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All About Gay Weddings

Do gay people change their names when they get married?

I live in Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal, and I’m confused as to how gays and lesbians decide what family name to go by. I know it’s only been a couple of years since gay marriage became legal, but is there a “new” tradition?

Certainly, the predominant custom to date for same-sex couples is for each to keep his or her name, but this is by no means always the case. There are actually a number of other choices open to us, too — none of which I imagine will shock you.

By the way, it’s worth noting that when a lesbian or gay couple does make a name change (or two), it has little to do with the type of religious or civil ceremony they choose — or whether or not the marriage is legal in the eyes of the government. If anything, it reflects a couple’s views on the symbolic component of a family name, which is to say their public identity.

Here are the four basic options available:

  1. No change: Frank Roberts and Mack Stasio simply stay Frank Roberts and Mack Stasio. With no patriarchal default and no weight of history or tradition, this is what most same-sex couples choose to do. The downside is that you don’t have the instant family identity that sharing a surname confers.
  2. Hyphenate names: A dual last name proclaims publicly that you have merged into a family unit. Giselle Ullman and Jeanne Basile become Giselle and Jeanne Ullman-Basile (or Basile-Ullman). There’s no rule as to whose name goes first; most couples make the decision based on how the new name sounds to them.
  3. One partner takes the other’s name: Some gay couples opt to choose between their family names. For instance, Ariel Sexton and Arturo Gomez might become Ariel and Arturo Gomez. This is an especially good option when kids are involved.
  4. Choose a brand-new name: Creating a new last name by combining family names is a viable option and not that uncommon. It generally involves more legal work for the couple, not to mention a little extra effort from friends and family to remember.

Now, to answer the question you didn’t ask: How do you know what name they will go by? If it’s not clear from their stationery or a newspaper wedding announcement, or if they haven’t said anything, don’t be shy — ask!

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