You end your recent essay about changing your last name after you get married in a state of ambivalence.
Simply put, there is no easy answer to the age-old and hugely common dilemma of how to preserve one’s family while simultaneously creating a new one. Just as surely as I want to share my last name with my future husband and future kids … I also want to hold on to my personal and professional identity.
The day before your piece ran, New York magazine had a piece about how more women are taking their husbands last names, kind of. Inspired by Beyonce’s decision to title her new tour “The Mrs. Carter Show” (Carter is her husband, Jay-Z’s, last name), Chloe Angyal writes about how surname choices have become “situational” for many women. This means that sometimes, most often professionally, they use their maiden name, and others times, their husband’s name.
I think the “situational” last name might be the answer to the ambivalence you are feeling, and is probably the answer to mine, too.
When I got married three years ago, I didn’t take my husband’s last name. Others assumed that this was, yet another, feminist statement on my part. But the truth is, neither of us really cared. I think I put “Elissa Popper” on the papers we filed with the state of New York, but never did anything to actually change my name. As I explained to many, I would never be offended if someone called me “Elissa Popper,” but that at the same time I would still use my surname of Strauss. The whole thing seemed unimportant, really.
And then I had a baby. When my son’s bassinet was labelled with his first name and my last name at the hospital—even though this felt particularly fitting post-labor— I knew that my the time had come to stop being so nonchalant about my last name. As we began to receive packages for him with the name Popper on it, I began to register the familial dissonance. How could I have a different last name than my son?
And so, I (kinda, sorta) made the decision to go “situational” and become a Popper in my personal life, while keeping Strauss professionally. I have my concerns about this, as it does kinda underscore the fractured nature of a working mom’s life. You literally have to be two different people. But, besides creating a whole new surname, like New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren did, this seems like the best option. Now for the paperwork.
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.
Women's Messy Name-Change Situation