The Lowdown on Last Names

Etiquette & Traditions >

Growing up in Hinsdale, Illinois, just outside of Chicago, Molly McGue dreamed of becoming a doctor and being called Dr. McGue.

Part of her dream came true. She married in 2015, she’s now enrolled in her first year of medical school, but her new name is Mrs. McLumski after she married Jonathan Lumley-Sapanski.

Confused? The newly betrothed couple blended their last names for a completely new surname. Otherwise, adding her name to his would have fashioned an unwieldy appellation.

“It’s definitely not something I could foresee,” says the 28-year-old. “I grew up in a conservative environment. Women take their husbands’ last names. We compromised with the combination name, and I think it has given us a special new identity as a couple.”

Family reactions were mixed. Her parents and his parents were completely fine about the meshed moniker. Her grandma, on the other hand, not so much.

“She was mortified,” McLumski says. “She’s so traditional. She was so confused about what it meant. It’s a big conglomeration. Mc is Irish. Ski is Polish. But, that’s the U.S. you know.”

Indeed, a number of couples walking down the aisle are skirting tradition by inventing new last names as one way to present themselves as a unit. It used to be that the focus was on what the bride would do regarding her name. Now, it’s what the couple does. Marina Birch, principal at Birch Design Studio, an event design company based in Chicago, chalks it up to changing norms.

“There’s a sort of leveling of gender roles and rights,” Birch says. “It’s no longer the default for most couples to assume that the bride will change her name, which is as much a part of her identity as her partner’s – personally as well as professionally.”

While it’s a practice growing in popularity, it still represents a sliver of the marrying population. A U.S. Census Bureau research paper from 2007 found that 94 percent of married women born in the United States elect to take their husband’s last name.

And, the slight change in mores isn’t happening universally across the country. There are pockets where couples aren’t interested in bucking convention and eviscerating a last name that may have been around for hundreds of years.

“We have lots of big money families where names are a big part of the community,” says Sara Fried, owner of Fete Nashville, a wedding consultancy in Nashville, Tenn. “Many families have the same first name and there’s a junior, senior, third and fourth. So, brides are very traditional and love the idea of taking on their husbands’ last name.”

Birch estimates that five percent to 10 percent of her clients opt to blend last names.

She advises couples to put some thought into the decision-making process. For instance, think about what sounds roll off the tongue with ease, whose name gets to appear first in the fused result and what challenges lie ahead in living with said new name for the rest of their lives.

“If your names are long, you’ll be writing that, typing that and filling out Customs forms which will make it more onerous to use,” Birch says. “Consider how user-friendly it is? Can people spell it? Remember it?”
While some couple may artfully smoosh their names together, others may hyphenate them to create a new name, especially if they feel they are established in their careers or feel a loyalty to the name because of their culture or heritage.

For the McClintock-Comeaux family, both Patrick and Marta came to the marriage in 2000 with burgeoning professional lives and a commitment of unity to their future children to minimize any confusion different names would create. No surprise that Marta McClintock-Comeaux is now the director of women’s studies at California University of Pennsylvania.

“It was important for us to all have the same family name,” says Dr. Pat McClintock-Comeaux, an elementary school principal in Upper Saint Clair, Pennsylvania, noting that the social fallout has been fairly muted. “Some people whom I’ve met since then, ancillary friends, kind of mock it. That’s OK. There are a lot more important things to worry about.”

One upside to the couple’s trend-setting decision? A truly unique sobriquet not found elsewhere. “If you Google us, we’re the only McClintock-Comeaux in the Google universe,” he says.

Tags: Brides365, wedding, last names, tradition, combined last names, trends