Don’t call me Mrs. Miller: last names, Lucy Stone, & why I’ll be keeping my name

Guest post by Eva Elliot Ping
Don't call me Mrs. Miller: last names, Lucy Stone, & why I'll be keeping my name
Lucy Stone vintage Postage Stamp Set from By Little Pearl

Since getting engaged, I have been bombarded with well-meaning friends and family members congratulating the “soon-to-be Mrs. Miller” on her engagement. While my external response is generally, “Haha, thanks,” my internal response is, “Mrs. Miller? Who is she? Do I know her? Please pass on my congratulations.” Because that isn't me, and never will be.

I first explained what a Lucy Stoner is to someone a couple of weeks ago. His response: “What an unfortunate name for that.” I tried not to be annoyed. The more unfortunate name is any name which does not belong to the individual being called it.

Lucy Stone was an OG of women's rights in America. A prominent feminist and anti-slavery advocate during the mid-to-late nineteenth century, she is credited with converting Susan B. Anthony herself to the cause of women's suffrage.

At Stone's wedding to Henry Blackwell, the minister read a statement saying,

“[the] laws of marriage refuse…to recognize the wife as an independent, rational being, while they confer upon the husband an injurious and unnatural superiority, investing him with legal power which no honorable man would exercise, and which no man should possess.”

Many modern women take their husband's last name because they want to maintain tradition, they want their names to reflect that they are a family unit, or they want to share a name with their children. But this neglects the history of taking on the husband's last name, which is that he is master of the house and thus master of you. It is built on white, Western, patriarchal, and outdated notions of family, and it ignores the “invisible” options that they could both hyphenate, select a new last name for both partners, or that women could choose to give their children their own last name. (I chose not to list here that they could both take on her last name in homage to a quote by Lucy Stone, and the motto of the Lucy Stone League: “A wife should no more take her husband's name than he should hers.”)

We can only make ones which are better for ourselves and ensure that, when the time comes for our daughters to make a decision for themselves, they are equipped to make the choice which is most right for them.

Since the rise of Lucy Stonerism in the 1800s to the creation of the Lucy Stone League in the 1920s to as late as probably yesterday, Lucy Stoners have been publicly criticized as “inconsistent” for choosing to keep another man's name, their father's, rather than taking the name of their husband. But we are not responsible for, nor can we change, the decisions of our mothers. We can only make ones which are better for ourselves and ensure that, when the time comes for our daughters to make a decision for themselves, they are equipped to make the choice which is most right for them.

Not only are women insulted and their commitment to the marriage questioned when they keep their last names, but their husbands are seen as more feminine or “whipped,” demonstrating once again that our culture is steeped in toxic masculinity. We won't even get into the heteronormativity of it; that's a whole book in and of itself.

There is nothing romantic about the history of taking on someone else's last name; it is all patriarchy, almost all of the time. I respect the right that women have (at least in the United States) to select their husband's name as their own, and I would not ridicule my loved ones for doing what was right for them when they got married. It's a little late for that. As for me and my house, though, we will recognize that historical context is an important consideration when deciding whether or not to perpetuate a tradition, and this is one we will be shirking.

Editor's note: I'll be keeping my last name after I get married soon and consulted this post and others in our archive a lot about it. Give it a look!

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Comments on Don’t call me Mrs. Miller: last names, Lucy Stone, & why I’ll be keeping my name

  1. 100% agree. And I am lucky that most of my friends and community will not expect me to change my name. My parter is also fully on board — he doesn’t want me to change my name, because “Your independence and values are part of what I love about you, why would I want you to sublimate your identity into my name? No thanks.”

    • So glad that you have a supportive group of people behind you! It definitely makes the process easier.

  2. If my maiden name hasn’t started with a “W” 100% would have kept it. Not only was it mine for 27 years, but changing your name is such a laborious pain in the butt.

    But it did and my husband’s last name started with “G” and I was just so freakin tired of being last for everything (and did not want to subject my daughter to the same thing.)

    However, my maiden name was Wood and my married name is Grove so let’s be real, it didn’t change much. ??????

    • Hello fellow Cassy! I kept my last name because it’s fun to say as an add on to other things! Plus I don’t feel very close to my Husbands family, especially not his father.

    • Ooh you should so have hyphenated it: Wood-Grove! Or Grove-Wood! (OK so maybe it’s just me who thinks that’s a cool name 😀 )

  3. I didn’t get married until well into my 30s. I had no desire to go through the trouble of obtaining a new identity, screwing up signatures because I’m used to signing my name, and forgetting which name made reservations. My husband doesn’t care. Nobody in my circle cared. The only people in my husband’s circle who cared were the ones too stupid to figure out how to introduce us with different last names.

    • Absolutely the same here…got married in my 30’s, and had too much career stuff behind me to want to change it. As well, in Ontario, changing your name for any reason entails a load of costs – banks, your birth certificate, driver’s license, etc – so, no, thanks. Some of my spouse’s more distant relatives might send us a card to Mr & Mrs X., or think of me as Mrs X., and I really don’t care, it doesn’t matter.

    • “…the ones too stupid to figure out how to introduce us without different last names…” I laughed until I remembered that yeah, this happens a lot. Hopefully those people were few and far between!

      Glad that you found a thing that worked and people who were cool about you doing you!

  4. My father abused my mother, and she was continuing a cycle of abuse started by her family, so I will be taking my husband’s last name. I think everybody’s story is different.

    • I’m happy that you’ll be doing what’s best for you. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  5. I’m having this conversation with my fiance now. I have an AWESOME last name. Like, the kind of name that gets you special attention at restaurants, hotels, and banks, even though I don’t have the actual social or financial clout to back it up. I’m loath to give it up, just because it’s so fun. My fiance’s name is a perfectly lovely name, but it doesn’t have the sparkle that mine does.

    He isn’t particularly gung-ho to take my name and discard his (and I don’t really want to push him to), but we’re exploring options like maybe both of us take BOTH names: Hisname Myname, or Myname Hisname. We could hyphenate, although that would be a LONG ass name. The two name thing has precident, though: Van Dyke, Van Buren, De Luca, de Beauvoir, St. John, Ben Gurion, Jean Charles, etc. And yes, I know that most of those names derive from languages where the first word is a preposition, but in English they are NOT, so I don’t think that’s a concern.

    But at the end of the day, I personally don’t feel super strongly about this. We’ll discuss it and make the decision that both of us are comfortable with.

    • There are definitely a ton of options to think through! Best of luck on finding the right one.

  6. The first time I got married (at the tender age of just turned 22) I followed tradition and took my husband’s name. We were married for almost 18 yrs so my entire career and all my friends where we live knew me by his name. Side note-approximately 2 yrs into this marriage I wished I had kept my name, for many reasons. I took back my name after my divorce, so when my partner and I decided to get married I didn’t even consider taking his name, nor did he expect me to. My bonus kids (step kids, but I hate that term) were really upset I didn’t take “their” name but I hope we are teaching them that there are many options in life and this is one of them. My husband even told them that if it weren’t for them having his name, he would have changed his name to mine! I agree, everyone has their reasons for what they do, but I hope to help eradicate the notion that women belong to, or are the property of, men.

  7. I chose not to change my last name because I didn’t want to go through the labor of changing it. My husband and I thought of other options, including combining names like one of our friends did. They combined Richardson and Odgin and made Odginson, which we thought was cool. I thought to combine our names into Brodrick (Brothers + Hedrick) but couldn’t get hubby on board, so we agreed to each keep our own.

    Fortunately, no one really cared and my mother-in-law was one of my biggest champions in keeping my own name. A few of my relatives will write Ms. Hedrick on an anniversary card, but it doesn’t annoy me.

    • It is a whole lot of work!

      I’m glad you had supportive people around you for the process (or… lack of process?)!

  8. Heteronormativity at its finest!

    I wish this post were inclusive childhood abuse, and lgbtq couples. While yes, the origins of taking a husband’s name are patriarchal in nature, people have many reasons for doing what they do, and the implication that keeping a name is the only empowered choice is highly problematic. Shedding a name that is associated with abuse is an incredibly powerful experience. Sometimes taking a new name is less about what you are going toward and more about what you are leaving behind. And for lgbtq couples, taking on a spouse’s name sends a powerful message of unity that was denied to us for so long. For lgbtq couples, taking a partner’s name feels revolutionary.

    • Hi Adira! I want to clear things up here a bit; either I misspoke or was misheard.

      I stated in the article that I couldn’t and wasn’t going to get into heteronormativity. Here are my reasons for that choice: (1) that deserves its own article (or series, or book), (2) Offbeat has a word limit, and (3) as I am a (typically) woman-presenting, cis-female person marrying a cis-male man, that’s not my experience to write about.

      I deeply understand the desire to take on a new name; I have been going by a name different from the one I was given at birth since I was sixteen, and yes, reclaiming your own identity is empowering. That doesn’t change that the tradition of taking on a husband’s name has sexist origins; there are other ways to “shed the old skin.”

      I did not say, and I did not mean to imply (and am sorry of that’s what happened), that retaining one’s name is the only empowered option, simply that it is /an/ empowered option. I did include at least one option that involves not keeping the name; of course that list could be extended! It’s non-exhaustive, and there are so many options that don’t perpetuate a tradition rooted in the degradation of the status of women.

      I hope that everyone, straight couples and LGBT+ couples alike, consider the historical context of certain traditions before adopting them. Again, I did not say that retaining one’s name is the only choice, nor did I say that no one should ever change their last name to their spouse’s name. What I did say is that it has a history, its history is not so great, and it is important that people take it into consideration before making a decision. If that’s a history you can be comfortable with, then by all means! But do examine the history critically.

  9. Honestly, it has been SUPER refreshing seeing this post. Before I had even met my fiancé, I had vowed to keep my last name and figured we would just have different last names and our kids would probably take on his last name as I’ve seen many families do. At some point in time, I had brought up to him that he should switch his last name to mine (more jokingly as I had never seen another family do it and as much as I’d like to be, I’m not one for trend setting…too much attention). However, once we had started seriously talking about marriage, he decided that he wanted us, and our kids, to all be united under one name, so he has committed to taking my last name.

    We’ve been met with mostly positive reactions, a lot of wide eyes and lots of comments along the lines of “I didn’t really think about that even being an option.” But it hasn’t been all fun and games, we were met with some opposition such as, unsurprisingly, from his family where we were briefly disowned by his biological father and from his step-father and mother, who might I add, do not share my fiancé’s current last name. We’ve fortunately made it through the gauntlet alive and our decision has been, for the most part, accepted. However, I know that it won’t be 100% smooth sailing for us with the name change. There will always be haters. But we’ve accepted that, and are will fight the good fight hand in hand.

    Also, side note, we are getting married in 12 days! 🙂 Hope you all had a fantastic weekend!

    • I also received some opposition from my soon-to-be-mother-in-law and a few other people regarding keeping my name, but not to the extent that you and your spouse have; it’s a hard thing to cope with, and I’m so sorry that you’ve had to have these negative experiences. I’m glad that you have a supportive spouse. Hopefully the worst of everything has blown over.

      So soon! Have the happiest of celebrations!

  10. I took my husband’s name because I liked it better than my own, my maiden name got me a gross nickname at school, also my father, whose name I carried divorsed my mother in my teens. We are a complicated family and I understand that a lot can happen in a lifetime, but I had no desire to drag my maiden name along with me through life. I was happy to take my husbands name, though he never asked me to do it.

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