One of the things that has popped up while wedding planning has been the name game. Who takes whose last name?
(The above phrase seems to be pretty popular on Pinterest, and it made me laugh when I saw it!)
First of all, disclaimer: I support the right to choose. Whether you’ve taken his last name, hyphenated, kept your maiden name, he’s taken your name, you combine your name into one, or you end up with a completely different last name altogether, I think that’s great! These are modern times, and all of the old traditions don’t really apply anymore these days. It’s not as important to carry on a family name as it was in the past, and most of us aren’t royalty who don’t really have a choice in the matter. (Although who really knows any royalty’s last names, anyway!?)
Here in Germany, there isn’t quite as much freedom with the name choices as there is in the US. There’s no Princess Consuela Bananahammock, as Phoebe in Friends decided on, faced with wonder at all of the possibilities when the man at the registrar’s office told her she could choose any name she wanted. On a similar note, even naming newborn babies is regulated here, and you won’t end up with any names like Peaches Honeyblossom, Tallulah Pine, Sage Moonblood, or Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen. None of that here. In fact, baby names must be gender-specific and on a list of approved names! But I digress.
So for German law, you’ve got four easy choices when you get married. 1) Both of you keep your own names, 2) she takes his name, 3) he takes her name, 4) or you can hyphenate both names, but only the woman has a hyphenated name, and then the children get only the husband’s last name, as hyphenation cannot be passed down.
With those choices available, the current trend is to keep your own names, which in my opinion is great when both partners have a professional life in which their name is essentially their brand. That’s probably why celebrities often keep their own names. I don’t know anything about their real choice, but can you imagine Angelina Pitt or even Brad Jolie? Not likely. And in Germany, keeping your maiden name seems to be the cool thing to do, though it is also practical because most couples who get married are already in their mid- to late-thirties and already have an identity built up around their names.
Enter my decision: I have decided to take his name. There are definitely pros and cons for me, which I plan to explain here. Let’s start with the cons, since for me, the pros outweighed the cons enough to make the change.
Cons of giving up Gilmour
- Gilmour is a nice name, and I can’t help but smile every time people compare it to the Gilmore Girls. Plus, Sarah Gilmour is also the name of a model whose famous father, David Gilmour, is a member of Pink Floyd, so it will probably drive down my blog hits when I change my name. (Kidding!)
- It’s higher up in the alphabet, and my new last name will move me down to S, the 19th letter of the alphabet. It’s not a big deal, though, but it probably means we’ll be waiting a bit longer to watch our kids graduate from school, as those kinds of things are usually done in alphabetical order.
- After I got engaged, I started to feel nostalgic about my maiden name. It is kind of a weird feeling to give it up…
- My new initials will be SMS, which is what Germans say for text messages. They’ve even made a verb out of it: simsen. “Ich hab dich gesimst!” I once heard a German friend of mine say. And if you shorten it to just the first name and last name, SS is not really a great letter combination here, considering German history…
- Everybody knows my heritage. They can automatically see that I’m not German, and though 9 times out of 10, people guess I’m from England (God knows why…), at least they can see that I’m not from around here before I even open my mouth.
- Paperwork. I am soooo not looking forward to that. Especially changing the American stuff, where they won’t know what an umlaut is or how to use it, and I will likely have the same problems as Tobi has had with different versions of his name floating around out there – Stäbler, Staebler, Stabler. People without umlauts in their alphabet just don’t understand how it works.
- Gilmour is easier to pronounce than Stäbler. As hard as I try, I just can’t get that ä without sounding Schwäbisch (a dialect from Stuttgart, where his family comes from). And my mother told me the other day that she also has trouble with it and could use some pronunciation lessons on my soon-to-be new last name. Ha!
Pros of choosing Stäbler
- Growing up, I always assumed I’d take my husband’s name. Yes, that’s the traditional thing to do, and that’s likely why I dreamed of it as a kid. But for me it’s a nice idea to have a family with one name, where it’s clear to people that we belong together. And we won’t have any difficult decisions later on on what to name the kids.
- Sarah Stäbler acutally sounds really nice. I pronounce my first name the American way, and Stäbler the German way. It just has a nice ring to it!
- It will fit in my passport. Since I am not hyphenating my last name, I won’t end up with something ridiculously long to fill out on forms, like Sarah Michelle Gilmour-Stäbler. My fingers got tired just from typing that!
- Tobi is already really well-known in his business with his own last name, and even though he thought Tobias Gilmour sounded really cool (by the way, it’s pronounced Toe-BEE-us, not Toe-BYE-us), it’s good for him not to have to change his name. Although I think he would have been willing to, had I insisted, and that is really cool of you, Tobi!
- Okay, so the language nerd in me comes out: I freaking LOVE the idea of having an umlaut in my name! Apart from the stress of it when dealing with non-German speakers (see #7 above), I just think it’s so awesome to have a character in my name that doesn’t exist in my own language. Besides, it could be worse – saying “it’s like an ‘a’ with two dots over it” is easier than trying to explain the Eszett (ß)…”it’s like a capital B with a long tail, and it’s pronounced like an S”… One of my friends saw the address on my wedding invitations and thought it was actually a “p”. Peter, my best friend and fellow language nerd, took great pains in writing a beautiful Eszett in my street address on a recent card he sent me, and he pointed it out to me so I could admire his handiwork. So anyway, yes. Ä is cool!
So even though I have a few more cons than pros, the point that carries the most weight is having the same family name. And for me, it’s a nice way of combining our cultures and accepting that Germany is a really big part of my life right now and, with a German spouse, will be in the future.
What is your personal preference about changing your name? Did you run into any initials trouble like my SMS, or my mom whose maiden name Susan Arlene Wood had her initials change from SAW to SAG when she got married…? I’d love to hear your thoughts!