Dear Wendy: “I’m Ostracized For Keeping My Maiden Name”
My husband and I have been married a little under a year and we’re starting to actually feel married. However, in all of the adjustments I’ve made, there’s still one giving me a hard time: telling people that I’ve kept my maiden name. It’s a decision I made long before I met my husband; we discussed it at length before we even got engaged, and now he and our immediate friends and families are completely, 100% comfortable with it.
The problem actually arises around other married women. I’ve gotten pretty good at introducing us: “Hi, I’m Carolyn Asaurus and this is my husband, John Smith.” Sometimes the responses are along the lines of, “Well, that’s, um, modern of you…” followed by a shunning for the rest of the evening. Or they suddenly ask questions, like if I have children from a previous relationship, so I have to defend my decision. Or worse, they feel they need to defend their decision to take their husband’s name as if I’m somehow insulting them. No matter how it goes, usually after learning I kept my last name, most of these women become very icy toward me.
Ruling out that I might just have some huge character flaw that’s driving only these women away, what’s the best way to let people know that I’m Carolyn Asaurus, always have been, always will be? I have no intention of ever changing my last name so I feel I should probably try to learn quickly how to handle this before it’s just awkward for the rest of my life. Have you developed a way of assuring new people that you aren’t insulting their decision by defending your own, especially after they ask you about it? So far, it’s only been an issue with random people at parties or old high school friends, but I really don’t want the issue to arise where I could be potentially isolating myself from great work connections or friendships. — Carolynasaurus*
I have to wonder what part of the country you live in, because here in New York, women keeping their maiden names when they marry are as common as funnel cake at the Missouri State Fair. In the two and a half years I’ve been married, I’ve never once felt ostracized for not taking my husband’s name, nor have I ever felt the slightest inclination to defend my decision. Even now having a child who does not share my name, I don’t feel weird about it. It’s just so common in these parts, that no one — not the pediatrician, not our babysitters, and certainly not our friends — raises an eyebrow even a little bit. Perhaps my extended family in St. Louis isn’t quite as used to a mother and child having a different last name, but if so, they’re all much too polite to question me about it.
So, maybe part of the problem is that you live in a much less progressive part of the country where women always take their husband’s names. Other than moving, though, there’s probably not much you can do about that except wait twenty or thirty years for things to change a little. In the meantime, I’d address the other part of your problem: the way you introduce yourself. First of all, if you’re at a party or otherwise meeting someone in a casual setting, why do you even need to say your last name? I can’t remember the last time I casually introduced myself as “Wendy Atterberry.” I’m just Wendy. And Drew is just Drew. And even if I did use my full name introducing myself, I wouldn’t emphasize my last name. I wouldn’t be Wendy ATTERBERRY-WHOSE-NAME-IS-DIFFEFRENT-FROM-HER-HUSBAND’S-AND-CHILD’S.
Based on the oddly strong reaction you’re getting from people — “random people at parties or old high school friends” (who likely already know your maiden name, right?) — I wonder if perhaps YOU are the one making a big deal about having a different last name than your husband. I’m not suggesting you mean to draw attention, but my guess is that you, as someone who decided long before you met your husband that you’d keep your name upon marriage and then had lengthy discussions with him about it before you even got engaged, probably feel pretty strongly about your decision. If you live in an area where such a decision is a rarity, you may feel a host of emotions: pride, defensiveness … and perhaps even a sense that you’re more enlightened and open-minded than everyone else. And maybe those emotions are coming through more than you realize when you introduce yourself. Maybe people are a bit put off by your introduction — not that you kept your name, but that you think it’s so important that everyone KNOW you kept you name.
You ask: “What’s the best way to let people know that I’m Carolyn Asaurus, always have been, always will be?” And to that I say: What matters is what your name is NOW. No one cares what your name was when you were a kid or what it will be when you’re old and gray. It seems like the person making the big deal about you keeping your maiden name is YOU. If you’re tired of the reaction you’re getting from people about your decision, quit drawing so much attention to it.
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