More Men Taking Wives’ Last Names

The newlyweds knew it would be surprising, but they never expected it to go quite so badly.

As Donna and Mike entered their wedding reception, an unwitting announcer told the expectant crowd, “Ladies and gentleman, put your hands together for the new Mr. and Mrs. Salinger!”

Some guests clapped, some chuckled at what they presumed was a joke and most looked at one another in confusion. The couple spent the entire reception and some of their honeymoon explaining to people what they had done.

The groom, you see, had started his day as Mike Davis and ended it by doing something precious few of his brothers-in-arms do: He took his wife’s last name instead of her taking his.

“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought it would have caused as much of a stir as it did,” says Mike Salinger, 27, of Seattle, who was married in November. “We knew people might be surprised, but we figured they’d say ‘Huh’ and get on with it.

“Three months later, I’m still taking (flak) from one of my college roommates.”

Breaking with the ‘norm’

The Salingers broke a patriarchal tradition so ingrained in American society that many women’s studies researchers have yet to study it.

“I’m sure somewhere there’s some anthropologist or someone who has looked at this, but I don’t know of any,” says Nancy Lutkehaus, chair of the Gender Studies program at the University of Southern California. “It hasn’t been a large enough social phenomenon that it’s hit the radar as something to be studied.”

That may be coming. The California Legislature is set to consider a bill this month that would allow men to change their surnames upon marriage as seamlessly as women now can. Only seven states now allow a man who wishes to alter his name after his wedding to do so without going through the laborious, frequently expensive legal process set out by the courts for any name change. Women don’t have to do so.

The bill is co-sponsored by the ACLU of California as a follow-up to a federal lawsuit the civil rights group filed in December on behalf of Michael Buday, a Los Angeles man who wants to take on his wife’s surname, Bijon, to show his affinity for his father-in-law. He accuses the state of gender discrimination for forcing him into the more complex process.

“We have the perfect marriage application for the 17th century,” says ACLU attorney Mark Rosenbaum, who is litigating the case. Buday did not respond to requests for an interview. “Every place Michael went, he had the door shut in his face or he was ridiculed.”

Mike Salinger, who said it cost him about $350 to change his name legally, concedes he changed his name “because I’m a big ole granola liberal and I wanted to tweak the tradition while showing my wife I love her.”

The ‘hyphenating’ option

But his and Buday’s approach is only one, and perhaps the boldest, possible variation. A more frequent — if not common — occurrence, wedding consultant Sharon Naylor says, is for both members of a couple to take on both last names.

“I’m seeing men and women discussing the possibility of hyphenating their names together more than I did before because both have a vested interest in keeping the last name they’ve built their careers under,” says Naylor, a New Jersey-based author of 32 books on weddings. “If the groom is considering it, there’s always a concern of ‘What will the people think at the office? What will my father think?’ “

Christopher Sclafani and Jeannie Rhee avoided the wedding-night scene the Salingers endured by instructing their deejay not to introduce them with their last names, but their decision to take on both names without a hyphen caused other problems. The new Christopher Sclafani Rhee was immediately and persistently called Mr. Rhee, which most people assumed was his whole last name.

“People could not handle the idea that a man had a two-part last name,” says the 34-year-old Washington, D.C., lawyer. “The first couple of months were incredibly jarring. Then we realized both are hard names to spell and to explain, so I just accepted this (Rhee) as my new last name.”

‘Turn in your man card’

Sam Van Hallgren, 32, co-host of the movie-review podcast Filmspotting, had to explain himself not just to his listeners but even to his co-host, Adam Kempenaar. Kempenaar was caught by surprise the first time Van Hallgren introduced himself at the top of their show with his new name. Van Hallgren was formerly Sam Hallgren until he wed Carrie Van Deest in August and they both took on the new, combined names.

Van Hallgren received a scathing note from a longtime listener with a subject line that read, “Sam, turn in your man card.” The listener asked what “sissy juice” the host was drinking.

The Van Hallgrens, who live in Milwaukee, say they did it for their future children. The idea of merging names, which Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also did when the former Antonio Villar wed the former Corina Raigosa in 1987, started out for Sam and Carrie as a joke. Then, while talking with a friend who was surprised Carrie would take Sam’s name, Sam first uttered the merged version and they both liked it.

“I feared that people would think I did it to suggest more people should do it,” he says. “But I didn’t. It just made sense for us.”



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