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What’s In a Name?


To change or not to change (your name), that is the question (with apologies to Shakespeare). If only it were that easy.


We’re sure that you know about most, if not all, of the myriad options: Keep yours, change to your partner's (with or without retaining your last name as a middle name), combined names (with and without hyphens), new names for both of you, keep yours for professional use, etc., etc.


Head spinning yet? No? Onward to Ms. or Mrs., then, or naming your kids.


And we know you've heard about most of the pros and cons: The convenience of all family members having the same surname (especially when traveling abroad); disadvantages of changing your name if you have a valuable professional identity, etc.


We’re equally sure that many premarital - and almost all married - couples have made up their minds about this issue.


And we’re just as sure that many of you will have or have already had - more, and different - feelings than you were expecting. Expect complications, whatever you decide.


It’s not unusual for your partner to have unexpected reactions to your decision as well. Then there are family and friends to contend with. Even if you don't intend it, your decision about your name has implied, symbolic meaning to yourself and others. For example:


Some men are especially sensitive to their fiancée’s decision to retain her surname. Somehow they can't get past the feeling that, at some level, she’s not fully committing to the marriage.


Likewise, some women may feel that they are giving up too much of their own identity if they adopt their husband’s surname.


Not to mention the reactions that you have to expect from friends and family if you choose one of the less conventional alternatives:


He’s taking her name? Is he a real man?


You’re both changing to a new name? What’s the matter, our family name isn't good enough for you?


Even the question of how to make name-related decisions can be contentious. Some suggest that it should be an individual decision. If, however, you and your partner are discussing and/or deciding together, we suggest using a conflict resolution process for this sometimes sensitive issue. This may also come in handy when considering how to name your children.


As with all major decisions, begin by setting a constructive atmosphere. Choose time(s) when you are resilient, not overloaded, and put aside any preconceived positions. Talk about what each of you wants (not the specific name, but what you want it to mean or symbolize). Distinguish what you want from what you need.


Next, together generate as many creative new options as you can without subjecting these to criticism. Then, look among these for win-win solutions that might meet some of your needs and/or wants. Consider what each of you is willing to do to arrive at a solution.


Above all, take time for your decision-making process, over weeks or months. Don't rush. Sometimes it can help to set a trial period: Agree to try out a solution for some set period and agree to reassess if either of you are not happy with the results. While it may seem an unnecessary complication to consider more than one name change if it doesn't work out, sometimes this is the only way to make both partners feel comfortable trying something new.


That which we call a Smith (or Smith-Jones) by any other name would smell as sweet? (More apologies to Shakespeare.)


It may help you put all of this in perspective to consider that naming is culturally relative. For example, in German tradition, at marriage the woman takes her husband’s surname first, hyphenated and followed by her surname: So, Heidi Graf marries Karl Becker and is re-named Heidi Becker-Graf. Spanish-derived custom dictates that children receive their mother’s surname, preceded by their father's: So, the child of Maria Ramirez Marcos and Juan Valdez Lopez is Pablo Valdez Ramirez.


Think through how you intend to inform others about your choice of name(s) and how you will gracefully respond to their reactions.


And when it comes to names, expect the unexpected. Even from yourself.




Now that you're up-to-date on the latest about names and marriage, consider attending a Marriage Success Training seminar with your partner. MST helps couples handle the increased stress of the pre-wedding period in a much more healthy way, so that they can use the pre-wedding experience to deepen their intimacy--not stress their relationship-- during this special time. Click here to learn about the benefits of MST.



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Copyright 2006, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this article for non-commercial use provided that no changes are made and this copyright notice, author credit and source citation are included.







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