere we go because I am almost always hungry and always always clumsy.

We met through a group of kickball friends in a manner that she loves to tell and that horrifies and embarrasses me to this day. She and her roommate were hosting a barbecue and I tagged along with some friends.

The communal punch was generously spiked yet delicious and our initial meeting involved me crashing through her kitchen and inadvertently rearranging every fixture in the bathroom. I escaped with my dignity nowhere to be seen.

Later, I delivered a basket of flowers with a Target gift card attached to cover the damages and an I.O.U. guaranteeing “One free haymaker to my embarrassed jaw in the unlikely event you can ever find it in public again, because I am mortified.”

Later on, we had whiskey floats on a park bench where we tried to one up each other with dating disaster stories, not knowing that our previous encounter would be one some day. Shortly thereafter, I held her hand at a Gopher game and haven’t let go since.

Growing up, how did you think about marriage, family, etc? 

My parents divorced when I was nine and there was a lot of fighting and the occasional violence. It gave me less of a blueprint for marriage and more of a model of what to definitely avoid.

My mother kept her married name, so I just assumed that the maiden name was something discarded during the wedding ceremony and never got back, sort of like a snakeskin. Did I mention I was nine?

When did you guys start talking about The Last Name Situation? 

It was something we had thrown about after the engagement, but didn’t really discuss seriously until the marriage license was in front of us. Anyone that has planned a wedding knows how deadlines can sneak up on you and our license was due very soon.

I threw out the idea of taking Holden as a last name and there wasn’t a downside to it that we could think of. The only hurdle left was asking her father.

What made you decide to change your last to Libby’s – rather than hyphenating, creating a totally new last name, etc?

We did briefly discuss creating a new name! The combination of Holden and Hendricks affords us two options: Hendren, which I didn’t like at all, and Holdicks, which we disagreed on strongly not because of the phallic, yet hilarious nature of it, but the number of D’s in it.

I insist that it is one D and my wife thinks it is two. Two D’s is for words like Haddock and would make the joke way too on the nose. Though one D does not make it subtle, I could still keep a straight face with Dave Holdicks on a business card.

But ultimately, we wanted to make sure the right name would be passed on to our children. The name Holden is on scholarships and non-profit boards. Hendricks doesn’t open any doors for our kids and might actually close some in the wrong circles. The wrong circles being a certain American Legion bar in northern Minnesota.

How did your families react when you told them about your decision? 

My father in law was a little skeptical at first as he is rigid in his ways and steadfastly traditional. My wife and her two other sisters were not given middle names at birth; it was expected that they would take their husband’s name as their last and make Holden their middle name.

Much like I had to ask his permission to take her hand in marriage, I was expected to do the same for the name.

He was more open to it after my wonderful wife told him that, in solidarity, she would be changing her middle name from <blank> to her Grandmother’s name of Harriet.

My father is the only remaining Hendricks and I have been estranged from him for some time. He won’t be happy that the name dies with him, but the picture of him clutching pearls and retiring to the fainting couch over it only brings me joy.

Can you walk us through the process of changing your name?

The first step is to change your Social Security registration. There is exactly one place in the Twin Cities to get it done and it had three heavily armed United States Army soldiers and a TSA-style metal detector. They insisted that no matter what was in my backpack, I couldn’t bring it in, even when I said it was just Slim Jims and cold cuts for my ‘nitrate cleanse’.

Two and a half hours, forty eight numbers called, and sixteen sudokus later, I was seated in front of an interview counter with a handmade sharpie sign reading “Don’t change diaper here!” The clerk was very polite and everything was done in just a few more minutes.

The second step is driver’s license or state ID and can be done at any old DMV. I lucked out and was able to get the same clerk that we filed for a marriage license with. She was very excited for us and I filled her in on all the wedding details.

Steps three through eight hundred are every bill you receive, every banking institution, every credit card, every website, and every passport (Looking at you, Carmen Sandiego).

How frequently do you accidentally introduce yourself by your old name? Or accidentally sign your old name?

Zero times! The process has confused a lot of my professional contacts, though. The one monogrammed item of clothing I have doesn’t even need to change!

What surprised you about this process?

I work in IT so this shouldn’t have surprised me, but all of the good gmail addresses are already taken. Especially the one with your new, more common name

It also surprises me that more people don’t do this. If the groom’s name is Weinerbachen and the bride is Kennedy, it seems like a no-brainer.

What did you learn from this that ANY of us could apply to our daily lives? 

The reaction I have received from women has been an almost universal “That’s great!” and the reaction from men is a “Well, I’ve never heard of that” (And a “Harumph” added in if they are a Baby Boomer).

That it’s such a given that women will take their husband’s name strikes me as a relic of a dowry era and has caused me to reevaluate more ingrained gender roles we ascribe to merely since it has always been that way. Like the phrase ‘maiden name’ can we change that one, too?

Thanks so much for sharing your story, Dave! Do you guys have any questions for him? Did you and your spouse do anything interesting with your last names? Kenny and I both kept our original last names because a) we’re lazy b) Von Bargen is an EXCELLENT last name.

P.S. A ‘before you commit’ checklist

12 Comments

Silvia

I love this in a “seems frivolous but actually digs deep” kind of way! Indeed, we don’t think of the specificity of the “maiden” name and all it entails enough.
In a heated debate with a bunch of fellow expat friends, I once funny-exasperated-yelled “Yeah well what’s your dad’s maiden name anyway?!” in front of a very confused cashier. It seemed so normal to me until I realised that men don’t *have* “maiden” names and the cashier was giving me serious side eye…

Thank you Dave for sharing and for subtly changing the way we think of gender roles in society. And thank you Sarah for sharing, as always!

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Rae

Love this! I’m getting married in May & I’m keeping my last name for a whole bunch of reasons, but the main one is that um…I want to? And I feel like that should be reason enough. My fiance, of course, agrees!

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scar

“He won’t be happy that the name dies with him, but the picture of him clutching pearls and retiring to the fainting couch over it only brings me joy.”

I really, really like you.

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Marie

I changed my name when I got married the first time, but on my second marriage I have kept my current surname, which you may call my “ex-husband’s” but is indeed mine. I was happy to leave my father’s name behind but have been my current surname for over a decade and it feels like me. I think anyone can have any name they wish, married or not, call yourself what yoj like!

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Halina

Dave, I’m also chiming in about your writing! I don’t know how much you write in your everyday life, but can you please do us all a favor and write MORE? I thought this was a great interview!

I took my ex-husband’s last name and felt a twinge of sadness about it. I felt like I was giving up something about myself that no one expected of him – or of men in general. After we got divorced, I took my maiden name back and decided that, no matter what, that was who I was going to stay for the rest of my life. (*And I also hate the term “Maiden name”!)

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Raquel JC

As a Spaniard, this changing of family name still surprises me.

In Spain we all have 2 surnames: one from your dad and one from your mom, the order can be chosen. Every kid gets the 1st one of each parent. And that never changes. You may, however, change the order of your surnames if you wish, once you’re an adult.
This feels, to me, like the most fair way: Nobody needs nor is expected to change name when marrying , plus, your children are always linked to you, no matter what happens with your marriage.
Also, by taking your husband’s (or wife’s) surname you change identity. You are no longer named ZZZ YYY but ZZZ QQQ. Why would you change identity when marrying? You’re the same person as before, only that not single..
Lastly, marriages sadly break. But your parents/children will always be your parents/children. Doesn’t it make more sense to keep the link to parents/kids for life rather than taking a new identity that may need to change again in the future because of breaking the link with the spouse?
Wondering what you all think 🙂

Regards,
Raquel

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Savannah

True story: when my sister’s friend got married, he and his wife both changed their last names to Skywalker. (They’ve since split up, but he still has the last name.)

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Ksenija

Fantastic interview! Thank you Dave for sharing your story.
I recently told my fiance how I do not wish to change my last name after we are married and he said he will be bothered by it, but can learn to accept it.
When I told my ex I never wish to renounce my family name, he was earnestly dumb-folded and his reaction was ‘but that is like you didn’t even marry’. Talking about white man privilege and gender inequity…

Reply

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