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I Took My Wife's Last Name

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Josiah Neufeld for The Globe and Mail: It was my idea; Mona never suggested it.

I took my wife's last name
The official at the drivers' licence office squinted at me suspiciously, examined for a second time my birth certificate and marriage licence, and repeated, "You want to change your last name to your wife's?"

"That's correct."

"Usually it's the other way around."

"Usually it is."

He consulted the form on his screen and said slowly, as much to himself as to anyone, "Yes ... you can do that."

Of all the independences one sacrifices at the altar, a name might seem like a small one. Women have been leaving theirs there for centuries.

But I agonized over my decision to take my wife's last name when we married two years ago. I told my family what I was considering; my mother laughed doubtfully. "We'll have to have a family discussion about that," she said.

She's a strong woman who would never call herself a feminist. I think she finds the word angry, abrasive. She wanted my marriage to be as happy and life-giving as hers. She willingly took my father's surname, Thiessen, on their wedding day. But giving up mine, she feared, would herald an unbalanced union. And how would she explain it to people? It just wasn't done. She cried when I told her I'd made up my mind.

"I don't believe you did it," a relative said to me recently, "and I don't even want to know why." We left it at that.

People often ask me why I did it, with curious or wary glances. It's a good question with many answers.

I did it because I love Mona -- because I wanted her to know that I didn't expect her to become anyone other than herself. It mattered to me that we shared a name, so I reasoned I should be the one to offer mine up. And a combination name like Neufeld-Thiessen would only solve the dilemma temporarily. Eventually a child of ours would bring this unwieldy last name to his or her own marriage -- most likely to another hyphenee.

Mona told me afterward my choice made her feel loved.

When the topic came up before our wedding, Mona said she would find it hard to relinquish her name. She also told me in her gentle, gracious way how she came to accept herself as a woman, first as a Canadian girl growing up in Sudan and later as an adult woman living in Canada, a country to which she belonged but had never called "home."

When Sudanese acquaintances congratulated her father on his three sons, he told them his daughter was as valuable to him as any of her younger brothers.

When Canadians told her God was male, she prayed to Our Mother in heaven.

These were novel notions for me before meeting Mona. I never suspected that as a man I had been given an extra portion of power in the global allotment.

I did it because any form of power comes with duties. I'm obliged to take responsibility for my power, to learn its effects -- even unintentional ones -- to see what it does to others when I'm not watching, to use it in the best way possible. Sometimes to relinquish it.

So far the name change hasn't cost me more than a few hours of paperwork, some explanations to public officials and a few strained conversations with brittle relatives who think I've joined a matrilineal cult. I still feel like myself. My identity remains intact. Marriage will demand larger sacrifices than this, I expect.

I wear my new name as proudly as I wear the tiny woman with braided hair I carved from a piece of antler and hung around my neck as a wedding ring. Mona wears a miniature man. Both come from the same bone. I can't remember which I carved first, but I think the woman is the more beautiful of the two. Mona might disagree.

Perhaps I'm not noble, just a contrarian. Either way, I need a good title for my maiden name: "former name" is boring; "ex-name" sounds like a cast-off lover; "birth name" implies I was adopted; "unmarried name" evokes a monastic twin who hasn't called since moving to Tibet.

I'd prefer to keep in touch with my inner Thiessen. We lived together for 26 years and parted on good terms. If he's still nursing wounds, I think I've given him a fair chance to speak up. Maybe he'll surface with a midlife identity crisis when I'm 40.

Thiessen is a name I'm glad to have worn. If, after years of putting up with the newfangled Neufeld in their midst, my long-suffering family chips "Thiessen" into my tombstone I promise not to raise a fuss.

For now, I'm content that Mona feels loved, because whether or not anyone else understands, my new name is a declaration of love. And it's a choice I made because I'd rather learn to give my power away than wield it, oblivious, until it's too late.

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122 comments so far | Post a comment now
Erotosthenes August 9, 2009, 3:41 PM

Wow! The amount of misogynist hate-mail here! The worst thing a man can be is like a woman! Ironically, a result I suppose of years of feminists saying how much better everything is for men and everything feminine too inferior for women.

Actually my first response is ‘Who cares, John Lennon did it years ago’. Why change names on either side? The children have to take somebody’s name but it’s women that give birth, not men.

It’s not the name that matters, it’s the recognising feminine as equal to masculine and the man taking his lead from the woman’s example instead of, like feminists, women slavishly copying everything masculine without questioning its value.

tess August 11, 2009, 11:44 AM

For all the men who are giving the author grief, it is my sincere hope that you never find someone who you love enough to marry. The idea of you procreating and passing on your cave-man ideals is the stuff that gives single women everywhere nightmares.

Michael Helm August 12, 2009, 1:48 PM

I think the male version of maiden name would be bachelor name. A maiden is an unmarried woman, and a bachelor is an unmarried man, am I right?

I look up to anyone who would do a thing like this, and I’ve been planning on doing the same for some time now. And Tess, don’t worry. Those cave-men ALWAYS have the most relationship trouble. I have a feeling this name scuffle might be one of the hardest things in Josiah’s new marriage, because he’s taken one gigantic leap toward making a true connection with his wife.

Corerabbirl August 14, 2009, 5:11 AM

Good day!
Nice post

Willey August 28, 2009, 3:42 PM

You sir are the biggest wimp in the world. If it was a big deal about the name why didn’t u just both keep your own last name. If i were your father i would never speak to you again,

maiden September 1, 2009, 4:46 PM

Jack White ( of the White Stripes, the famous musician who is in several bands, has collaborated with numerous artists, wrote the theme for Quantum of Solace, among other things)
took his wife, Meg White’s, last name when they married, and then kept it after they separated.

So it’s not as uncommon as you Neanderthals would like to believe.


What the hell are all you MANLY MEN doing on That’s what I’d like to know.

Fusion October 15, 2009, 9:20 AM

She may “feel loved” over it, but not as loved as she feels when a real man takes her under your nose every night.

You’re a wuss.

Ray November 2, 2009, 9:02 PM

First of all, let me just say that the vast majority of these comments are truly disgusting and juvenile. It’s really sad that people like this exist in today’s world and I truly hope they grow up before procreating (judging by the first grade grammar most used I’m sure they’ll have to look that word up) and passing down these antiquated and, quite frankly, stupid beliefs about masculinity to future generations.
Second of all, good for you. Ignore the insecure idiots who posted, I wish you a long and happy life with your wife.

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James Russell January 12, 2011, 4:45 AM

What he is not saying is that Mona(his wife) forced him to do it and he is a whipped henpecked man. I just wish he would have been honest with the article and admit that his wife forced him to do it instead of trying to say it is a testament of love which is silly to believe.

Wiley Burdi February 15, 2011, 5:10 PM

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Zulema Lorenc March 16, 2011, 12:42 PM

I’d be inclined to be of the same mind with you on this. Which is not something I typically do! I really like reading a post that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!

Sandi Cramblet March 16, 2011, 2:37 PM

I’d be inclined to comply with you here. Which is not something I typically do! I enjoy reading a post that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!

scrapebox March 29, 2011, 1:33 PM

There are a lot of strange comments on here.

Leonard Spallina March 29, 2011, 5:08 PM

Wow! Thank you! I always wanted to write on my site something like that. Can I take a part of your post to my website?

Milton A. Wade March 31, 2011, 3:33 AM


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Jon Miranda May 15, 2011, 7:34 PM

If a man takes his wife’s name, he gives up his masculine leadership. May 24, 2011, 4:10 PM

I_took_my_wifes_last_name.. Amazing :)

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