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What to expect when you don't change your last name after marriage: 9 things to know

When you keep your last name after getting married, you'll be surprised to find who really cares.
/ Source: TODAY

My husband and I got married in September 2016. Wedding planning was stressful, but we were on the same page about pretty much everything: Band instead of a DJ. Photo booth was a must. Short, but sweet ceremony. It was smooth sailing ... Or so I thought.

A few months before our wedding, he brought up the topic of changing my last name. I was honest: It wasn't something I wanted to do. I tried to explain my reasoning without raising the tone of my voice: "I'm 30! Why would I change my name now?"

Followed by: "I wouldn't change my byline at work, so what's the point in changing my name personally?"

Finally, I elaborated that I was very close with my grandfather on my dad's side of the family, and felt that keeping "Frank" as my last name helped me stay connected to him and our family's history.

Even though I decided not to change my name, we were still announced as Mr. and Mrs. Bunk at our wedding last fall.
Even though I decided not to change my name, we were still announced as Mr. and Mrs. Bunk at our wedding last fall.Laura Marie Photo

At the time, he was caught off guard and got upset. So I passive aggressively avoided revisiting the conversation ... And now that we're married, I think he's OK with me remaining a Frank — though he's still hoping someday I'll come around.

Before he brought up the convo, I scoured the internet for tips on how to broach this conversation with your significant other, and any advice from women whose husbands may not have taken the news so easily. I found nothing — there's also not much out there about what kind of reaction the rest of your world will have to your personal decision.

In case you're in the same boat, here are some things to expect when you don't change your name.

1. Making the decision not to change your name is the hard part.

"I spent a surprising amount of time weighing this decision, and it turns out it pretty much hasn’t affected my life," said Robin Kawakami, TODAY senior editor. "Plus, I didn’t have to update my passport (or any other documents and IDs) for my honeymoon! The only time my name has come into play is when people not in the know have written checks out to me with my 'new' last name. Otherwise, it’s been a complete nonissue."

2. Your in-laws care less than you think.

"I had worried that as (relatively) newly assimilated immigrants, they [my in-laws] would begrudge me keeping a link to my personal identity," recalled Leigh Ann Tomooka, an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles. "As it turns out, they don't care."

Leigh Ann Tomooka with her husband and their two children.
Leigh Ann Tomooka with her husband and their two children.Leigh Ann Tomooka

3. Other people may actually care more than your husband.

In my case, it seems to be my girlfriends' husbands who are taking the news as a personal insult. When one asked me why I wasn't changing my name, I mentioned an easier explanation than I gave my husband: I'm a writer and I didn't want to change my byline. His retort? "Oh, because you're such a prolific writer?" Ouch!

"That's more about them than you," Bela Gandhi, relationship expert and founder of the Smart Dating Academy, told me. "And the easiest way to deal with these people is just to agree with them. 'You're right, I should have changed my name.'" They're just looking to pick a fight, Gandhi said, and if you agree with them, there is nothing to argue about.

4. People may assume that your brother is your husband.

"Everyone assumes that my brother is my husband, and that my sister-in-law and I are his sister wives, because we all share the same last name," said Tomooka.

5. If you have a baby, the hospital will end up calling the baby by your last name, not your husband’s.

"If you have a baby, they’ll call the baby 'Baby girl or boy (mother’s last name)' on all of the name tags and paperwork after birth — whether you’re planning to name the baby your husband’s (last) name or not," explained Margaret O'Malley, NBC News BETTER editor.

"You can see the offensive 'Baby Girl O'Malley' on the name tag here," O'Malley joked.
"You can see the offensive 'Baby Girl O'Malley' on the name tag here," O'Malley joked.

"While this could be a minor annoyance or ego blow for the proud papa if you’re in the hospital for the standard two-day recovery period, it’s more difficult if you have a NICU baby," O'Malley elaborated. "It makes security more difficult because the names don’t match — and it may just make the father feel like he’s even more disconnected from his baby (a baby who may not be going home any time soon)."

6. People will call you by your husband's last name after you have kids.

"I noticed more people began ignoring my given, and by then, chosen, last name after I had kids," said Eun Kim, TODAY contributing writer. "No matter who I identified as their mother on medical forms, the staff at their pediatrician’s office always referred to me as 'Mrs. Van Der Werf.' After my kids started school, even more people assumed I shared their last name. The clincher came the first time I opened the student and parent directory from their school. Under 'Kim, Eun' it said, 'see Van Der Werf.'"

As a newlywed, I've already noticed this — letters, wedding gifts and Christmas cards all come addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Bunk. And it doesn't bother at me at all.

Exhibit A: That's not my name.
Exhibit A: That's not my name.

7. Your kids won't care — they might not even notice.

"My daughter is in seventh grade and she recently said to me, 'OMG, you're Bela Gandhi (my maiden name).' She never thought about it," said Gandhi, founder of the Smart Dating Academy, who has been married for 20 years and decided not to change her name two days before her wedding.

"Once my daughter figured it out, she said, 'I'm not changing my name either,'" Gandhi said.

Then and now: Gandhi and her husband on their wedding day (top), and today, 20 years later (bottom).
Then and now: Gandhi and her husband on their wedding day (top), and today, 20 years later (bottom).Bela Gandhi

8. Your feelings about your last name might change over time.

"My husband and I have always been a team," noted Laura T. Coffey, TODAY Parenting Team editor, who didn’t change her name when she first got married. “But when our team gained a third member, my son, I suddenly felt like I wasn’t quite displaying the team spirit with gusto. It was as if some paperwork had slipped my mind somehow, and I had missed out on ordering the team jersey.”

Laura Coffey's wedding photo
After two decades of marriage, Laura T. Coffey is in the process of changing her name.Courtesy Laura T. Coffey

"My husband and I are about to celebrate our 20-year wedding anniversary this year, and I’m about to start the process of legally changing my last name. It’s time, and I feel ready. It’s something I want to do," Coffey shared.

9. But it doesn’t have to be one name or the other — you can have it both ways.

Even if you do change your name personally, you can always keep your maiden name professionally.

“I’ve worked in journalism for a loooooooong time. And all that time, my byline has been Laura T. Coffey. In high school, I wrote a humor column for the school’s newspaper — it was called ‘Coffey Break,’ and I took pains to include my middle initial ‘T.’ after I realized my name contained a built-in joke. It has TWO drinks in it: tea AND coffee,” Coffey remembered.

So even though, years later, Coffey is deciding to change her name personally, the two drinks are staying — professionally.

“Will I change my name at work? NO WAY, MAN. My byline’s got two drinks in it!” Coffey joked.