Should We Change Our Names When We Wed?

steven petrowQuestion for Steven: I’m about to be married to my longtime girlfriend here in Massachusetts. And I’m wondering what the thinking is these days among lesbians and gay men on whether or not to change one’s last name when getting hitched. We do have a child, so I want to consider his needs as well when as ours making this decision.

Steven answers: Certainly there is nothing comparable in the LGBT community to the long tradition in straight marriages for the wife to take her new husband’s name (a model that is of course fading in some circles). While the predominant custom to date for same-sex couples is for each to keep his or her name, there’s in fact a wide range of options when considering whether to change or combine names after a wedding or commitment ceremony.

When an LGBT couple does make a name changes, it generally has less to do with the type of religious or civil ceremony they choose — nor the legal status of their relationship. If anything, it reflects a couple’s views on the symbolic component of a family name, which is to say their public identity. All that being said, here are your four basic options:

1. Keep your surnames: By far the most popular choice for LGBT couples, this is also the easiest. Frank Roberts and Mack Stasio simply stay Frank Roberts and Mack Stasio. With no patriarchal default and no weight of history or tradition, this is what most same-sex couples choose to do. The downside is that you don’t have the instant family identity that sharing a surname confers.

2. Hyphenate your names: A dual last name proclaims publicly that you have merged into a family unit. Giselle Ullman and Jeanne Basile become Giselle and Jeanne Ullman-Basile (or Basile-Ullman). There’s no rule as to whose name goes first; most couples make the decision based on how the new name sounds to them. If one or both of you has a long or hyphenated name to start with, consider shortening them as you combine the names.

3. Take your partner’s name: Some gay couples opt to choose between their family names. For instance, Ariel Sexton and Arturo Gomez might become Ariel and Arturo Gomez. This is an especially good option when kids are involved. “It was easier once she started school,” reports one lesbian mom who picked up her partner’s surname when they adopted their first daughter.

4. Choose a brand-new name: Creating a new last name by combining family names is a viable option and not that uncommon. It generally involves more legal work for the couple, not to mention a little extra effort from friends and family to remember. One couple who created a new name explained that their new moniker reflected “a commitment to equality and a nod to family history—with a dash of creativity.”

By the way, if you do decide to change one or both of your last names when you marry, LGBT advocates recommend that you get a court order to do so. The court order will serve as proof of your new name—for filing your taxes, travel overseas, driver’s licenses, and more. Generally, it’s an easy and straightforward process for gay men and lesbians.

All that being said, it’s pretty much up to you and your girlfriend to weigh the various factors and settle on a solution of your own. Let me know what you decide – and others. How have you handled the name game?


Steven Petrow is the go-to source on contemporary etiquette, as cited by The New York Times, People, Time, and NPR. His sometimes gentle, sometimes snarky, always insightful advice has made him a nationally recognized expert on modern manners. In addition to his three prize-winning etiquette books, Steven writes the “Civil Behavior” column for The New York Times and is a sought-after speaker on all matters of civilized living in the 21st century.