What’s In A Surname? Irish Women Open Up On The Decision To Keep Or Change Names After Marriage

Megan Roantree looks at the legal, personal, and cultural factors that influence this choice.

“Please welcome for the first time, Mr and Mrs Murphy!” Does that sound familiar? Just moments after a woman ties the knot, it’s likely you’ll hear her being introduced with her husband’s surname as they enter the room. But things are changing. Many women want to take their other half ’s name, but more and more are now opting to stick to their maiden name.

There are more factors to consider than ever before. Just a generation or so ago, married women were expected to give up their jobs and become stay-at-home mothers, but now women are making names for themselves in all sorts of fields using their own names, and so giving it up seems like a massive sacrifice. We’ve all heard a variation of the story about a patient who asked a doctor why she didn’t change her name after she got married. Her response? “Because he didn’t go to med school, I did!” If you feel as though you’ve made a reputation for yourself using your maiden name, it makes sense that you’d want to keep it.

Another big factor, of course, is that in 2015 same sex couples were finally able to legally marry. When you take away the male/female formula, it’s not as simple when it comes to taking one person’s name. For some, they feel that it’s a feminist movement to keep their own, while others do it for practical reasons. A common reason is that for many women, the surname they were born with is part of their identity.

VB is probably the most famous example of a celeb who changed her name after she got famous.

“I got married in 2005 and I didn’t change my name because I have a strong connection to my family name. I truly felt like changing my name was losing a piece of my sense of self,” Fiona, 39, explained. For some women a tricky part of wanting to keep their name is that their children may have a different name, which can prove to be difficult.

“My kids took my husband’s name. My husband’s name is a foreign name and in them I see them carrying the name and culture forward. It is their namesake; not mine,” Fiona adds. She explains that having a different surname to her children can mean carrying extra documents, but that otherwise there’s been no major issues. “When travelling abroad I now must carry their birth certificates to prove that I am their mother.”

For Annemarie, 39, being an only child was a huge factor in opting for a double barrel name. “As an only child and the second last to carry on the original family name, I knew from an early age I didn’t want to lose the name if I ever got married. To me it was important, it was about identity and heritage and being the last of a generation to carry it on. This is especially important now that both my parents have passed on,” she explains.

“I will always carry the DNA on the inside and through physical features but I wanted the name too. So on the day we got married I decided to double barrel due to having four small kids who are part of the next generation.”

Others take on their partner’s name for various reasons, either they don’t feel particularly attached to their maiden name, they feel it’s easier with their children or they’re excited to take the name of the person they married.

Jackie, who is 50, got married in her early 20s, and says she never had any issue with changing to her husband’s surname. “I had a friend who was a couple of years older than me at the time and she told me that technically the surname you have came from a man anyway,” she explains.

“I got my surname from my dad, and so I didn’t feel like it was really mine, and didn’t think much of changing it. I also wanted to have the same name as my children, even after I became widowed, I never cared about changing it back because it’s part of my identity now and I’ve had this surname longer than I had my original. It’s also part of my family identity because I share it with my kids.”

It’s worth keeping in mind though, that some people who do take their partner’s name, and for various reasons want to change back, can face difficulties. “I changed my surname, and it was the worst mistake I ever made. I am now single and still legally stuck with his stupid name for god knows how long,” says Yvonne. “If I’d known the difficulty of reverting back to your birth surname, I would have chosen more wisely! So two years later my passport, driver’s license, bank details and many other documents remain as my married name even though I do not use it anymore. It’s very frustrating.”

Yvonne is now struggling to get her maiden name back because of legal issues. “It can be so hard to change, unless you have a legal document stating you are separated, which is fine if both of you are on the same page. You agree and get it signed by a solicitor. In my case it is a judicial separation, months serving papers and nothing has happened yet.”

With this in mind, if you’re unsure about what would happen in the case of a split, it’s worth discussing it with your partner before you legally make the decision. A new trend emerging is women or couples taking on a combination of the two names to make a new one, or opting for something totally different. Many will remember TV presenter Dawn O’Porter adopting the O’ from husband Chris O’Dowd’s name after they wed. Meanwhile, Zoe Saladana and her husband Marco combined their names and now go by Perego-Saldana – so there are plenty of options.

For Kari, she wanted to do something different the second time she got married, and also wanted to do what was in the best interest of her son. “I never changed my name when I got divorced 8 years ago. My son was young, and adopted and I felt it would have impacted him too much,” she explained.

“Then when I got remarried, my son had a bit of a crisis and felt he wouldn’t belong to anybody if he was the only Parmer in a family of Fahertys. So I waited. Once he reached eleven, he was old enough to understand that we could have different names, but then I was stuck on which name!”

“I didn’t want to go back to my maiden name of Olesen, it represented to me the scared girl I was, always hiding in the shadows. I didn’t want to stay Parmer and be tied to my ex husband. I was a bit opposed to having to take a husband’s name again at all, and I didn’t like the sound of Kari Faherty [his surname] but at the same time I did want to honour my husband.”

Then Kari figured out another way to connect to her husband’s family and chose a new name. “Then I thought about his mother and her family… The Concannon women are resilient, resourceful, crazy, fun, loving and formidable. So when the idea of Kari Concannon came up, it just resonated with me.

“It still was taking a part of my husband, but declaring my own choice and my own path. It is an honour that my mother-in-law was okay with me taking her name,” she explains. “I just love choosing my own path and not being held to the bounds of tradition!”

From the women I chatted to, all with very different stories, one thing is clear, there are many options and no ‘right’ way to do it. Chat to your other half, weigh up what personally makes sense, and most importantly do what feels right for you, because whether you keep it or change it, it’s your name after all.


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