Men Enter the Name Game

These days, when John Smith marries Jane Doe, he might opt to become John Doe. Or John Doe-Smith. Or John Smith Doe.

In the latest departure from traditional marriage (search) procedure, some American men are beginning to take their wives’ last names, either using the woman's name in addition to their own or nixing their given names completely.

“I’ve definitely heard more about both the husband and wife hyphenating," said New Jersey-based wedding expert Sharon Naylor (search). "It’s really picked up in the past few years, although it's still a very small number."

Only 20 or 30 years ago, it was difficult for many Americans to accept women hyphenating or opting not to take their husbands' names (think Hillary Rodham Clinton), and it's still taboo in some families. But today, some couples are taking things a step further, sharing names the way they share the household chores.

“We went as Sclafani Rhee, because we thought that was the most aesthetically pleasing, but the result was that nobody called us by that name – everybody dropped the Sclafani," said Christopher S. Rhee, 31, an attorney in Washington, D.C., who eventually ditched his family name, keeping just the S.

Indeed, guys who have taken their wife's name in addition to their own have realized (as women did before) that getting people to recognize a double surname isn't easy -- and sometimes the hubby's gets omitted.

Kelly Shubert-Coleman, 23, said her husband Jon, 29, chose to put his name before the hyphen because he knew the Coleman would often get left off.

“I actually wanted to combine them into one name, but hyphenating was enough for him," she said.

The Shubert-Colemans decided to hyphenate because they wanted their kids to share their last name, and neither wanted to give up their individual identity.

Rhee and his wife originally decided to use both names because his wife, a first-generation Korean immigrant, wanted to preserve her ethnic identity for herself and their son.

“She came here when she was six years old so it was important for her," said Christopher. "I’m not as attached to my name, because my family is a couple of generations removed from Italy.”

According to an August/September 2003 survey by WEDDINGBELLS magazine (search), 94 percent of 5,000 brides polled were taking their husband’s name, either wholesale or hyphenated, and 6 percent were maintaining their maiden name.

None of the major bridal magazines interviewed for this article had data on men changing their names.

The trend is still so new that couples like the Rhees and Shubert-Colemans initially faced resistance from family and friends.

“My mom thought it made it seem like I was her daughter-in-law and Jon was her son," said Shubert-Coleman. "But I explained that just because it’s always been done a certain way, it doesn't have to stay that way ... I think it's nice when you're starting a new family to start a new name."

The Sclafani family was also none too happy with Rhee's decision.

“My dad is the last man in the line in the family and my brother is unmarried. People were sensitive that the family name might not continue," said Rhee. "Surprisingly, my mother-in-law and mother were more opposed than my father and father-in-law.”

Naylor said such criticism comes mostly from older relatives who aren't up on modern marriages.

"It’s kind of a half-teasing thing, like 'What, does she own you?' she said.

But Rhee -- who also dealt with some teasing from some of his pals -- is proud of his name change.

“Initially I don’t think I would have accepted [taking my wife's name] as an idea, but I really thought if you wanted to be equitable, both names should have equal weight," he said. "We have all these friends who are complete equals in their marriages and lives, but when they get married the default is the husband’s name."

In fact, Rhee said he's inspired several of his male friends to make similar adjustments to their names.

Naylor added that a man's decision to take his wife's name could be a matter of business.

"If his name has been an albatross, it might be nicer to be a Kelly or Smith," she said.

Nevertheless, some guys wouldn’t think of giving up their family names.

“I’m old-fashioned … my grandparents had that name, my parents had that name," said Blake Spahn, 32, who recently married Maryll Field. "Coming from a historical viewpoint, I’d probably have been a little thrown if Maryll said you have to be Blake Field-Spahn."

Michael Koffler, 27, who's engaged to Avi Kaufman, said he's keeping the name his parents gave him because that's just the way it's done.

“That’s not the societal norm, to take your wife’s name. For a male it would be embarrassing. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be that way, but it’s not. Avi could have hyphenated or kept her name. But I’m glad she’s taking my name, because we’re one family."