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The Great Last Name Debate

Two months ago, I got married. I should start off by saying I’m definitely the luckiest girl alive, because my husband is the kindest, smartest man I’ve ever met. He’s deeply romantic, though he’ll deny it, and marrying him is without a doubt the best decision I’ve ever made.

As we were getting serious, and since we knew we’d be getting married for quite a few months before we did, I had a long time to ponder what I would do about my last name when we made the leap. Was I going to take his? Keep mine? Hyphenate? I even jokingly suggested he take mine. But even as the day approached, after months of contemplation, I still was at war with myself over what to do about my name.

I wanted to hyphenate my last name and his. Ashland-Peterson seemed like a fabulous hybrid to me, a mix of where I come from and where I’m going. It allowed me to retain my identity while developing a new part of me. It was my way of retaining self, though I didn’t realize it.

A few days before we were married, I had mostly decided to take his last name. He was hurt by the idea that I didn’t want his name, and was unwilling to take on my family’s name (which I don’t blame him for) for the same reason I was vaguely reluctant to take his. We discussed the ease having the same last name would create for us – in legal paperwork for future hospital and adoption forms, and for all other aspects of life. I could still keep my name, we reasoned, and use it professionally, and use his last name for legal and formal uses.

Then we got married, moved to another state and created our new life together. It began with an apartment, a new church, and new library cards, friends and introductions. I began to feel like I was losing my outward identity early on in our marriage, and my inward identity was suffering. I love and adore my husband, his family and what they stand for. But everyone I knew was simply assuming that I was taking his name. The people at the bank, my own family, our church leaders. I became “Mrs. (HIS NAME) Peterson” or “Sister Peterson.” My last name had not only been eclipsed by a new family name, but I had my first name torn from me and replaced as an awkward extension of my husband.

I grappled with the meaning of my name. My maiden name, Ashland, has much baggage – good and bad attached to it. I was adopted at five, and this was the last name I’ve always felt I was meant to have. As a child, name was much more fluid, and I dreamed of becoming “Roxanne Winters” the red-headed, green-eyed beauty. I used the pen name Savannah Bomstrom, for what reason I have no idea, except that it seemed to flow. But as I grew older, my name has become infused with my very existence – I’m published, have a successful name recognition system going on, something that is sometimes good and sometimes bad.

I believe names are crucial to our existence as a species – in identifying ourselves to ourselves and our society, we differentiate who we are and what we stand for. Names and society’s perception of them have the power to make you love or hate yourself. We can look at the average Kindergartner child with an odd name as a perfect example. Parents agonize and meditate and pray over names for their children.

I made the decision to take his name, and keep both my maiden and middle name, so I now have four names. I made it partly to make my dear husband feel accepted and loved by me. He strongly encouraged me to do whatever I wanted with my name, and in the end, I was happy making him happy. We are united under the same last name, because I want it to be that way. I still haven’t adjusted to being a Peterson, but after all, it has only been two months.

I believe whatever is done about a last name is your personal decision, as a woman. It’s not your husband / fiance’s place to tell you what to do, neither is it a family member’s choice. Your name is part of your identity, and you have the ultimate say in what you do.

I look back at my decision and see it as a positive moment of self-actualization. We can be defined by our names, or define them by our actions. This name will mold itself to me as I grow and expand it throughout the years.

April Ashland Peterson is the freelance social media manager for the Center for Women and Gender. When she’s not online, she’s crocheting, reading, or stuffing her face with all the international cuisine her stomach can hold. You can find her on Twitter and Pinterest