Ask Amy: The Pressure to Change Her Last Name

By Amy Dickinson | January 29th, 2021

And mother doesn't know what to do about it

Engaged woman feels pressure to change her last name

Dear Amy: Our 28-year-old daughter recently became engaged to a wonderful young man. We couldn’t be happier for them. They plan to marry in two years, after they complete their graduate degrees.

So, what could go wrong?

His parents are adamant that our daughter take her fiance’s last name when they are married. She already has research papers published with her current name, and she likes her name and doesn’t want to change it.

To his credit, her fiancé has told his parents that she’s not changing it and that’s that.

Nevertheless, they continue to bring up the issue. They claim that people will think their son and our daughter are divorced if they have different names. More hurtfully, they say that this young couple won’t be a “real” family without the same last name, as if sharing the same name or same religion or ethnicity is more important than the love, understanding, and support for each other that should be the heart of a family.

Our daughter feels that she is disappointing his parents, and she has begun to feel uncomfortable around them. This is a sad way to begin what will be a long personal relationship.

My husband and I offer advice to our adult children only when it is asked for, and we don’t pout if the advice isn’t taken. We hope her fiance’s parents might see this letter and resist the urge to butt in where their advice is not wanted.

— Non-Meddling Mom

Dear Mom: Around 1 in 5 American women choose to keep their surname upon marriage. Some couples choose to hyphenate, and some take their spouse’s name but continue to use their surname professionally. It’s hard to imagine that – in this day and age – a woman’s choice to keep her birth surname is still an issue that upsets people.

You aren’t meddling directly (good for you), but your attempt to communicate with your future son-in-law’s parents through this column speaks volumes. In fact, you are actually quite attached to this issue and worried about the outcome. You are meddling-by-proxy.

Your daughter’s fiancé has stated unequivocally to his parents that your daughter will not be changing her name. Your daughter should also handle this directly, respectfully, and with good humor understanding that her in-laws may always feel a little bit wounded or judgmental about her choice. After she explains that keeping her surname is nonnegotiable, there really is no reason to discuss this further.

Handling this well, firmly, and with certitude will set the stage for other choices the couple will make.

Want to get even more life tips from Amy? Read more of her advice columns here!

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2021 by Amy Dickinson

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