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Should You Take Your Spouse’s Name in Marriage?

Only if yours is truly unfortunate.
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(Photo: ommaphat chotirat/Shutterstock)

(Photo: ommaphat chotirat/Shutterstock)

I like the name I was born with and am relieved I will never have to change it. What a parade of inconveniences that would be—as though I'd moved, changed jobs, filed my taxes wrong, lost my wallet, and ruined my only monogrammed shirt all in the same day. I'd have to give up my byline, that token of reputation, and my rank on Google, which is reputation itself. The confusion wouldn't be contained. It would affect everyone who's ever known me, every database I've ever touched—like a prion eating through the bureaucracy, driving it mad.

Strange, then, that the first thing I've been told I’m supposed to do once I've finally found my partner in crime, my best friend, the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with, is to take her name from her.

I actually used to like this idea. I liked that it would be my name that was passed down to the kids, just as my father's had been to me and his father's to him. As a young man it made me feel powerful. I felt like the steward of something ancient.

Both parties to a marriage should keep their own name. We should treat taking his name with a slight raise of our eyebrow, a small chorus of righteous whispers.

As it turns out, I was—but the ancient thing was not the name "Somers," it was the notion that in a union of equals the man is a little more equal than the woman. He gets to keep the name he was born with, while she gets a bundle of bad options: Shall she take his, at great expense to herself? Use both, one professionally and one personally? Keep her own, knowing that this will be seen by many as a choice of consequence and intrigue?

I have an idea for what we should do. It doesn't involve hyphens. (Maybe it's because I write software for a living, but when I hear that a couple has fused their names together I can't help but think of their act recursing: of their children doing the same thing, and their children's children, and so on down the generations. We'd all have a thousand names!)

Here it is: Both parties to a marriage should keep their own name. We should treat taking his name with a slight raise of our eyebrow, a small chorus of righteous whispers. With luck and time, under the new social pressure the expectation will dissolve. It will come to seem as outmoded and gauche as smoking on an airplane.

There is just so little gained by the tradition—say, the ability to put "Mr. and Mrs. Something" on a mailbox—for so much given up. A marriage doesn't need more gestures of unity. Share a house, share a bank account. Do what my parents do and share an email address. That's intimacy. But there is no need to share a name.

Well, that's that. Hmm, wait a second: What about the kids?

Unless one person in the couple has an especially unfortunate or especially superior name, I suggest using a decision-making technology that is often talked about but rarely called upon in earnest. Flip a coin. Do it once, for all the kids. That way they get to share a name with their brothers and sisters, while still knowing that they came from two families, one of which decided, under the rule of chance, to give up its name so that the other's could be passed on.

That's my favorite part of this scheme: Many generations from now, a kid looking back through her family tree would watch her name bounce left and right up through the generations, here held by a woman, there by a man, story after story of equal sacrifice told through a zigzag.