For the first three years of wedded bliss, Katie Jones lived with her new married name, Katie Jones Schmitt — and hated it.
"It was confusing for people. It was too long. No one knew how to spell it," she said of the multiple variations on her husband's surname. "He knew I didn't like it. Sometimes I was passive-aggressive about it."
When she was single, various friends — in their excitement to greet her — would call out, "Katie Jones!"
After the wedding, they floundered their way through the old salutation. It became "Katie Jones (pause) ... Schmitt," a greeting that left her crestfallen.
"To not have that greeting, it was losing something," she said. "It feels really silly to say that, but it was a thing that rolled off the tongue. 'Katie Jones Schmitt' does not."
So one Christmas, her husband, Peter, surprised her with a gift so brilliant that she couldn't have even conjured it herself: an envelope of the paperwork needed to legally change her name back to Katie Jones.
"I had to rectify my own mistakes," Peter told me, adding that he had gently pressured her to take his name leading up to their wedding. "We were getting pigeonholed into traditions. At some point you have to say, 'Let's fix this.'"
It's wedding season, and if you are betrothed, hopefully you feel rock-solid about the life partner you've picked. But deciding on your new identity — whether you'll take your spouse's name, keep your birth name, or forge an entirely new name as a couple and for any future children — can be fraught with uncertainty.
The practice of hanging onto one's maiden name appears to be regaining ground. After an apparent decline in the 1980s and 1990s, about 20% of women married in recent years kept their names, the New York Times reported in 2015 after conducting a Google Consumer Survey. An additional 10% opted to hyphenate their name or legally change it while continuing to use their birth name professionally.
For better or worse, I fall into that latter bucket. Although my byline says Laura Yuen, I added on my husband's name after we exchanged vows. Miller is a fine name — it's the seventh most common surname in the United States. But when paired with my very Anglo given name, Laura Miller just never felt like me. It erases my family lineage and who I was for the majority of my life.
I decided to keep my birth name in professional settings. But perpetual code-switching has jumbled my brain. The worst is when I need a store clerk to look up my loyalty perks account, and I can't seem to remember who I am.
I put out a call on social media to see if others also felt a sense of regret about changing their names. Turns out, we are legion.
"My husband and I couldn't compromise on my last name or his, so we hyphenated," said Michael Flaherty-Wilcox of Waconia. "We both regret it — it's way too long! And it's cursed our daughter with a mouthful to learn."
Lamenting length was a common theme.
"I was torn between convenience and misidentity, especially since I have an extremely long Lao name but still wanted to honor my roots, so I did both (an even longer name)," said Chanida Phaengdara Potter of Minneapolis.
St. Paul poet Michael Kleber-Diggs has only mild regret about combining his and his wife's surname. Like when he's traveling, dealing with customer service, filling out an online form that rejects the hyphen, picking up will-call tickets, or spelling his name for a stranger. (Kleber was his wife's surname, and he was born a Diggs. They conjoined their last names with a hyphen after joking that their marriage "was a merger, not an acquisition.")
"K-L-E-'B as in boy'-E-R-hyphen-capital-'D as in David'-I-G-G-'S as in Sam' is a phrase I say all the time. All the time," he bemoaned.
But all that aside, Kleber-Diggs is proud that he, his wife and his daughter all share the same blended name.
"Because my wife is white, and I am Black, I saw our united last names as a way for us to be seen in the world," he said, adding that it felt right when his book came out that her name was on the cover, too.
As for Katie Jones, she wasted no time in dropping "Schmitt" from her name, thanks to a service her husband found, called LegalZoom, that helped start the process. Of course, she still needed to go through the hassle of changing her name on her bank accounts, Social Security card and mortgage, not to mention completing a criminal history check and petitioning a judge.
In the process, her mom confessed that she also didn't want to give up her maiden name, but did so when she married — it was the 1980s — because of cultural pressure.
Katie Jones and Peter Schmitt have now been together for nine years.
Katie said restoring her name allowed her to let go of any resentment about what she felt she had lost. She thinks it has even made her marriage stronger.
"I usually tell people to do what feels right for you," she said. "A name is a very personal thing. You have to live with it every day."