Long Reads

“Do my husband and I really need to share a surname?”

For centuries, women have been expected to take their husbands’ surnames after marriage – but what if you don’t want to take your spouse’s name when you wed? Here, one woman explains why she’s kept her surname for 10 years of marriage, and questions whether now is the time to double-barrel her surname with her husband’s.

Eight years into our marriage, my husband suggested that we both consider double-barrelling our surnames. It made sense – we had recently become parents and although we’d made the decision when we married to keep our own surnames, my husband now wanted us to double-barrel so that we shared the same name as our child.

At first glance, the benefits of a shared surname seemed obvious. Firstly, it would make the three of us more outwardly identifiable as a family. Secondly, our life admin would become easier (in 2018 we moved house and had to pay for three separate mail redirection orders because, at that time, Royal Mail charged per surname and technically ours were all different). Finally, it would stop me having to constantly correct people when they addressed me by my ‘married name’.

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Still, I was – and remain two years later – hesitant. There are many reasons for this. Most importantly, I’ve held onto my own surname for 10 years of marriage, despite significant scrutiny. A question levelled at me repeatedly in the early days of our marriage was “Why did you get married at all if you weren’t going to change your surname?!”. The insinuation that I might one day come to regret my decision only made me cling to my own name that bit tighter.

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Subsequently, the thought of changing my surname now feels like a concession, like I’m giving up my feminist principles to make my life – and my family – less confusing for everyone else.

On top of that, I don’t know how I feel about taking on a name that I’ve adamantly rejected for so long. Tradition foisted my husband’s surname on me even when I didn’t want it (I receive cards and letters addressed to my ‘married name’ even now), and I find myself conflicted when I think about actively using that name for myself.

I love my husband, and I understand why he wants us to double-barrel, but the decision he made 10 years ago to keep his own surname when we married was never one he had to defend, and that, to my mind, makes his desire to change his name now a much less complicated one.

That’s not to say that a man taking his wife’s surname is an easy or common choice. A 2016 poll by YouGov found that only 1% of men wanted to take their spouse’s surname upon marriage.

Thankfully, further reports suggest that this is an option slowly growing in popularity, and couples are now also more likely to consider double-barrelling or ‘meshing’ their surnames post-nuptials.

“I got married in 2018, and my husband and I plan to merge both our names - I’m Knox and he’s Oxley, so it would work quite well as Knoxley,” says Miranda, a journalist from London. 

Name change after marriage: "There is no single option that works for us all when it comes to choosing a marital surname."

“I double-barrelled for a few reasons,” says Michelle Morgan Davies, director of South Wales-based storytelling agency Have Your Say Stories. “In my husband’s family there is already a Michelle Morgan which meant I’d be Michelle Morgan The Second, which bugged me. Also, I couldn’t envisage letting go of my own name. I feel a part of two teams. The family that raised me and the family my husband and I have created.”

Whilst there is no single option that works for us all when it comes to choosing a marital surname, I think double-barrelling and meshing feel like fairer ways of addressing an issue that, despite the array of options now available to us, remains incredibly complex (particularly for women, as the onus to change names mainly sits with us). That being said, both double-barrelling and meshing still carry a number of negatives.

After all, not all names can be merged as seamlessly as Miranda and her husband’s, and there’s the loss of lineage on both sides to consider. Plus, as a relatively new trend, meshed surnames are often open to unfair ridicule.   

Double-barrelled surnames, on the other hand, are still considered synonymous with ‘posh’ by some (as MP Rebecca Long-Bailey discovered in a recent radio interview), and they can become complicated if both surnames are already lengthy.

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For myself and my husband, double-barrelling our son’s surname was an easy decision – he’s part of two families and those families deserve equal representation. We’re aware that this could cause him issues if he marries in the future, but we’re hopeful that society will have effected a more flexible approach to marital name-changing by then – one that isn’t fuelled by judgement or limited by tradition or considered a predominantly female issue.

In the meantime, if my current predicament has taught me anything, it’s that the decisions we make regarding our marital names pre-wedding aren’t necessarily the ones that will work for us long term. Ultimately, we must choose the surname that works for us in the present, irrespective of what that means in the future.

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