“I hadn’t only survived it, but it had defined me — as someone who was different yet proud of those differences, a survivor of childhood bullying, a first-generation immigrant with a funny last name who had found her own skin and found her own opportunities and identity,” said Ms. Yuk, now 45 and living in Toronto. “I didn’t want to lose my identity.”
Women from a variety of nationalities, religions, sexual orientations and ages wrote to The Times about how their names were a core part of who they were. For many, the decision on whether to change their names carried significant weight, and it was shaped by the traditions, the norms and, in some cases, the laws of the societies in which they live. Some looked to their names as badges of cultural identity, others as symbolic links to their fathers that they were eager to preserve, or to sever.
Here are some of the responses. They have been edited and condensed.
Pride in a name and its connections
“My husband had no family. He graduated college before we even met. He walked across a stage for his degree with no family or friends in attendance. He was the first (and only) person in his circle to complete college. When our son was born, after he filled out and signed the birth certificate, he looked at me and said, ‘And then there were three.’”
Joy Perkins in New York City, via Facebook. She changed her name.
“I have a long Spanish surname, which marked me as different growing up in an otherwise homogeneous white Anglican rural area in Australia. My name was hard to pronounce, hard to spell. I used to blush every time a new teacher tried and failed to pronounce it out loud. But after a few years, I became strangely proud of my surname and it was firmly part of my identity.
“Every time now that someone struggles to pronounce it, it links me to memories of my school years, as well as to the story of my family (most of whom I never met) who fled as refugees to a new and safer country.”
Katherine Ruiz-Avila, who grew up in Australia and now lives in Delhi, did not change her name.
“Quebec law requires that spouses keep their name. There was no decision to be made. Some women in Quebec use their husband’s name after marriage in social settings. However, I will continue using my own name. My father is an Armenian immigrant from Lebanon, and I am proud to use his name to show that children of immigrants contribute positively to society.”
Zoë Foustokjian, 27, in Montreal.
“Right when we got engaged, my husband offered to take my name. I didn’t ask him for it, but I took it as a symbol of his love and commitment. Even now that we are two years married, my heart makes a little jump every time he answers the phone with ‘Benjamin Vogels.’”
Rebecca Vogels, 32, is German and based in Vienna.
“I am deeply attached to my father’s family — my paternal grandmother was widowed during the Great Depression with five children (and one in utero) to raise without family or financial assistance. She persevered and kept the family together. My father’s older brothers (one underage when he enlisted) fought in World War II, while his sisters quit school to work and support the family in their brothers’ absence. The sacrifice and integrity of my grandmother and my father and his siblings have influenced and inspired me in countless ways.
“After my husband died, I was on my own with our 2- and 5-year-old sons and without family support. I embraced the lessons of my father’s family and carried on.”
Lori Latus, 53, in Lexington, Ky., and Melbourne, Australia. She kept her name.
“I had been married previously, and did not want to keep that name. But I also did not want to return to my maiden name. With fear and trepidation, my partner and I sat down with her parents, and I asked them if I could take their family name. Without blinking, both of her parents said, in unison, ‘We’d be honored!’ Can you imagine my relief?”
Julie Benton, 62, lives in the United States and Australia and is in a same-sex marriage. She took her partner’s surname.
“Most importantly, it is out of a deep respect for my mother. When I was 8 years old, my mother made the decision to take her maiden name back. This was in the 1970s. We lived in a small town in northern Maine, and she wrote for the local paper. She received harassing phone calls and harsh objections from family and friends. People even wrote in to the paper about it, stating that she was not a ‘good Christian woman.’ People made harsh comments to me about it as well. I remember not understanding, and wishing my mom could just be a ‘normal’ wife and mother.
“Later, in my 20s, while attending university and taking women’s studies courses, I came to feel proud of my mom. I gained a deep respect for how difficult and important her decision was.”
Peggy McGillicuddy, 45, in Toronto. She kept her name.
Cross-cultural marriages and lives
“We both wanted to show the world that we belong together. For us and our children, it symbolizes that we are a unique unit on equal footing and that our children have a dual cultural heritage from both Sweden and Denmark, though they were born in South Africa.”
Kristina Wallengren Steengaard, 46, a Swede living in South Africa, is married to a Danish man. Both use a combined surname.
“I’m a white woman who married a Japanese man, and didn’t connect to having a Japanese last name.”
Morgan Fraser, 27, in Canada. She kept her name.
“I wanted future generations to be able to find me easily when they research the first relations to move to the States.”
Isolde Raftery, an Irish immigrant living in Seattle, via Facebook. She kept her name.
“When I asked my husband if our kids could have my name, he said no. I was surprised; in many ways, he’s progressive, but in this, he was very: ‘No, my children, my name.’
“At first, this didn’t bother me — what’s in a name, anyway? But lately, I keep thinking about heritage. My name is my father’s father’s, who emigrated from Norway. At Christmas, I think about the Norwegian traditions and feel a kinship to them, even though the rest of me — most of me! — isn’t Norwegian at all. It’s just my name. Like me, my husband’s family is from all over, but his name is Russian. My kids are going to have a Russian name, even though there hasn’t been a Russian in the family for centuries.”
Emily Mathisen, 32, in Vancouver, British Columbia. She kept her name.
“I wouldn’t mind taking his surname, and it would be nice to do the traditional thing like that. But I still can’t get around my personal feelings about the potential problems I would face looking the way I do and having a surname like his. Even though a lot of the anti-immigrant sentiments in Europe are aimed at other ethnicities, I’m worried about the barbed treatment I might get, or suspicions that I’m trying to ‘mask’ or ‘whitewash’ my identity.”
Natasha Hong, 29, a Han Chinese of Singaporean descent living in Singapore and married to a white British man.
Social and family traditions
“In Chinese culture, women keep their last names after marriage. Both my mother and my husband’s mother still use their maiden names, as do our grandmothers, aunts, cousins, and every other Chinese woman we know.”
Yue Zhou, 32, Chinese-American living in Singapore.
“It came as a shock to me just how right ‘being his’ felt, and taking his name only strengthens that bond.”
Suzie Houghton, 32, in Melbourne. She has been married for a month and is in the process of changing her name.
“That’s the way it was in England in 1957. There was no question of not changing your name. It never occurred to anyone not to!”
Kappy Flanders, 78, in Montreal.
Reflections on the decision
“The first time I married, I changed my name, then went back to my maiden name after the divorce. I never felt comfortable in my new name; it felt foreign, and it didn’t belong to me. I frequently didn’t respond when people called me by my married name. It created an identity crisis — I didn’t know who this new person was supposed to be.”
Jennifer Lahue, 48, an American living in Vienna.
“I feel great about my decision so far. My mother grew up in a country where it was required by law to change your last name, so she never had a choice. I think it’s kind of the first time in history where it is more acceptable in our society, or not a social faux pas, to keep your maiden name, which is amazing, and I want to take part in the ability to have the choice to keep my name.”
Angeli Humilde, 26, lives in Canada and is recently engaged. Her mother grew up in the Philippines.
“No regrets, but I quietly hope that if our daughters marry, they will keep their names.”
Joan Card Redemer, 64, who is from California and living in Antwerp, Belgium. She changed her name.