Divorce Etiquette. What about the last name.

My ex wife and I had one discussion about last names prior to our marriage. It lasted all of two minutes and ended in unanimous agreement that she would go with mine. At no point then or afterwards were concerns expressed that by taking my surname she would suddenly loose her identity, contribute to the perpetuation of male fascism, or wipe out decades of feminist advancement. The fact of the matter was every woman in her family had taken the same course and she saw no need to do otherwise. Not to mention I was a Southern Baptist by birth and anything less would have been an affront to tradition and doctrine.

Historically, a wife taking her husband’s last name upon marriage was usually a matter of protection and inheritance. Long before women garnered the rights they possess today her welfare and protection were often up for question. Until married she would live with her father, and with his last name reap the benefits of his provision. Upon marriage, and assuming her new husband’s name, a transfer of responsibility would take place with the charge now falling to her new spouse. This notion applied equally in the event of inheritance. And given the propensity over generations to exclude women in general from any legacy, the taking of another’s last name seemed a small price to pay.

While there are no official statistics, some estimates show that over 85% of married women share their husband’s name. Regardless of those overwhelming figures in favor this topic remains one that often divides. Traditionalists argue heritage and even cite biblical precedence, as the husband is to be head of the household. While the flip side has modernists with the opinion that women making the name switch is little more than buying in to society’s nostalgic notions and a continuation of patriarchal sovereignty. They offer up alternatives such as keeping the woman’s maiden name, combining his and her’s in some hyphenated form, and some go so far as to reverse the roles and have the husband take his wife’s name – an act that screams ‘I’m castrated!’ and would call for an immediate revocation of the company issued ‘man card’.

But no matter where one might land, this topic takes on an entirely new flavor when the ‘I do’ becomes ‘I don’t anymore.’


Shortly before the finalization of my divorce I inquired as to my soon-to-be ex’s intentions regarding her last name. Not surprisingly she chose to keep her married one making reference to the children plus the royal pain at having it changed back. Initially her desire to stay with something that now meant absolutely nothing put me off. The marriage was over, wouldn’t she want to get back to where she started no matter what hoops had to be jumped through? To me there was arguably no greater representation of a marriage bond than the taking of another’s last name – even more so than the engagement ring. And since that contract was over holding on to the reminder was sort of like quitting a job but continuing to wear the uniform. But with all that,  I couldn’t necessarily argue with her logic, since our children were tee’d up for Pre-K and Elementary School, sharing their same last name would make Parent Teacher Conferences less uncomfortable and throw most nosey soccer moms off the scent.

However I certainly didn’t like my last name tied to the person who ended my marriage nor was I thrilled at getting no say in the entire matter, but part of divorce means what I want doesn’t matter anyway.

But things got their most interesting when the ex and Trainer became engaged a few years later. I could only assume, as with most men, his preference would be for her taking his name; I was even more confident of that considering her current name belonged to a man other than her father. But I couldn’t be sure she would go with it, and suffer the likely eyebrow raises from room moms, without a good fight.

My hunch however was confirmed shortly after their ceremony when she called to make sure I knew how to spell her new last name on the child support checks.


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12 responses to Divorce Etiquette. What about the last name.

  1. I didn’t want to take my ex’s name when we got married. But he told me if I didn’t take his name, he wouldn’t wear a wedding ring. So we compromised, each agreeing to an uncomfortable outward proclamation of matrimony. …Funny, by the time the rings came off, I’d gotten used to the name (and I think he kinda liked wearing diamonds too). At first I didn’t plan to revert back to my old name… but after a little while, I realized that I wanted to be *me* again. I didn’t like who I was when I was married.

  2. I kept my own name and added my husband’s name in a hyphenated, double-barrelled name. It was nothing traditional or modern. I was a Lyken and would always be. I won’t change who I was just because I was married to a man whose name was Garner. I would enter into a nuclear family with him, but would never be his blood relative. My kept my family name because I was still (and always would be part of) that family. I felt as though I didn’t have to change me, just so I could get married.

    Now, surely if some think that a person taking someone else’s name lessens who they are (to quote you) ‘…an act that screams ‘I’m castrated!’ and would call for an immediate revocation of the company issued ‘man card’….’ why don’t these people apply that same principle to women? Or do they think men are better than us? It’s advisable for us to take men’s names but not for them to take ours? I won’t expect a guy to take my name (unless his last name was ‘Bottom’ and he wanted to change it), but why the disbelief that this could happen?

    (And this is coming from someone who’s quite traditional in her thinking)

  3. Jennifer

    I didn’t have a problem taking his last name, even though it was of German decent – hard to spell & pronounce from others. But I gladly took my maiden name back, which is of Hispanic decent, when the divorce was final. I didn’t care that I had to change everything, I couldn’t be connected to him anymore in name after what he did… so I totally understand how you had a problem that your ex would keep yours. Maybe she did it for the sake of the children? When teachers or other students at my boys school would call me by my boys last name… I let it go … for the sake of my children. One thing I thought was funny was that my boys wanted my last name & not his… I told them that their dad would not be happy about that & they let it go.

  4. Kyle Bradford – Author

    Interesting mandate. I’ve thought several times about writing a post directly to those men who don’t wear their wedding bands. Thanks for the additional inspiration.

  5. Kyle Bradford – Author


    It has nothing to do with being better or not. It’s a tradition, that as I mentioned has gone down through the ages. I understand our culture’s propensity to keep “one flesh” separate after marriage – which by the way has a lot to do with our 50%+ divorce rate.

    If the outward proclamation of last names isn’t necessary, lets apply that equally to wedding rings? Or weddings? Even living together?

    In our passionate desire for independence, while having the benefits of commitment, something has to give or friction will inevitably ensue.

  6. Kyle Bradford – Author

    Jennifer, very mature approach to handling your last name. I’ve done the same when people have wondered if I was my kids uncle instead of their dad.

  7. Lori

    Tradition or not, I never understood why I would feel any less about MY last name than a guy would. My father passed away when I was 11 and having his name was a connection I could still feel. My ex and I discussed this, but as I have found out many a time, he may have said he was okay with it but wasn’t actually all that okay with it. Strange man, that.

  8. Kyle Bradford – Author

    That is something that most men probably need to get over. From this post I asked the Queen her perference when it is our time and she said she would go with mine because of the tradition.

    After 20 years I don’t believe I am as tied to that tradition as I once was.

  9. There is exactly two letters difference between my exes last name and mine, so for a long time, I didn’t bother to change my name back because of the hassle. Also I wanted to keep the same name as my girls. It was only when he got remarried that I decided I didn’t want to be the other Mrs. {redacted} so I went back to my name, after making sure the kids were okay with it too.

    Were I to marry again though, I’d keep my own last name, knowing more now of the history of marriage as a rite of ownership (which is in part where the taking of the husband’s name comes from) from when women were little more than chattel.

  10. Kyle Bradford – Author

    Andie, I asked the Queen and she said she would take mine. Totally her decision and honestly I’m fine with whatever she decides.

  11. The age old “given” of taking the husband’s name seems so antiquated to me, but then again, I also recognize there are cultural and perhaps religious influences at play here. I’ve seen more women do a combination of both names — hyphenated and un-hyphenated.

    In certain professions, especially if the woman has had several or even numerous years of career-building, changing your name becomes a big pain in the behind. It’s simply an easy compromise to have a combination of both names — where the woman hangs on her identity in the business world while making it clear, she is married. Frankly, women need to do what they want to do. If the deal breaker is that it’s “his” name only and no combination of both as an alternative, then, there are more problems in this relationship than just names.

    And for the record, the whole man taking the woman’s name…hmmmm…I’m as progressive and open-minded as the next person, but that man card…

  12. Diana Lynn Jones Stritch

    With forgiveness on both parts after divorce, there is freedom and acceptance bottom line.

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