I Took My Wife’s Last Name

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Not me, personally–that’s the title of this piece by Josiah Neufeld in the Globe and Mail. It’s an interesting piece, not so much because of what Neufeld did, but how his family reacted to it.

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.

This is a discussion that doesn’t come up much in my everyday life. Both in the writing world and the academic one, it’s rare for either member of a partnership to take the other’s name. In many cases, it’s as much a matter of professional convenience as a statement about equality between the genders. I suspect that, while Neufeld’s choice might not become mainstreamed in the coming years, we will see a number of ways people navigate the married name minefield as more and more people move away from the patrilineal tradition.


Brian Spears is Senior Poetry Editor of The Rumpus and the author of A Witness in Exile (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011). His poem “Upon Reading That Andromeda Will One Day Devour Triangulum and Come For Us Next” was featured in Season 9 of Motion Poems. More from this author →