My name is Ian Peters, and I chose to take my wife’s last name.
Coming into writing this, I considered waxing poetic about identity; speaking to what a name means. I considered digging into the minutiae of my personal history to justify the decision and cracking a joke or two about how my parents inadvertently named me after a well-known Canadian folk singer.
Dear readers, none of that matters. What matters is that the decision was mine to make. Regardless of my reasons, my choice won’t fit everyone’s situation, and therein lies the point: Any antiquated expectation that an individual would take anyone else’s last name has no place in modern society. This is a decision anyone getting married should consider carefully, rather than assuming their partner will make the choice for them.
Any antiquated expectation that an individual would take anyone else’s last name has no place in modern society.
So what do you do, coming into this decision?
Identify your priorities. Do you want or need to share a name? Is hyphenating something one or both of you could live with? Do you want kids, and if so, are you comfortable with how they would be named?
This may sound like an overly dry way to approach an emotional choice, but the commitment should be made with a level head. At least in an ideal world, it’s a name you’ll be answering to for many years to come.
Talk to your partner. Understand their perspective, and respect their wishes. As with any other major moment in life, communication is your friend. Be open and be honest. Discuss what the decision means to you and make sure that your partner understands no matter how it goes. Remember that whatever answer you come to about your name, it still needs to be your choice.
If you choose to change names, do your research.
The legal process of changing your name can be a mild hassle, depending on where you live. Some states require a court order beyond how you sign the marriage license (like the order I acquired here in Washington).
Financial institutions and schools will expect you to fill out paperwork and provide proof to change your accounts. Be ready to hit the ground running and knock the forms out before anything can become a real problem. Legally certified copies of your proof of change are a must; if possible, order a few whenever your paperwork (whether a marriage license or a court order) is officially filed.
Don’t be scared off by potential paperwork, or by others’ questions. I love the change I made, and the wonderful last name I now share with my wife and family. I’m proud every time a well-meaning clerk asks me to explain why my birth certificate doesn’t match my driver’s license. Don’t shy from commitment – changing your name doesn’t change who you are. Don’t let decisions pass you by without the consideration they warrant; particularly relating to starting a life with the man or woman you love.
Ian is a journalist-turned-programmer living in Seattle, Washington. The reputation for beer, rain, beards and plaid are all true. Go Sounders.