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“Unconventional” Surname Etiquette

For as long as I can remember, Christmas Eve has always been spent at my grandparents’ house. My dad’s whole side of the family–aunts, uncles, and my eleven cousins included–all gather for some much needed family time after a long year of missing the Anders family unit.

But here’s the catch: we’re not only the “Anders” family, I just think of us that way. My grandparents had two sons and three daughters. This means that three of the five nuclear families that show up each year during Christmastime don’t think of themselves as Anders. Of course, this is because my aunts all opted to take on the name of their spouses rather than keep their maiden names, as most women do in 2015.

Each year, without fail, someone brings up the question of who’s going to carry on the Anders name. And each year, my youngest male cousin is recognized as the defending champion of our family’s legacy. You see, of my grandparents’ two sons’ total of five kids, there is only one boy. This boy, Ashton, also happens to be my family’s youngest member.

At the ripe old age of thirteen, Ashton has already been entrusted with the responsibility to transfer our beloved surname from this generation to the next.

Without even getting into the heteronormative issues stemming from these assumptions placed on Ashton, this whole idea still doesn’t make a lot of sense. Thanks to a recent rise in feminism and broader acceptance of “non-traditional” surname meshing, it’s highly likely that the Anders family name will be passed down regardless of whether Ashton marries a woman and has at least one son.

Since the 1970s, there has been a significant upward trend in college-educated females opting to maintain their surnames post-marriage. Many believe that this has something to do with the huge feminist movement of the 70s in conjunction with women being able to create professional careers for themselves earlier in life. However, this trend slowed down in the 90s and no one really has a good explanation as to why.

A more recent trend is that of couples choosing to hyphenate or even combine their last names. For example, BBC producer Andy Brown married Helen Stone, and they settled on the last name Brownstone.

If it isn’t uncommon for females who earn their PhD before being married to keep their maiden names, then why people still seem stirred up when women choose to keep their name just because they want to? This is a contradiction in and of itself.

Everyone has their own philosophy when it comes to the protocols surrounding marriage and weddings and last names and all of that stuff for adults, and that’s the whole point. Just because something you want to do isn’t “conventional,” like hyphenating your last name or ignoring the whole name change concept all together, doesn’t mean that it’s wrong.

Maybe twenty years from now, the “normal” thing to do will be for men to take their wives’ last names. Maybe Ashton will be the lone bearer of the Anders family name. Maybe it’ll be me.


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