“I Earned It”: Should A Woman Keep Her Married Last Name After a Divorce?

November 16, 2013  |  

One of the first questions many of my friends and family had for me once I got married was if I was going to keep my maiden name or take on my husband’s last name. I hadn’t really given it much thought until it came time to apply for and sign my marriage license. At the time, I had to make a decision, so I decided to hyphenate. However, I have yet to officially change my name anywhere other than my marriage license.  To be honest, it probably won’t be high on my priority list until my child is born when I’ll probably want my name to be more in alignment with our family. All of this, along with things I’ve seen or read lately has me jumping the gun a bit and thinking about something else in terms of a union of two people: in the event of a divorce, should a woman keep her married last name?

But for some reason, changing last names and identities is something a lot of women look forward to once they get married. Since I married a little later in life, I was able to concentrate on my career; therefore, I’m known professionally by my maiden name. But if you’re like Tina Turner, some women have established themselves professionally through their husband’s last name, so it’s no wonder they’d want to keep it. Take, for example, Porsha Stewart of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. When Wendy Williams asked her if she’d be keeping her husband’s last name after the divorce, she proclaimed that she “earned” that name and would definitely be keeping it.  While I understand that she “sort of” became famous under the last name Stewart, I also don’t understand why a woman would want to hold on to the name of a man who, in her own words, mistreated and humiliated her. Like I said, unless I’m Tina Turner, I can’t see myself holding on to a name that I associate with pain or abuse.

Most women who hold on to their married last names after divorce don’t see anything wrong with keeping her ex’s last name – even if they divorced under contentious circumstances. My own mother, who has been divorced for the better part of almost 30 years, still goes by the last name Dean. At first she said it was because she wanted to share the same last name as her daughters. Understandable. But my mother also finds it very difficult to be in the same room as my father, so it seems strange to me that she’d want to keep his name. She also said she likes his last name better than her maiden name, she said it just “flowed” better. Okay…to each her own.

Call me crazy, but after having been Brooke Dean for 40 years, I don’t see it being that difficult to go back to if, heaven forbid, my husband and I divorced. Maybe once my son is born, I’ll see things differently, and it may also depend on how long I’ve been married. If you’ve been married for 10 or more years, I can see how his last name is tied to your identity. But if my husband disrespected me, abused me or humiliated me, I know I would hate being associated with him in any way. I even know some women who have held on to their ex-husband’s last name even after they remarried someone else. I find that to be absurd. If you’re newly divorced or now married to someone else, I would assume that you are starting over with a new identity and therefore should have a new name. Again, maybe if children are involved, that complicates things, but my child would just have to understand that I’m not divorcing him, just his father.

Now, none of this is to say that I plan on getting a divorce. Quite the opposite. But I’m sure for those who have gone through a divorce, deciding whether or not to hold on to an ex’s last name is a tough decision. Maybe that’s why I opted to hyphenate, so that I can have a little bit of me left along with embracing him. But it’s the woman’s choice and if she keeps it, that’s her right…yes?

What do you think? Is there some sort of etiquette to consider when deciding on keeping your ex-husband’s last name?

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