What's in a name?

When my girlfriend (now wife) and I were talking about getting married, the question of what we would do with our last names seemed to come up quite a bit. Mostly, the questions were related to whether or not she was going to take my last name of McGee. In our culture it’s the norm for a woman to take the man’s last name so much so that some people even expect it. Each culture has its own way of choosing a family name. My wife and I aren’t firm believers in tradition for tradition’s sake, so we talked a lot about what we would like to do with our last names.

The Choices

My original last name: McGee
Her original last name: Kolberg

  1. She takes my last name
  2. I take her last name
  3. Neither of us changes our name
  4. We hyphenate our last names (hers first, mine first, or original last name first for each of us)
  5. We take a last name and put the other last name as a second middle name for each of us (ie: Austin Daniel Kolberg McGee)
  6. We combine our two last names into a mashup of our two original names (ie: KolGee, McBerg, etc)
  7. We combine the letters of our last names in a scrabble type way to make up a new name
  8. We make up a completely new last name

The Reasoning

Right away, we knew that neither of us wanted to do option 1 or 2. The origin of a woman taking a man’s name is not a particularly happy one. As a tradition it’s moved away from the origin, but we still didn’t want to do it anyway. I didn’t want to take her name because I quite like McGee and the genesis of the name. Neither of us had a problem with option 3 except we both really wanted to have the same last name. It’s annoying to have people assume that you have the same last name when you don’t which was already happening to my wife before we were even married. We also had to deal with small things like not being able to have both of our names on the call box at our apartment. At our apartment complex, deliveries must be addressed to the person on the callbox, which meant that whenever I ordered something I had to address it to my wife. We decided that if we couldn’t come up with an agreement, not changing our last names would be the fallback that we’d both be ok with, but it wasn’t our preference.

Neither of us particularly liked the idea of hyphenating our names. We didn’t like how it’d look and it didn’t solve the problem of whose name would come first. Option 5 had the same problem (unless you come out with the awesome name of Troy Adam West Lawlor, of course), so we nixed that as well.

That left us with options 6, 7, and 8. I don’t think we ever seriously considered option 8 as we didn’t have any ideas that sounded like us. We define ourselves by our last names, so it was hard to think of giving them up entirely. We had kidded about doing option 6, but the names that we could come up with didn’t seem to fit either. They seemed lighthearted or frivolous instead of being awesome.

The Favorite

When we looked at option 7 (the scrambling of names together to create an entirely new name), it fit all of the criteria we wanted in a last name. We got to keep parts of both of our birth names, we would have the same last name, and we’d come up with something that both of us would like. We sat in a bar on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, Ashley drinking Baileys and me drinking Jura scotch, and wrote down all of the combinations of our names that we could come up with. We eliminated them one by one until we found the one we liked the most. Using Kolberg and McGee as the origin of the letters, we came up with Kelmore.

We didn’t immediately decide to change our names, even after we had the name picked out. I make big decisions at a glacial pace, so it was a month or more before I decided to go through with it. Filling out the paperwork (a LOT of paperwork) and going in front of a judge at the courthouse to get it legally approved finalized the whole process.

A Year Later

It’s been almost a year since we changed our last names. It took a while to get used to the change, but I definitely feel like a Kelmore now. I’ve come to really like our shared last name. We seem to be the only people in the world with it, and yet it sounds like an Irish last name (of which we’re both descendents from). When we’ve told people about our choice, we’ve gotten responses ranging from: “That’s awesome!” to a family member calling me their greatest disappointment. It’s a strange mix of reactions.

I’m writing this post mostly so that people know that there are other choices out there. When I told one of my coworkers, he didn’t realize what we did was even an option, and now he and his fiance are planning on making up an entirely new last name when they get married. Choosing the traditional method of taking the man’s last name is not a bad choice, but thinking about your options first is always a good idea. Choose what you think is best for you and your partner, you’re going to have that name for a while.