“Keeping” Your Name (in France)

So that was a lot of punctuation for a title, wasn’t it?

When J and I got married last summer, I kept my last name (and he kept his). I always meant to keep my name if I got married, and though it was tempting to change to something French-sounding just to simplify my life, I knew I could never really give up my good old Irish last name.

I definitely get the impression that keeping your name is a much more recent phenomenon in France (perhaps like women’s suffrage?). But I may be biased, because my mom kept her name, and I knew other women who did so as well, so I grew up just thinking that was the normal state of things. In France, among my colleagues I know women who have hyphenated, but no one who has just kept their name. Lots of people asked me at the rentrée what I was changing it to, and when I said it was staying the same, a few said, “Tu as raison!” But it does feel pretty rare. Friends who were at our wedding invited me to their wedding website as Eileen J’slastname, which I found odd considering a visit to facebook can show you that that’s not my name. But I remember now when I was addressing envelopes for our wedding invitations, J was very nonchalant about our invitee’s women partner’s last names, and I wish I’d forced him to be more careful.

We’re very purposefully not telling our bank that we got married, so that they can’t screw up my last name. I will remain “Mlle” there for the foreseeable future, though J pointed out that Mlle is no longer an official thing and shouldn’t even be an option at the bank. And since I got my nationality through naturalisation and not through marriage, and it came through before the wedding, there shouldn’t be any hiccups there (though I guess I should cross my fingers until I actually get my French birth certificate).

So I guess in the spirit of this discussion, I’m wondering what everyone else’s experience is out there. Did you keep yours? Would you keep yours? What about hyphenation or Zoe Saldana-style name changing in the other direction? What are everyone’s attitudes around you? I’m not sure J’s family is aware I’ve kept mine (though I did tell his mom before the wedding that I was going to), and I am slightly worried someone might buy me a plane ticket in the wrong name some day (not kidding, this happened to my mother on a family trip).

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17 thoughts on ““Keeping” Your Name (in France)

  1. I didn’t change my last name which was entirely uncontroversial with my side the family (and my with my husband). However, my inlaws still introduce me with my husband’s last name after all these year and I find it irritating.

    • Yes, I think my family actually would have been surprised if I’d changed. And I’m not sure his is even aware I didn’t. They may end up doing like your in-laws. Only time will tell.

  2. My titre de sejour will always say my J’s last name. On our joint account, I have his last name. Other than that? Nothing does. Even my shiny new French driver’s license doesn’t say his name. Honestly, I can’t be bothered going through the steps to change my last name especially when it comes to American things. I almost did for my passport as I was renewing mine, but then got worried about it having a different name than all my other American things. At least here in France, I have the option to put his name or not as there’s no official name change like in the US.

    When I was at the hospital, some people addressed me by my last name, others his (I’m currently on his insurance). It was random. I just basically answer to either.

    I don’t particularly have strong feelings about it either way.

    • Interesting. It sounds like you’re pretty down with being Mme Hislastname. It is nice in France that you never really give up your original name. That surprises me though about the drivers license! I would think they would want it to match your official ID card.

      • It doesn’t bother me if people put his last name. If I can remember for the driver license form, they only asked for maiden name. I don’t remember there being “nom d’usage”. Even whenever I called the national call center to check on it, they only asked for maiden name. I just thought it might have his last name as I gave a copy of my titre de sejour.

  3. It’s not very well-known (especially since so many businesses here insist on using your married name), but legally you never actually change your name in France, you just have a “nom d’usage” or “nom d’époux/épouse”. So you always keep your nom de jeune fille and you just ‘use’ your husband’s name, but your last name will still always appear first on your carte d’identité, passport, etc, with your husband’s name underneath.

    I use C’s name in France just because I wanted a more French last name for work, but otherwise I didn’t really care either way. I didn’t bother changing anything in the US, seemed like too much hassle, especially when my name is still on all of my French docs.

    • Yes, I was aware of how name-“changing” works in France, though we did have to explain that to J’s mother who didn’t realize it (which seems surprising given, as you said, that maiden names are practically everywhere…). But I actually don’t want to be Mme Hislastname on any document. Though people calling me by that name doesn’t bother me, I do worry they might think that’s actually my name, and hence, someday, I’ll have an unusable plane ticket.

      I definitely get the French-ness thing though. If I were any less attached to my own last name I would have considered it.

  4. I’m “keeping” mine because a) I really like it and it goes well with my first name b) Understanding Frenchman’s family name is funny in English and c) for all the usual feminist reasons. I think it’s slightly less common to do that in France than in the UK, but not much.

    I was also going to point out what Ksam said, and another thing that I really like in France is that the man has the option to take his wife’s name (but UFM was categorically not up for that!).

    • Thanks for sharing. Mine also goes really well with my first name. And yay for the usual feminist reasons! In the States anyone can change their name to anything they want, though it’s only free one time (there may be variations on that in every state of course). I have a friend who took his mom’s last name starting in college.

      I didn’t suggest changing names to J. I think it requires an Irish-American identity to want to have my last name, and the French don’t really get that. Also, they have trouble pronouncing it the first time they see it, even though it’s SUPER EASY to pronounce. I never give it in restaurants.

  5. I’ve never particularly liked my last name (it’s not terrible, but I don’t love it), but I guess if/when I get married, I’d keep it for feminist reasons. Plus the boyfriend’s last name is one of those French names that probably sounds pretty if you don’t speak French, but not if you do, so it wouldn’t tempt me to change!

    • I totally get how it could depend on the names in question. I liked J’s and would be perfectly happy taking it if that didn’t involve giving up mine, or making an insane five-syllable hyphenated thing.

  6. L says:

    I did not change my name when I got married, and neither did my husband 😉
    My in-laws are still a bit confused about it, and I would say more French friends assumed I had changed my name than American friends (although I was recently invited to an American wedding with my husband’s last name). Like you, I grew up with female family members who did not change their name, so it was a normal option for me.

    A few French administrations have been completely befuddled when I tell them I am married but DO NOT have a nom d’epoux (“Mais Madame, je suis obligé de remplir le champ”). I’ve ended up telling them to just put my nom de naissance twice. When I went for my carte d’identité and French passport I had to sign a piece of paper for each document stating that I did indeed chose to only have my nom de naissance on the documents and no it was not a mistake. Clearly the assumption in France is that when I woman marries she will either adopt her husband’s name or she will hyphenate her name. I’ve also noticed that most French women with hyphenated names but their husband’s name first, which I find odd because I would have thought a chronological order more logical (maiden-married).

    Occasionally I’ll reserve at a restaurant or hotel under my last name and we we arrive they use it with my husband, which gives us both a kick. My husband loves the story of Zoe Saldana’s husband and thinks more men should use their wives’ last names.

    • That is all really interesting to know, and I will be on the alert when I apply for my French papers. Thanks for the tip about filling in nom de naissance twice. I can imagine that question otherwise just ending in a stare-down.

      Unfortunately for J I never reserve any restaurants under my full last name because it takes too long to explain on the phone and they always screw it up… so he will never have the joy of being Mr. Me.

  7. I’ve noticed the hyphenating with the husband’s name first, which I also find odd, but maybe it’s so that if forms aren’t long enough, it’s just the husband’s that appears?

    I feel like you (and most of the other people who commented) know this, but just to add my experience, my husband took mine as “nom d’usage”, and our son has mine/ours. A large part of it was he doesn’t feel particularly attached to the Moroccan identity of his name, and part of it was just, well, why not? While we initially had issues at the bank because their forms wouldn’t allow for a man to have two names, we worked around it, and everything else is cool with using his “nom d’usage” even if sometimes we need to actually print out the law to show them yes, it is possible. My carte de séjour has only ever had my name. The only place that seems to insist on using his name for both of us is French taxes, despite checking the box every year to use his “nom d’usage”. For Luxembourg taxes/sécu, it just took one letter to explain, and they just kept everything in our birth names, though I think officially our file is under his name.

    His mom was against either of us “changing” our names, since she went through a divorce and it was apparently super annoying to change everything back. My mom kept hers when she married my dad for the same reason, having changed it with her first husband. My dad is pretty happy about his grandson having his name, and Ben’s dad thinks it’s cool his grandson has a “American” name, lol. Most of his family accepts it as one of my foreign quirks, and considering most of them have either a long Moroccan or Polish or Italian name, they are maybe slightly jealous of how short mine is, haha.

    Next fun adventure will be his American green card, since both names are on his passport, but it’d be nice to have just our name on all his documents . . .

    • Yes, SO cool about your last name. Also, I think your the combination first + last for your baby boy sounds like real star material. 😉

      It would irritate me though that so many government agencies insist on keeping your husband’s name on everything!

      My name does not have any shortness advantage. But as a teacher, your last name becomes your identity for most of your waking time, so it was important for me in that way too to keep it.

  8. I never commented on this but I love that so many have! It’s just so blatantly sexist that in France a woman almost always has to fill in a nom d’usage. Good on you for keeping your last name, I plan to do so if the moment ever arises 🙂

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