What’s in a name?


Olivia Gallegos grew up thinking she would change her last name when she got married, but the decision didn’t turn out to be as easy as she thought.

The legal hassle didn’t bother her, and it wasn’t a matter of principle that caused her to hesitate. Instead, she worried about how her new name would sound.

“I wasn’t sure if I like the sound of Olivia Movick,” she said.

Photo illustration by Brett Bertola
Photo illustration by Brett Bertola

And Olivia, a senior from Hillsboro, Ore., wasn’t alone. She laughed as she explained that her fiancé wasn’t sure what he thought either.

“He didn’t like the sound of it,” she said. “He’s not even sold on it still, but he told me to just do whatever I wanted.”

Although Olivia was surprised to find herself considering not taking her husband’s last name, her question is hardly a new one.

Name changing after marriage became a social issue in the 1850s when Lucy Stone, a well-known abolitionist, suffragist and women’s rights activist, became the first American woman to keep her own last name after marriage.

The trend for a woman to keep her own name grew dramatically starting in the 1970s, and during the 1990s as many as 23 percent of women kept their own names. Since then, that number has decreased slightly to about 18 percent in the first part of the new millennium, according to a 35-year study published in 2009 in the journal “Social Behavior and Personality.”

After considering different options such as adding her new last name to her entire birth name, using her maiden name as a middle name, or keeping her maiden name, Olivia decided to drop her last name completely and be known as Olivia Maria Movick.

But simply making the decision wasn’t the end. There was also the process of actually changing her name, and she wondered when the right time would be.

“I didn’t want to change it before I got a job because I didn’t know how long it was going to take to get a new Social Security card and a new driver license,” Olivia said. “I just wanted to avoid all the confusion.”

Now that she has a job, Olivia has begun the steps to change her name.

“I would honestly consider not changing my name just because how complex the process is,” she joked.

Of course, how a name sounds is just one of many considerations women at BYU have to take into account when they consider whether or not to change their names after marriage.

Lisa Selman, a recent art history graduate from Fullerton, Calif., has been married for over two years, and has not legally changed her name to her husband’s name, Greenhalgh, but says she is still planning to do so. For her, the delay is not about how the name sounds or the legal process involved.

“To most people I offer excuses of what a hassle it is to change — ‘It takes so much time.’ ‘It’s easier to stay on my parents’ insurance if we have the same name.’ ‘I haven’t gotten around to it,'” Selman said in an email. “But in reality these don’t matter, it’s a really personal struggle.”

Selman explained that her dad has five sisters, so there’s only a small number of people in her family that have the Selman surname. She really looks up to all the people who share her name, and it has always been a source of pride and personal identity.

Another recent graduate said the hassle did influence her decision to wait, at least at first. Amy Burchfield, a graduate student from Orlando, Fla., studying Latin poetry in the comparative studies program, has been married nearly three years and hasn’t changed her name legally or on BYU records.

“Initially I said I would just wait until I graduated from BYU so I wouldn’t have to bother changing my name with the university, but once I got accepted to an MA program here, I realized that might turn out to be farther away than I thought,” Burchfield said.

Burchfield added that she has begun to see some additional reasons to wait before changing her name.

“I’ve seen a lot of women in academia keep their maiden name so that their name remains consistent throughout their career to avoid confusion about their authorship and identity,” she said. “I’m not sure I’ll keep my maiden name as a professional name forever, but so far it’s worked well for me.”

Burchfield said she still thinks she will take her husband’s name, Merkley, but she’ll probably keep her maiden name as a middle name.

The Lucy Stone League, an organization dedicated to “equal rights for women and men to retain, modify and create their names,” says on its website, “We are known by our name and our name is a critical part of who we are. Take away our names and we are, in a sense, erased.”

But Olivia sees things differently.

“When it comes to my last name, I am who I am no matter what you call me.”

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