Why These Men Took Their Wives' Last Names

It may be 2017, but in many circles a man taking his wife's last name is still considered unusual, unheard of, unmanly. A study earlier this year even found that half of Americans believe women should be legally bound to take their husbands' last names once they get married. Women may vote and drive and run companies — not to mention win the popular vote — but we're still painfully hung up on certain social conventions.
However, there is a growing number of couples who are rejecting tradition. We interviewed five married couples from around the country in which the husband took the wife's last name, and while some of them say they did it for feminist reasons, to others the woman's name just sounded better. Or, in one case, her family name was well-known in the small town where they live. One guy even said his wife's name has helped him professionally.
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From speaking with these couples, we learned that the decision to do something this as-of-now different doesn't always have to be a big, splashy statement; in this day and age you should do whatever you like with your last name, with no judgment. Easier said than done, of course: Quite a few of our couples said their decision was at first met with hostility from conservative family members. However, none of them said they encountered major legal or bureaucratic issues, save for a few confused glances.
One common thread came up over and over in these interviews: These individuals did not want to hyphenate their names or have two last names, instead choosing to have a single family name represent them as one unit.
Ahead, read the couples' stories — and put the term "bachelor name" on your radar.
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Illustrated by Paula Volchok.
Adair & Nick Moran

When the two New York City performers got married in 2005, they both felt strongly about having the same last name, but his (Little) just didn't sound right with "Adair." "His last name was Little, and I'm 5-feet tall. It felt a little cutesy that I would be Adair Little," Adair, a stunt performer and aerialist, tells Refinery29. They talked about picking a totally new name, but in the end he liked the sound of "Nick Moran" and that was that.

While the couple's friends — other musicians and performers — were very supportive, the biggest challenge was telling Nick's family. "I think there was some surprise, particularly from my father," Nick says. "He's not a stick-in-the-mud conservative, but he is a generation older. So there was some disappointment, but not major resistance. My family as a whole is quite liberal." He says his father did eventually make peace with the decision.

"We are relatively fortunate that we have a family and social group who were accepting," says Nick. "When we did it 12 years ago, it was pretty novel — most people were like, 'Oh, I didn't know you could do that!' I feel like nowadays the issue is more out there and more discussed. That, I think, is a hopeful sign."
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Illustrated by Paula Volchok.
Neil & Anna Bergstrom

Neil and Anna, who now live in Denver, CO, were married in Sweden in 1980. "Taking your wife's name is more accepted in Sweden than in the U.S.," says Neil. But he didn't do so at the time; Neil changed his name in 1999 when the couple had kids, and it seemed too complicated to have different last names. He did continue using his "bachelor" name — Smith — professionally, but was excited to change his name to something less common.

"When the children took her name, it was always a question: 'Are you guys married? Living in sin?' Anything with the kids, it was, 'Are you their stepfather?'" says Neil. He says their family wasn't always accepting, either. "They thought it was weird. 'Oh, why did you do that?' My sister said, 'Is that legal?'" But then, "They sort of adjusted."

"I think the tradition of the woman taking the man's last name is sort of an outdated tradition; I don't see a strong reason for it," he says.
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Illustrated by Paula Volchok.
Stephanie & Matt Land

Stephanie and Matt, who live in Montana, met through Matt's job — he's a caretaker for several apartment complexes, including hers. When they decided to get married, she was a single mom who had fought hard to change her oldest daughter's last name to hers when she was 3. "My youngest's dad hasn't been in the picture at all, so she got my last name at birth, and Matt's going to adopt her," Stephanie tells Refinery29.

"I don't think Matt ever had any serious interest in getting married before, but he said when he was a kid he thought if it ever happened he'd take his wife's name," she says. "Plus, my writing career is established, with my name being part of the branding I do with that. So when Matt brought up taking my last name, it just fit our situation. He still gets a kick out of me calling him Mr. Land."

As for Matt, he says changing his name helped cement their identity as a family. "Being a father was a new identity," says Matt. "It seemed right to change my name to hers and the girls in becoming a family."

Stephanie says there hasn't been any any negative response from their friends or family. "Hopefully this will be more common, and we don't always default to a patriarchal society. The work women do in the household is often invisible, yet men get to keep their family name."
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Illustrated by Paula Volchok.
Mark & Carla Ainsworth

Mark and Carla, who live in Seattle, WA, met at Kenyon College in Ohio and got married in 1999. "She was like, 'I could take your name,' and I was like, 'I don't feel comfortable with that,'" says Mark, who is a biology professor at Seattle Central College. "Because that's not right; it represents a history of patriarchy where a woman took her husband's name and became his property."

Unfortunately, his parents weren't as enthusiastic as he had thought they would be. "I remember telling my mom on the phone. There was dead silence," he says. It took a lot of difficult conversations about Mark and Carla's beliefs to bring them around. Carla's family was more supportive. "My father-in-law, Walter, called me, and he said, 'Thanks. This is so great!'" says Mark. "He was excited to see the Ainsworth name continue."

The two say that being an interracial couple — he is white, she is African-American — has played into the decision as well. There was a desire to show to the world that they are a unit, having overcome the lingering societal stigmas. "The main reason a woman takes the man’s name was historical legacy and social convention, and Mark has never been motivated by either of those things," says Carla, who is a physician. "Especially as a mixed-race couple, I thought it was important that we shared the same last name and would share that name with our children, and he was happy to do that."

Now, they have two kids, who are 12 and 9. "We talk to my kids about this all the time," says Mark. "We need to continually work to smash the patriarchy. I will totally go off on tangents, and I will say those very words in my classroom. The patriarchy makes me sick."
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Illustrated by Paula Volchok.
Kathryn & Jason Kelts

Katie and Jason have been married for 10 years and have a 7-year-old son. They met at a local summer theater production in upstate New York; now, she is a social worker and Jason is a puppeteer.

"I did not want to change my name," says Katie. Her family name is part of the fabric of the community where she grew up. "It always surprises me, the number of women who take their husband's last name without a second thought," she says. "Coming from a smaller town, my last name means something to the people around me; my family has always been active in the community. Why aren’t these things considered?"

Katie says they briefly talked about making a new name — his last name was King, they considered "Kelting" — but in the end, family ties won over. "I am very close to my family, in fact, we live next to my parents and my sister and brother also live on the same block.... I was very passionate about our children having my family name, and in the end Jason decided he wanted to also have it," she says.

However, some members of Jason's family made it clear that they don't approve. "I still get Christmas cards addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jason King from some of his family members," says Katie. "No one in my house has that name."
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