Whats In A Surname And Should It Be Changed After Divorce

What’s in a surname, and should it be changed after divorce?

After a couple has spent years together, had children and comingled nearly everything in their lives, divorce can be a messy prospect. In addition to the decisions surrounding property division and child custody, there is one issue that many couples fail to consider when first contemplating divorce: will there be a name change?

The tradition of women adopting their husband’s surname upon getting married is not the expected obligation it used to be. However, many women still choose to do it. And if the relationship later ends in divorce, the decision to keep the surname or change it back is solely the woman’s choice (whether men like it or not).

This sentiment was recently echoed by New York Times etiquette columnist Philip Galanes; much to the disappointment of a divorced man who had written in saying he was unhappy his ex-wife kept his name. There are many good arguments to be made both for keeping an ex-husband’s surname or changing it.

Many women choose to keep their ex-husband’s last name because:

  • This was the name they had when establishing themselves professionally and they don’t want colleagues or clients to be confused
  • Their children have that surname and they want to keep it for family solidarity reasons
  • The marriage lasted for decades, and they identify with their ex-husband’s surname more than their “maiden name”
  • They like their ex-husband’s surname more than the surname they were given at birth
  • Changing their name back or to something else entirely is too much of a hassle

Then again, many women choose to change their surname after getting divorced because:

  • The divorce was acrimonious and changing their name feels like more of a “clean break”
  • They wanted to feel and show independence
  • The marriage was short-lived and the woman identifies more with her original surname
  • Her ex-husband plans to get remarried and she doesn’t want to share a surname with the second wife
  • She plans to remarry and wants to either go back to her old surname or take her new husband’s surname

Names have a lot of power and a lot of meaning. They often feel integral to our identity. When a couple gets divorced, the woman’s decision to change her surname or keep it is hers alone to make, because she has to live with the positives and negatives that may come with each choice.

Source: Huffington Post, “Should You Keep Your Ex’s Last Name After Divorce? Readers Weigh In,” Oct. 26, 2013


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