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Should You Change Your Last Name If You're a Married Italian Woman?The answer to this question will surprise you and might give you pause about the choice you've made
I have covered love and marriage as a reporter for more than a decade now. People are always asking about whether, in this day and age, women should change their name after the wedding. It is among the top searched subjects related to being newlyweds on Google, in fact. Of course, the answer is more complicated than merely yes or no. Of course, it depends on who you are and what makes you most comfortable. Of course, your spouse might have an opinion, too. This is relevant to gay couples, too, who might be considering changing to one name or combining both their surnames to make one.
As an Italian-American bride, who was marrying an Italian native, I contemplated this question myself in 2008 when we wed. My mother-in-law quickly chimed in to say that I should not change my name because none of the women in Italy do. Indeed, despite or perhaps because of the sometimes patriarchal nature of the culture, Italian women keep the name of their father. From what I've gathered, the idea is that you remain your father's daughter forever no matter who is your husband. The strong ties people keep with their family of origin seem to fit in well with this practice.
What is interesting to me is that many Italian Americans have quickly forgotten the tradition back home. My own father, for instance, insisted my mother change her name. He said he felt like their marriage wouldn't be real if mom didn't follow the American tradition. His own mother, however, never changed hers, even after moving to the United States in 1960.
Having lived in Italy all his adult life (whereas my father moved to the United States at age 13), my husband wasn't keen on having me change my name either. Taking into consideration Italian tradition, the fact that I liked my name and worked as a writer whose name was searchable on Google, I decided to stick with my maiden name.
The only time I've ever wondered if I made the right decision was the birth of my son. Initially, it made no difference to me. But then I traveled to Italy with him. Ironically, it was there that I began to have second thoughts. Everywhere we went with our passports people had questions about whether I was his mom. Then, at the passport checkpoint in Germany, where we were getting a connecting flight back to New York, the guards threatened to separate me from my then 9-month-old son to determine if I was kidnapping him. They eventually agreed to let us go, but warned me never to travel again without his birth certificate proving that I am his mother. Indeed, I now bring it with me to the supermarket in Italy and everywhere in between. One thing that never has me regretting doing the whole last name thing the Italian way is the bureaucracy you must face. When you change your last name, you have to jump through a lot of hoops to make it all legal. If you travel on your honeymoon before you officially change your name, be sure to use your maiden name on the tickets. The name on your passport, I.D., and tickets must match, or you won't be allowed to take off. Trust me, I've heard from more than one bride, who missed her flight – or even the whole honeymoon – because of this mistake. Che brutta!
In the end, whether you change your name or not is up to you. You know what works best for you. And you must consider your personal feelings about changing last names and practicality (my job, for instance, made it easier to keep my name). Use the combination of heart and head that led you to decide to wed in the first place and you'll be just fine. If you go the Italian way, wear that maiden name with pride – not to mention your wedding ring, which also announces you're married.
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