Friday, April 24, 2015

My husband and I have different last names, and that's okay.

There are many reasons why a woman would take her husband's name upon marriage. These include, but aren't limited to:

Blank post-it notes courtesy of

Others choose to hyphenate because they want to/feel like they have to take their husband's names, but still want to be known by their birth surnames.

And some...

...some choose not to.

When I was little, I played the last name game. You know, when a girl has a crush on a boy, she'll scribble her first name next to his last name to see if it sounds good. Because my name was so common, I added my middle name to the mix see how it looked (hey, I had to be sure). I even did it in college when I developed a serious attraction to the man who would become my husband.

At the county clerk's office where we got everything squared away for our marriage license, the secretary asked if I wanted to make the name change retroactive or do it myself afterward. I said I'd just do it myself. Something felt weird, but I thought it was my stubbornness and pre-wedding stress.

We started to get early wedding cards in the mail. Some were addressed to "Mrs. Brian Pulsipher" or "Mr. and Mrs. Brian Pulsipher." never got angry or offended because I knew the senders didn't mean anything negative by it. I also know that many women expect it and even enjoy it. But I remember thinking to myself, 'I'm adding his last name, but I'm not changing my first name.' 

When the first wallet-sized thing with my new name came in the mail (I think it was my debit card), Brian was so excited that he wanted to take a picture of it. It was while I watched his phone focus in on it that everything came together.

It wasn't my stubbornness, it wasn't pre-wedding stress, and it wasn't the cards.

I didn't want his name.

I started talking with other married women about their name-change experiences. While some never had an issue, I discovered that most had a hard time with it and many never told their husbands. One such woman divulged that it took her 10 years to like being called by her husband's name. 

But they all said I'd just get used to it.

I didn't.

I finally told Brian. I also told him that I understood it was my mistake and I wouldn't change it back unless he was okay with it.

He didn't know what to think, and I can't blame him. Generally, men aren't raised with the idea that maybe, just maybe, the girl he wants to marry won't want to change her name to match his. In addition, girls usually aren't brought up with the idea that they have a choice on the matter.

It wasn't until almost two years later that Brian came upstairs one night, sat down next to me, and said that if I still wanted to drop his name, it was okay with him.

So I did.

During those two years however, questions and concerns came up in conversation every once in a while. These queries aren't unique to my husband. They are on the minds of most people who meet a married woman who kept her birth surname.

On Love and Loyalty
Do I have an issue with my husband's family?
No, I don't.
Do I not love my husband?
What I hear when this question is asked is "You loved him until you got married, but because you didn't want to take his name after that, you don't love him anymore."
Since when did the woman changing her name become a greater show of love than saying "yes" at the altar and remaining faithful? 
Doesn't taking his name show your loyalty to your husband and children?
No. Honoring my marriage vows, putting my family first, and parenting my children well shows loyalty to them. 

On The Family Dynamic
What about family unity?
If the family sharing the same name were a key factor in unity, there wouldn't be a 50% divorce rate in the US. Unity is much more than sharing a name.
Also consider: many married people don't wear their rings. Are they not unified in their marriage because of this? Like a ring, a name is only a symbol.
Won't the kids be confused?
Confused about what, exactly? They know who their mommy is. 
Whatever children grow up with is their normal. Our children will be raised with the knowledge that both women and men have a choice regarding their names when they get married.
On top of that, our children already carry both mine and my husband's last names. (See lightbox on the right for more information.)

On Tradition
Come on, just spill already: This is a feminist thing, yes?
Nope. I didn't do this to make a statement or anything like that. I did it because I prefer to be known by my birth surname. Really. That's it. 
If someone calls me by my husband's name, I'm not going to get mad and shove my actual name in his/her face. I won't even correct him/her. Only about 10-15% of women in the US choose to do this, so I don't expect people to inherently think about it when conversing with me. But if someone does know, I would hope they respect me enough to call me by my correct last name when it's called for.
Along those lines, people have tried to remind women like me that since my birth surname belongs to a man, what does it matter if I change it to another man's name? If I were doing this for feminist reasons, such an argument would make perfect sense. But that's not my reason. My birth surname is the name with which I define my upbringing, cultural heritage, character, personality, hobbies, interests, etc. It's the name my parents chose to give me at birth and it's the name I would like to continue to be known by.
It's not really convenient for the rest of us. I mean, how are we supposed to refer to your family now? We can't just call you "The Pulsipher's" anymore.
Before the whole families-sharing-the-same-last-name thing started, there were many other ways to refer to a family. One such way was to call them by their first names. In today's society, most people just say, "Hey, guys!" Please note: Calling my family "Sarah and the Pulsipher's" (or vice versa) is highly inappropriate.

On Religion
My religion has a lot of symbolism surrounding names. Knowing that, some members of my faith may wonder if there are any religious issues with this decision.
Here's the official word from the Church I belong to on the matter:
"There is no requirement that spouses share the same last name, that the wife take the husband's name, or that the last name be a single word.
While not all policies are related to doctrine, no policy will ever contradict doctrine. The only name you need to take upon you to be saved is the name of Christ. The Lord's only requirements for marriage are that the couple say "yes" at the altar and be faithful.

Additional food for thought for those of my faith: 
  • We do proxy sealings for couples who were civilly married in mortality. Even if the bride did legally change her name upon marriage, the sealing will always be between him with his birth name and her with her birth name. The only exception to this is if, in doing family history work, her birth surname cannot be found. 
  • Both baby boys and baby girls are given a name and a blessing. In said blessing, it is stated that the name given will be his/her name "On the records of the Church and throughout this life." There is no asterisk for girls saying "well, until you get married."  
The whole female name change thing really is just an earthly tradition and thus, a personal choice.

(For more information on the basics of the Church's membership record system, click here.)

In the end...
Only about 10-15% of women in the US choose not to take their husbands' names. What do I think of the 85-90% of women who choose to take their husband's names? Awesome! Yay! Great! If they did it and then regretted their decision, I hope they have found happiness since then. I'm glad they did what works for them.

It just didn't work for me.

I'm not asking anyone to agree with me or even support this decision. This post is simply an effort to (1) explain where women in my situation are coming from, (2) hopefully answer any of the major questions people might have, and (3) ask for the same tolerance and respect that you would expect for yourself. 

I also understand that I may not have answered every question out there. Please know that I'm not a closed book on this. If there's anything you would like to know that wasn't addressed here, please ask. I'm happy to answer.


  1. Lorchin PulsipherApril 24, 2015 at 5:44 PM

    How would you like to be referred to in your ward? Not Sister Pulsipher but . . . ? If someone is talking about your family as a group, would "the Pulsipher family" be OK?

    1. Yep, not Sister Pulsipher but Sister Uhlstein. Since we don't share the same last name, referring to us as the Pulsipher family would not be appropriate. I know of a few families who are in the same situation as mine. Most of us just refer to them as if their last names were hyphenated, and they seem to be okay with that. That would be acceptable in our situation as well.

  2. Basically Brian is the only non-Uhlstein in this equation. If only you would switch Brian, we could call you guys the Uhlsteins and Christmas cards and checks would be a lot easier to write :) I tried to convince Jon to change his last name to Garcia when we first got married but apparently there are already thousands of Jon Garcia's, who knew? ;)


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