How I Kept My Birth Name Without Losing My Mind (Mostly): BUST True Story

by SB Swartz

When my now-husband and I decided to get married, our community was elated. But not long after, I started to notice subtle (and at times, not-so-subtle) differences in the way some of our friends and family began interacting with me. As a bisexual woman marrying a cisgender straight man, when I got engaged, I feared my queer identity would be further erased in the eyes of others. I certainly was not prepared when people began to replace my entire birth name, first and last, with my partner’s as a compliment.

My fiancé and I openly talked about what we would do with our names when we legally became a family. But as a man, at the end of the day my partner could just do nothing. Whatever choice I made required action. And so, a plan was formed. A plan I’m now sharing in the hopes it will ease your transition into not transitioning.

The modern wedding industry is a deluge of heteronormative patriarchal bullshit. Mainstream conversations around marriage tend to be no different. There’s not a lot out there for women who keep the names we were born with, and dialogue around the topic focuses on people in woman-man duos. A great example of this is the New York Times article “Maiden Names, on the Rise Again,” published one day after the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage in the United States. The article shares findings that 80% of women will change their name upon marriage. The presumption in the data analysis summary is that the women would be taking their male partner’s names. The article highly favors the gendered “maiden name.” In over 1700 words, only three sentences are dedicated to men changing names with marriage. Same sex marriage, legalized across the country only the day before, is not considered except to be acknowledged as way of “shedding tradition.”

When my fiancé and I applied for our marriage license, the form was not gendered. In many states, this is a product of the LGBT community’s hard fought and won right to marry to our partners. That doesn’t mean that when I went to register at a department store I wasn’t specifically asked for my husband-to-be’s name for the listing. Fun fact: Queerphobia means going out into the world and someone assuming the femme person in front of them is a woman marrying a man. BONUS: Bierasure means if you happen to be a woman marrying a man, you get to have a personal conversation with a stranger OR stay in the closet! And in this case, pick out a coordinating napkin and tablecloth set to store in that closet!

When you get engaged, the world around you does not change. But new aspects of privilege and presumption become magnified. There are steps you can take that may lessen the amount of that patriarchal reinforcing shit that might be shoveled your way. Or, how to deal with “good intentions.”

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The intention behind something does not change its impact. The fact that people thought they were going to bring me joy by calling me the future Mrs. His Name once we got engaged did not lessen my frustration of the beliefs behind it. These kinds of assumptions tend to start a fairly predictable line of questioning. But I’ve got you covered:

Q: Oh, so you’re not going to change your name?

A: No, and neither is [Spouse]!

Q: But isn’t your last name just another man’s name/your father’s name?

A: It’s my name and I’ve had it my whole life!

Q: What about the children?

A: If we choose to/are lucky enough to have some, they will also have names!

Q: But what am I supposed to call you?

A: By my name!

A wedding website can be very handy in addressing addressing. Along with answers to where to go, when to be there, and location accessibility, our FAQ included information about our names. I present it to you* and encourage you to copy/paste away.

What do we call you? Will last names be changing after the wedding?

Kara will always be a Thrace, and Sam will always be an Anders. The lovely thing about names (just like family) is that they can always be added to. We’ll let you know if we choose to change our individual names. Until then, please just address as you always have.

If you’re looking for a family name, well we’re the Anders Thrace Family! The Thrace Anderses! The Anders Thraces! The Anderaces! Any will do (except for that last one, the postmaster won’t be able to find us, which is just too bad).

We are 100% certain we will not be changing our first names, so if you’re addressing something that incorporates first names, please include both.

That last part was a special note to make sure everyone knew how not-okay we were with people replacing my first name with his. All of my patience is taken up by the last name business—I cannot with first names, I cannot.

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If you’re having a medium to large size wedding, chances are most of your friends and family are going to be in one room for a good portion of a day. Seize this opportunity to tell them your name! Everyone (besides that nonbinary hottie Jane started dating two days before the wedding after she broke up with her original plus one, Marcus) has known you a pretty long time. Your community should know your name. But some are not going to consider that it’s not changing.

As the first beats of Jackie Wilson’s “Higher and Higher” danced in through the speakers, our officiant and dear friend announced us as “the newly married Kara Thrace and Sam Anders!” We clearly instructed (and reminded and reminded) our DJ to introduce us to our reception as “the newly married Mr. Sam Anders and Ms. Kara Thrace!” This was as much carefully placed messaging as it was a celebration of our public dedications to each other—these were the moments our community cheered in recognition of our marriage, and we wanted them to cheer us in a way that represented us fully.

The cards we sent thanking our guests for joining us on that lovely, loving day were from “The Thrace Anders Family” and included a return address as “The Anders Thraces.” These provided our community with specific options on how to address mail going forward, making it easy for them to know what to do.

People will still make mistakes. We have spent our whole lives in a society dominated by those with privilege. If your partner has male privilege and you do not, enlist them as an ally. You both made decisions about your names, and he can use his privilege to correct others when they call you something other than your name.

We communicated our lack of name change over many different venues, and it does seem the message got across. In the first year of marriage, the assumption that my name changed dropped off dramatically. Though in modern times with social media there is little excuse for calling someone the wrong name, it still happens. And it can be hurtful and frustrating when it does. I suspect at times it is rooted in a sense of “tradition” so deeply ingrained it is difficult to see around.

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Being called by a name you do not identify with, an experience often birthed through patriarchal ideals, can be challenging to manage. You are not alone in your experience with this. I have found through planning, widely communicating, and enlisting allies, the times I have been misnamed are getting fewer and farther between. This world routinely digs in its heels in lieu of changing in the way we need it to. Exercising patience for myself in times I’ve beared the brunt of the best of intentions has been truly helpful. It is my hope that as time goes on, lingering obstinacy will give way to acceptance.

Your decision about what names you and your family will go by is a deeply personal one. That will not stop people from having opinions about it. There is one truth I hope you know as you travel along your path: you are the one who gets to define you.

Have any great responses to questions you’ve been asked about your married name? Share in the comments!

*Names changed because author loves her family’s privacy and Battlestar Galactica, probably in that order.

Wedding photography by Sophia Burke Photograph, others via Flickr. 

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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