What’s in a Name?

The last time I changed my surname on Facebook (not counting the stalking incident over a school board race where the police advised I change my moniker on social media – story for another time – maybe) was when I got married 11 years ago.

I was embarrassingly excited to change my last name on Facebook. Like, did it in the car on the way to take post-ceremony photos (yikes). In my defense I was 23-years-old.

I was so excited for the change – for what it signified to others- that I didn’t pause and think what I was giving up.

A few days ago my eldest asked why, when people get married, they typically take the man’s last name.

I didn’t have a good answer. “That’s just the way it is?” “Because?”

I settled on, “Traditionally we live in a patriarchal society where, when women marry men they take the man’s name. But you don’t have to and in some ways we are seeing that changing. People are keeping their names, hyphenating, picking entirely new ones, etc. What I wanted to telegraph to her – besides the fact that it’s not just cis men and women marrying one another – is that she has a CHOICE if she ever decides to get married. That I will support her choice, whatever that may be.

It’s not that I regret taking my husband’s last name, it’s that I wish I thought about it more. I wish I wasn’t so careless and ready to shed an identity I held my entire life. I wish I thought my name was worth more. I didn’t feel I had earned the right to keep my name. I wasn’t getting a PhD, I didn’t have an established career with a known name. I had nothing worthwhile to save.

What if the reason was just I liked my last name? We don’t ask straight men to give a reason why they want to keep their last name when they get married. Why do women need a reason or FEEL like they need a good reason to keep what is theirs?

This has all come up – reclaiming my last name – because of a podcast (so basic). My brother and I started a podcast that includes our last name in the title – Constant Reality Check – and it only really works if we both use Constant. I quickly changed my Instagram and TikTok to my maiden name – for “professional” purposes – but it felt kind of good. I held off on Facebook for – I don’t know what reason. Fear that people would think something was wrong in my marriage? Truly I don’t know, but finally one day I just made the change and shot off a quick post about how I was going back to my maiden name for professional purposes and I’m still happily married (Smiley Emoji because otherwise how will people possibly know how to feel?!). I was surprised by the response – almost entirely from women – cheering the decision. One in particular stuck out that said:

“[My married name] It doesn’t express my culture, so people are surprised when they meet me. I don’t like that.”

And it’s that erasure of identity – an identity shed so quickly because it’s so ingrained in women and expected of them when they enter a marriage contract – that hurts my heart. On the other hand, I also know of a woman who took her husband’s very American sounding last name for protection – out of fear of being profiled for a last name that – while not Hispanic – could be misinterpreted as one (this was during Trump’s 2016 campaign and the hostility and vitriol directed at many groups, but Mexicans specifically). To some extent her last name didn’t feel safe anymore.

It still feels bizarre signing onto Facebook and seeing my old name. Or maybe instead of old name I should say my original name. Birth name. And I don’t know if I’m going to legally change it back (honestly it’s a lot of paperwork that I was thrilled to do as a newlywed, but as a woman in her 30s married for a decade I don’t feel compelled to jump into).

But I will say I knew I made the right decision when my uncle took to Facebook to post about a bad experience at a restaurant (Boomer – jk) and I commented and saw our last names – the same for the first time in over a decade – responding back and forth and it just felt right. It felt like home. Yes my family is full of idiots – but they’re my idiots. Maybe I’m crazy for wanting to be a Constant, but maybe that’s just part of being a Constant.

It’s definitely part of being a Constant.


8 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. I am glad everyone has a choice. When I got married it was ILLEGAL to keep my own name. BUT I did anyway. Never changed anything. I refused to pay to keep it but apparently my real name and I are common law now! I told my father who insisted on calling me MRS: FREDRIK HEDLING as if he’d forgotten my first name along with my last, that if I changed my last name I was changing my first name to JANE. EVEN my sister called me Mrs. FREDRIK HEDLING on every letter she wrote me. But I stood my ground. Dr. and Dentists acted like they couldn’t possibly keep the names straight. But I stood my ground. I stayed Bonnie West. I thought I was the WAVE of the future. But only my best friend followed suit the next year. I didn’t even consider giving my kid’s my last name…didn’t think it possible. But my daughter kept her last name. My daughter said to be fair…really fair.. the kids got their last name depending on the flip of a coin. Her husband won. I am all for choice. IN all things! Enjoy BOTH your names!!!( My husband is glad I let him keep his!!!)


    1. You are forever and ever and ever my idol. I had no idea it was once illegal, but that makes perfect sense. Oh the Mrs. Husband’s name Last name drives me nuts. My spouse didn’t assume my entire identity, I’m still a person! It’s funny I thought I needed to be Mrs. (husband’s last name) to make it less confusing for my kids’ friends, but they all call me Miss. Meredith so it doesn’t matter anyway lol. ❤ this story. Thank you for sharing it.


  2. also, who on earth would want to be Bonnie Hedling when they could have Bonnie West for a name. One cant even say Hedling. haha


  3. Here, here! I am recently divorced and am SO excited to take back my last name! for ~30 years I have been hyphenated, so socially and professionally going back to just my last name has been seamless and easy, with no questions asked! While I’m sure it will be aggravating and time consuming (think: bank accounts, passport, TSA pre-check!) I am empowered by regaining my Wix roots!!


  4. When I got married back in the early 90s (so, like, when you were born…) I took my husband’s last name even though I was doubling the number of letters just because his was easier for people to pronounce. Half of my friends were like, “Sure. Of course.” and the other half were “OMG how could you?” And none of my family or friends who all got married in the same 3 year span of time kept their names. Bonus! now I am literally the only person with my name on the internet.


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