My husband was the first of us to get his driver's license in our new state. He came home from the DMV with a sticky note that had a list on it.
"I told them that my wife still had to come in, so they wrote down everything you need to bring when you come. I'm just not sure why they would want you to bring our marriage license, though."
I didn't have to look at the list to answer his question. "It's because they assumed I changed my name when we got married."
A reasonable assumption to make. A recent (admittedly non-scientific) survey showed that only 8% of American women choose to keep their maiden name after they get married; those who do tend to be older when they get married, highly educated, and "are more likely to work in medicine, the arts, or entertainment" (1). Hmmm....check, check, and check.
Another 6% decide to hyphenate. A second poll showed that 70% of women think women should have to change their last name when they marry. (2)
I didn't expect to get married for most of my life. Something about that overly ambitious yes-I-need-sleep-more-than-hanging-out-late-with-your-inane-friends-on-a-weeknight just didn't seem too appealing to potential dates and mates. I was not willing to give up the profession I felt called to, so I just went ahead and told myself I would be happy as a single woman.*
Then I graduated from medical school, and then residency, and then started to make a name for myself in the family medicine academic community. I told myself that, if I ever did get married, I'd want to keep my name if my husband would agree. If a future husband were to feel strongly about me changing my name, however, I would be willing to change it; I freely acknowledge that my reasons (then and now) for keeping my name revolve mostly around convenience and professional identity.
Obviously, though, I did get married. Not long after my husband proposed to me, I asked him if he wanted me to change my name.
It was a short conversation. It made sense to him that I'd keep my name, seeing as how we're both physicians, and especially since we're in the same specialty. Neither of us consider ourselves as being "less married" for having different last names. Isn't marriage about more than names, anyway? (3)
In the medical world, our decision is pretty common. My medical friends asked me the usual question that follows a female colleague's engagement announcement: "Are you changing your name?" Some married female doctors use their maiden name professionally and their married name elsewhere. I always knew, though, that I couldn't live under two identities. So, "Jennifer Middleton" I remained.
I admit to getting a little frustrated when people assume that I changed my name. Physician or not, 14% seems to be a large enough percentage to justify the courtesy of asking a married woman how she wishes to be addressed. The other 86% probably won't mind.
I have had some second thoughts, though. Stay tuned for part 2...
* Which, for the record, I firmly believe I would have been. Marriage is full of many joyful things, but it is certainly no panacea of happiness, either. I firmly reject the idea that it is impossible to live a fulfilled and happy life without being married.