Should You Take Your Partner’s Last Name After Marriage?

Marriage is a social and historical construct, its meaning has evolved throughout history. It was greatly influenced by religion and the state. Legally speaking, same-sex/same-gender couples in the UK had long been denied that right. This changed in 2014 when England, Wales, and Scotland legalized gay marriage (hooray), followed by Northern Ireland in 2020 (double hooray). This brings us to our question: Should you take your partner’s last name after marriage? Many of us in the LGBTQ+ community have wondered. Some hypothetically debating with friends, and others are, for all intents and purposes, tying the knot. 

Firstly, if you are getting married, we at Nonchalant Magazine could not be happier for you (where’s our invite!?)! But you probably have a thousand tasks on your to-do list, and figuring out what to do with the surname situation might not be helping.

man in black and white sweater sitting on chair

Well, worry no more, in this article, we will try to tackle the issue and hopefully help you out in the process!

The cons of taking your partner’s surname

You reject the patriarchal aspect of the act

According to Stephanie Coontz author of Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage. Early British tribal groups and Anglo-Saxons saw marriage as a diplomatic and trading tool. Marriage, not only in the UK but all over the world, has historically had a transactional purpose. 

Because marriage was about securing a strategic position in society, the consent of the couple, especially the bride, was unimportant. Taking your husband’s name in marriage was merely a switch from one patriarch to the next. It deprived women of a sense of identity. Their names were only an extension of the prominent male figure in their lives. 

And so we ask ourselves why would we, as queer people in queer relationships (especially lesbian ones) want to participate in such a process? Wouldn’t it go against our core values? 

Because of this historical link between marriage and the patriarchy, some queer couples do not want to get married or refuse to change their last names, as they see the act as an instrument of straight and patriarchal values. 

You fear a loss of identity

If you live in the UK, your life is partially organised around and by a state. One of the first things parents must do after their child is born is to register them. Moments after we are born, we become not mere humans but citizens, and as citizens, we are recognisable by our name and surname. It’s everywhere: birth certificates, diplomas, tenancy agreements, email addresses, and even on social media. 

It is one of the first things people learn about us, and it becomes part of who we are to the world. 

More than just a habit, some people have an emotional attachment to their surnames. It is linked with our ancestors and family history. Many people want to carry on their surnames as part of a legacy, especially if they want to have children. 

The pros of taking your partner’s surname

You feel as though taking your partner’s name is an act of love and devotion

There was a cultural switch in England during the Victorian era when love became a foundation for marriage. Jennifer Phegley, author of Courtship and Marriage in Victorian England, explains that the Victorians believed that marriage should be based on love or companionship. She adds that this was an efficient way to distance themselves from the working class. Today, legal marriage is completely interlinked with the concept of love. 

According to authors Lahey Kathleen and Alderson Kevin, many types of same-sex unions have existed through time, “ranging from informal, unsanctioned, and temporary relationships to highly ritualized unions that have included marriage”. Lahey and Alderson explain that same-sex unions were known in Ancient Greece and Rome. And according to author Hinsch Bret same-sex unions have taken place in some regions of China.

Rachel Hope Cleves in her book Unspeakable: A Life Beyond Sexual Morality speaks about indigenous traditions such as “female husbands”, marriages including intersex people as well as queer nuptial ceremonies held at sea. 

Because marriage has taken many forms, we cannot see it as merely a religious or legally binding act. For all those queer people who have had marriage or union ceremonies throughout history, it certainly meant much more. 

And so, in taking your partner’s last name, you could see an act of reclaiming legal marriage as a testimony of queer love. 

You’re gaining and creating a new family for yourself

For many queer people, a family has a different and broader meaning. Sexual and gender minorities have a very particular sense of community. Some have unfortunately bad relationships, if any at all, with their blood relatives. 

Queer people have for centuries shaped their version of family, creating safe spaces and tightly linked social relationships.

Changing your last name to your partner’s can be a way to reshape yet again your vision of family and community. 

Alternatives Surnames for Lesbain Couples

If you do not want to take your partner’s surname, and they do not wish to take yours, there are many alternatives. 

  • You could double-barrel (although this might be complicated if you wish to have children and grandchildren). And it does lead to the next argument, who’s name comes first?
  • You can merge your names, creating a combination – sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
  • You can make a new name, something meaningful to you.
  • If one of you wants to take the other’s name while keeping their own in a different way, you could use it as a middle name or keep using it in formal settings like work.

We genuinely hope we helped you in your decision, and remember, what matters is that you do what feels right to you and your partner. And that if you do decide to change your name, you’re psychologically ready to face the paperwork that awaits you!

For those of you who are thinking about tying the knot, check out our queer and lesbian weddings section for inspo.

If you do decide to take your partner’s last name, and you live in the UK, here is how to do it legally, and let us know what you went for by commenting below.

Love Team Nonchalant x

Elisa Muller
Elisa Muller

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