s a marriage celebrant, the question same sex couples ask me most is whether one of them needs to change their last name, after they’ve got married.
The short answer is ‘no’. In Victoria and, in fact, right across Australia, there’s no legal rule that says people must change their name after marriage.
But lots of same sex couples are still confused about this. It’s something most of us have never had to consider because, until 2017, it was illegal for us in the LGBTIQ+ community to get married.
In Australia, around 80% of straight women choose to take their husband’s last name when they get married.
And for those who wish to change their name in Victoria, it’s a simple process. Here are the steps:
Find out more on How To Get Married in Australia – For LGBT Couples
In several same sex couples I’ve married, one party adopted the partner’s last name because their own blood family was so awful – they were homophobic or transphobic or biphobic. The partner’s family were embracing and represented a place for a new and safe beginning. To take on their last name was part of that process of becoming not only part of a new entity but also of escaping to a new safe place.
There are no official data about how many same sex married couples are changing their last name. But my experience is that changing their last name is something most of the same sex couples I’ve married don’t want to do. And they’ve got a range of reasons for that.
It’s too traditional and old-fashioned
Some likened taking their married partner’s name to being reduced to a piece of property. It reminded them of how countrywomen used to put their name on the bottom of their cake dishes when they went to CWA meetings or Ladies’ Guild afternoons to make sure they were retrievable. Same sex couples see taking their married partner’s last name as heteronormative, patriarchal, traditional, archaic and old-fashioned.
For many LGBTIQ+ couples, taking their partner’s last name makes no sense to them. It doesn’t make any material difference to their lives or their relationship. For some, having argued and fought for marriage equality for so long, they found it difficult to explain why they’d want to suddenly follow heteronormative naming conventions.
Other same sex couples saw one of the married partners taking on the last name of the other as complying with a stereotype – ie something almost all married straight couples do without thinking about or without discussing.
It indicates gender-based roles
Some male same sex couples viewed it as feeling like one of them would be taking on a subservient ‘wifey’ role – something they simply didn’t want to convey, as it wasn’t how they live their lives.
It makes no difference
For many, the age at which they got married, later in life, when they were well known as a couple in their careers and social lives, mean that a name change after marriage was just unnecessary. As they put it, “we are who we are, and everyone knows that”.
If we do want to change our names, let’s play!
Since marriage equality became law, same sex couples who want to change their last names haven’t been shy in coming up with a myriad of options to do so. And lots are exercising those options. Here’s a selection.
Honouring the dead
Some same sex couples have changed their last names to those of people in their families who’ve gone before them. Feisty matriarchs whose drive, energy and politics they admired have lent their names to LGBTIQ+ descendants who wanted to honour them. Dead closeted gay men who could never come out in their time have had their names revived, to give them due respect now in a time when it’s easier to do so.
Some same sex couples have added each other’s middle names rather than swap middle names or last names. For example, Jane Louise Tranh and Xi Sarah Cheung became Jane Louise Sarah Tranh and Xi Sarah Louise Cheung.
It’s all about the angle
Some same sex couples have changed their last names because they liked the symmetry of their changed names in preference to that they would have endured if they’d kept their old names.
Same-sex weddings are notorious for how fun, vibrant, emotional and out of the box they are.
Make a mark
Some same sex couples have simply hyphenated their last names. Others think that hyphenation is cumbersome or haven’t liked the ‘posh’ sound that hyphenating provides and so have created an entirely new entity – eg Smith and Jones became Smones or Jonith.
When we got married, my husband and I retained our original last names. But, when it came to our pet dog, we registered him at the vet with a hyphenated version of our last names. I’ve heard of other same sex couples who’ve done the same – it signifies the importance of fur babies to LGBTIQ+ couples. To us, it’s a demonstration to others – in this case, the vet – that we and our dog are equally connected.
Non, non, non!
Finally, it’s important to note that changing names is not allowed by some countries / provinces – eg France, Quebec, Italy, lots of Latin American countries, either by strong societal traditions and expectations or by law. In other countries, states and provinces have made it difficult to change them by putting in place bureaucratic hurdles.