Should You Be Able to Keep a Person’s Name After a Divorce?

I think we should try to enliven the first week of the new year with a debate. Here is a fascinating question I found:

Women often debate whether to take their husband’s last name upon marriage.

Shouldn’t men have a right to ask for it back upon divorce?

I’m serious. If a woman doesn’t want to be married to a guy anymore, why should she be allowed to keep his last name? It wasn’t hers before they married.

I’m sure everybody knows what my opinion is, right? 🙂 For me, both people who relinquish their names upon marriage to mark themselves as some sort of an object belonging to their new lord and master and people who want to bear the last name of somebody who is out of their life are incomprehensible, weird creatures.

Come to think of it, the situation of these name-changers is especially ridiculous upon divorce. I’m a divorced person myself and I can’t really imagine wanting to introduce myself with my ex-husband’s last name to people. It would be the same as saying, “This man wants nothing to do with me but I’m still his possession. I won’t let him shake me off until some new guy picks me up and brands me as his acquisition.” Bleh.

Of course, having my ex-husband strut around with my last name would be even more bizarre. If I divorced him, it means I had become disappointed in his personal qualities and arrived at a conclusion that he is a shitty human being. I wouldn’t want to entrust said shitty human being with my name. God knows what weird things he might undertake while hiding under it. Then he moves on to the next owner, and I’m stuck with a last name he’s tarnished.

I think the best solution to the entire issue would be to have the courts decide which of the ex-spouses gets to keep the custody of their formerly shared last name. This would make both participants in the weird name-shedding ritual think twice before they choose to reaffirm patriarchal values in this bizarre way.

What do you think?

28 thoughts on “Should You Be Able to Keep a Person’s Name After a Divorce?”

  1. I know several women who have kept their prior husband’s name so that they would have the same name as their children. I also know of at least one couple in which the man took the woman’s surname upon marriage. I think people need to be able to handle this as they wish without bloggers telling them what to do.

    Like

    1. You are right, bloggers should definitely not have the right to knock on people’s doors and order them how to handle this. They should, however, be able to write a humorous post on any subject they wish, shouldn’t they? If not, then blogging will die altogether.

      Like

  2. My mother was my father’s second wife and his first wife chose not to change her name back after the divorce. I always thought this was even stranger than changing it in the first place. I sort of thought on principle, she should change it back to her maiden name. I think she left it because she still loved him and wanted to get back together with him for a while. In her mind she was still his possession, in a way. I can’t imagine how psychologically damaged she is to behave in such a way.. Years later it probably became too much of a burden because her accomplishments were tied to my Dad’s last name. More evidence to never change your name in the first place!

    The whole thing actually caused numerous embarrassments for me growing up because my Dad’s ex-wife taught economics at a neighboring high school, so all of my teachers knew her. They’s ALWAYS ask the first day if she was my mom and I’d have to give a rather lengthy explanation in front of the whole class. The teachers usually gave me strange looks because I think they must’ve thought it as strange as I did that she never changed her name back.

    Like

  3. Well I am with you in general. I think it’s absolutely preposterous for a woman to take her husband’s last name. (Or for a husband to take his wife’s name for that matter….but that so rarely happens that I’m going to speak of this in gendered terms.) As a side note: I also agree with you and think that assuming the husband’s last name is incompatible with feminism. But that’s a different topic!…..Anyway, although I think the practice is ridiculous, I also think that once a woman changes her name, It is now _her_ name. It is the name she uses in professional contexts, business contexts (i.e. checking account, retirement account etc) and the name she uses in social/personal contexts. At this point, it no longer “belongs” to the husband and he has no right to ask for it “back.” But I do think the easiest solution to the issue is to keep one’s own name to begin with! 🙂

    Like

  4. I think the best solution to the entire issue would be to have the courts decide which of the ex-spouses gets to keep the custody of their formerly shared last name. This would make both participants in the weird name-shedding ritual think twice before they choose to reaffirm patriarchal values in this bizarre way.

    Seems exactly like the logic in “Let’s not have no fault divorce any longer. That’ll (teach how to be a bad partner) / (make them think twice before participating in a patriarchial institution)”. Imo, the less divorce courts get to do – the better, the less opportunities for suing are opened.

    Besides, which family name should a husband take (or can legally take at all), if court decides his wife should get the right to keep formerly his last name?

    Imo, many times men or openly ask their wives to change family name or expect them to, so if they afterwards want to “take it back”, it’s their problem. They only reap what themselves have sown. No pity from me.

    I read women explaining why they didn’t change back. Sometimes there is a career linked to originally husband’s family name. One woman talked of the huge hustle of changing it on all documents in different institutions and that since she is now getting social security payments, they would be stopped for a while until the name was changed, etc.

    Like

  5. I took my partner’s name. It’s a very pretty name and it makes me feel like I’m a part of her family.

    If up becomes left and white becomes Thursday and we broke up I’d probably change it, but I probably wouldn’t go back to my given name. I’d drop the extra cash at the county and go for something like “Jetpackrocketfuel” or “LaMarseillaise” or “Charlemagne”. Or, since my nickname’s “Hel” [my brother’s doing], I could switch to “Goddess of the Underworld”. My kids will be Zeke and Callie Goddess of the Underworld.

    Like

  6. For a long time, women were considered chattel and women couldn’t own property in Quebec until the 1960s. In spite of being male, I know all about being “the spouse of.“ When I was married to my Ex who was (and is) a cleric, we used to get mail addressed to the “Rev and Mrs” so I guess that I was Mrs. N G.

    Like

    1. May companies that send us promotional and banking info address me as Mrs. My-husband’s-last name. It makes my blood boil that it never occurred to anybody to put him under my last name.

      So annoying.

      Like

  7. When I married, I kept my last name. I love my last name and I kept it mostly for professional purposes (I published under maiden name), it makes me sad that my husband and my kids all have the same last name and it’s different from mine. Not only am I the only female in the family, I also have a different last name. Btw, it’s annoying having to explain when we go on planes, or I talk to the doctors, or all sorts of daily nuisances, that I am indeed the kids’ mother. One is not really aware how often this issue comes up when having kids; it’s exhausting.

    As for keeping it after divorce, my mom did that — kept my father’s last name after divorcing him — finally! — after 20-something years of marriage, and even after remarrying. She said that the bureaucracy needed to change all the paperwork that a person in their late 40’s/early 50’s has connected to their name in my home country is just too insurmountable. She didn’t want to change anything — not revert to maiden name, not go to her new husband’s name. She wanted to retain the same name she’d had most her adult life, primarily for property ownership and other administrative purposes.

    Like

  8. I have to say, I have issue with the phrasing “asking for the name back.” I’m not sure why, but I have a slight beef with it.

    That said, in the event of a divorce I’m not totally sure what I would do (not that I’m thinking a divorce will happen, but still.) At this point I’m semi-well known by the last name of Hanson (my maiden name was Kelson.) I’ve published a book, launched my professional life, and startted blogging as Rachel Hanson.

    So, in theory I would say that it makes no sense for both people to have the same last name if they have a divorce. They should each go back to their original (pre-marriage) last night. In practice, I have no idea what I’d do.

    Like

  9. I’m pretty much in agreement with Evelina: if you’re using it, then it’s yours. After all, unless you have a very unusual last name, you probably share it with a lot of people you don’t know and might not like or approve of if you met them.

    But as long as we’re on the topic in a humorous sort of way, what about extending the question to other family members? I have used my father’s name for my entire life. Supposing that he should want to disown me for some reason (which I can’t imagine, but hypothetically), should he be able to make me stop using his name? And if so, what should the default option for me be, supposing a judge could enforce such a strippping of the family name: my husband’s name, my mother’s maiden name, a made-up or adopted name like “Charlemagne” or “Goddess of the Underworld”? After my father’s death, would/should my brothers be able to strip me (or one of them) of our family name if they disapproved of me (or another brother, to make it a bit more gender-neutral)?

    Like

  10. When my mother’s boyfriend’s first wife separated from him, she took her surname back with a relish, because it felt like reclaiming part of herself back from him that she’d lost before. That was a rather nasty marriage that ended in a nasty divorce, so I would have been surprised if she had decided to keep her name.

    Like

  11. You certainly have an interesting mindset! I find it highly unlikely that most people who change their names do so to mark themselves as an object or as owned. Also, any arguments about not wanting someone to sully your name by association are silly. For many people, both their original last name and current named are shared by a number of unrelated people, Most of us have at least one or two name doppelgangers out there with a ridiculous facebook page.

    Like

    1. “I find it highly unlikely that most people who change their names do so to mark themselves as an object or as owned.”

      – If it walks like a duck. . .

      ” Most of us have at least one or two name doppelgangers out there with a ridiculous facebook page.”

      – Yes, I know, people would rationalize anything. So?

      Like

      1. But it doesn’t walk like a duck.

        And my statement wasn’t about rationalization, it was about how silly the people who think their name can be sullied by an ex are, when there are already people out there “sullying” their name.

        Like

        1. People on facebook don’t have your name. They have the same name. There is a difference. Also, lets not exaggerate the ubiquitouos nature of everybodys name on facebok. There similarly no proof that people withthe same name on facebok are jerks.

          Like

    2. Yeah, that’s a pretty out of touch with reality perspective, not to mention insulting, seeing that countless millions of intelligent women, many of whom have been successfully married for decades, in no way consider themselves nothing more than an object to be owned or disgarded.

      As for keeping the name of someone who is out of your life, plenty of women and children keep the name of their deceased husband and father. Further, many women prefer to have the same name as their children, for a variety of practical reasons.

      Like

      1. “Yeah, that’s a pretty out of touch with reality perspective, not to mention insulting, seeing that countless millions of intelligent women, many of whom have been successfully married for decades, in no way consider themselves nothing more than an object to be owned or disgarded.”

        – They can consider themselves the sultan of Brunei, for all I care. Considering themselves that, however, will not make them one.

        “Further, many women prefer to have the same name as their children, for a variety of practical reasons.”

        – So what prevents them from keeping their own names and giving them to their children? Doesn’t that make more sense than having kids with 3 different last names to commemorate each of the ex-husbands while the mother has the fourth last name to honor the fourth husband? (true story.)

        “Yeah, that’s a pretty out of touch with reality perspective”

        – You do realize that when you write in this extremely uneducated, sloppy way it makes your claims of being able to recognize an intelligent person somewhat hard to take seriously, right? I mean, you probably think that “reality perspective” sounds intelligent, don’t you?

        Also, “disgarded” is not a word that exists in the English language. Just a note to the intelligent people.

        Like

  12. As has been stated before, keeping an ex-husband’s surname for practical reasons seems the usual case. Children, businesses, property, et cetera, can make the effort to change it back almost “insurmountable” as also has been said before. We each reside within a society and must adapt to its norms within our personal tolerance. For some, rebellion is easy; for others, rebellion isn’t profitable.

    Personally, I would prefer we all adopted additional names along the course of our lives. Besides, this is all culture specific: Icelanders don’t use surnames, for instance.

    Why do women make the surname change? For some, it’s the old “alliance” model: with a new husband comes new allegiances. Even after a divorce, these allegiances may not change, so there’s no reason to change the name.

    Like

    1. ” For some, it’s the old “alliance” model: with a new husband comes new allegiances. Even after a divorce, these allegiances may not change, so there’s no reason to change the name.”

      – And how pathetic is that? The guy is boffing somebody else, probably many other people, while the ex-wife is still a billboard for an allegiance to him. Sadly, most people don’t think about that prospect, about how they will look like an abandoned and unwanted pet or something in the future when they engage in the happy name-shedding. My goal is to provide a wake-up call to at least some of them.

      Like

        1. Who she is boffing is behind the point because nobody carries her name. Normally, not even her own children. As for pets, people who renounce their entire identity, all of their achievements for the sake of some guy hardly deserve anything better. They chose to position themselves as property, so why all the surprise at the treatment they get as a result?

          Like

      1. I really should move on (you’ve got many other great posts following this one) but I think we’re both arguing outside actual examples. So, here’s my personal position on this.

        I am legally married. At the beginning of my marriage, my wife chose to “hyphenate” her name. This created a host of complications regarding various social and legal customs to the point that nearly ten years later, she changed her name again (with all the effort required) and adopted her original “middle” name, dropped her father’s surname (he abandoned her family when she was a toddler), and took my surname. Our children have my surname.

        What is your personal experience with names?

        Like

        1. “What is your personal experience with names?”

          – Gooooood question. 🙂 Maybe I’ll write a separate post about this because the history of names in my family tells a lot about the history of my country. And it’s a very convoluted history. Thanks for giving me the idea to write about it!

          Like

  13. Wow. I find it very heterosexually interesting that most of you link marriage to “possession.” I have never understood married women to begin with and now I am really confused on how a woman needs or wants to be the “possession” of an oppressor (man). Men have been oppressing women for longer than I’d like to admit and marrisge used to be “an agreement between two men.” In other countries and in the USA there are “arranged marriages” which is a very very negative “tradition” on so many levels. I thought marriage was two people loving each other-respecting each other-being there for each other-til death due us part..” Not a man owning a woman! Slaves are owned!!! In this day and age-women have choices and I feel awful for the ones who do not (slaves=)married women….

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.