Marrying the Man and Taking His Name (Or Not)

Maybe he dropped to a knee or maybe he stood. Maybe he brandished a ring or maybe he offered up a really sincere promise to come up with one. Maybe he didn’t do anything at all; maybe she was the one who popped the question.

Every couple’s matrimonial walk is different, and even as they glow with the euphoria of their own personal happily ever after, the decisions they make will carve out the course of their lifetime together.

Love can do a lot of things, but it doesn’t have the power to cancel out the patriarchy that is the lifeblood of good ol’ American social convention. The traditional expectation is that when a woman gets married, she takes her husband’s name—no questions, no conversation, no-brainer. And as the age of the average Black bride creeps past 30 and she heads to the altar already established in her career and personhood, another question is popping up for women who balk at the belief that her surname is somehow indicative of her allegiance to her marriage: do you take this man and his last name?

Ultimately, it’s not about who’s right, wrong, or more down for her boo because she did or didn’t take his name. It’s about women having the option to choose which naming convention works best for them. In their own words, three ladies—all of them wives, mothers and professional go-getters—share why they chose to keep, change or hyphenate their last names after declaring “I do.”

Christine Pembleton, Owner, Ready to Be a Wife
Married six years

"It was just a given that I would change my name. We actually did not discuss it. I think it just communicated a unity in our home, that it was the Pembleton home, and that all the children would have the same last name, which was his last name, obviously. So to me it was never an issue because I wanted to be a part of him and wanted to represent him. I’m definitely old school. I wanted to make him proud. I love the name Pembleton. Nobody has that name. It makes me feel very royal.

"We have three daughters. They’re 5, 3 and 2. So it’s the Pembleton family. Because of the way I feel about him—I look up to him—it never occurred to me that I would be losing something if I took his name. It was always something I was gaining by doing that. I will raise my daughters to do whatever they feel is best, however. Whatever they decide is up to them. It doesn’t really matter to me. Obviously, I want to teach them to look for a man that they trust enough to take on his name and be a part of his life, because being ready to be a wife is all about the mindset, picking the right person for you. If you don’t feel that you can trust him with yourself, then why marry him? Marriage is way too risky of an agreement to be with someone you would not trust with your life. So that to me is more important than a name. I was looking for someone I could trust that much. It’s a mindset that I used to make my decision."

Ericka Plater-Turner, MBA Professional
Married nine years

"After my husband proposed to me and we knew it was real, that we were going to get married, that’s when I really started thinking about my name: what it was going to look like, what I would do, what I wouldn’t do. We talked about it because there are all kinds of ways that people do it, even when you swap names. He takes yours, you take his. I thought that was cool. He was like, ‘Hell no.’ [Laughs] It’s a man thing. He was really adamant about me taking his name, and I actually thought about it for a while. I would write my name out. And because for 30-odd years I’d been Ericka Plater, it just didn’t feel right. It didn’t sound right. It didn’t look right.

"For me, names have meaning. They carry energy. And when I looked at my father’s side of the family, where I got my maiden name, there’s a rich history there. There’s a collection of Platers in Southern Maryland. There’s a street named after my family down there. That’s who I am. And getting married, I felt I was losing part of who I was by dropping my name. So part of it was, Why would I do that? That’s who I’ve been. I’m adding on to who I am by entering into this marriage with this man, so adding on his name started to feel more like the right thing for me because I wanted to honor my ancestors and family.

"The second piece of it is, my father had me and two boys, who both died when they were in their 20s. So of that little nucleus of the Plater family, I’m the last. I started to feel strongly about hyphenating my name to preserve the Plater lineage and respect my father and uncles, knowing that there are no sons to carry on that name. I was trying to build myself professionally too, so my name was out there as Ericka Plater. So if I was trying to stay in the profession, I wanted to be able to create a link back to that name and my byline.

"When I thought through all of that, I became adamant to my fiancé and said, ‘I will add your name but I’m not giving up my name.’ Once I explained to him where my thinking was, he respected that. As long as I was taking his name in some way or another, he didn’t mind that I was hyphenating and keeping my maiden name. My kids just have his last name, but now that I think about it—especially since my two girls were born before I met him—I kind of regret not giving them the Plater last name and letting them continue the lineage, too. I feel like they lost some of that. They act like them—people will say, ‘Oh you act just like them Platers. You got that temper, you got that mouth.’ [Laughs]

"It took me about two years to get comfortable in the Plater-Turner, but I definitely don’t regret it at all. It’s who I am, who I’ve been for so many years. I saw getting married as adding on to who I was instead of taking away or removing the old me to add on a man’s name. I’m kind of a feminist anyway."