mythbusting.

not to perseverate on the whole last-name thing, but i feel like i need to clarify something.

in the last two months, i’ve had several conversations with engaged or married women about whether or not they’re changing their last names, and twice i’ve heard this:

“i’ve heard that keeping your last name can make it hard to travel internationally with your children.”

this struck me as peculiar for several reasons:

1. my mom kept her last name. when i was growing up, we traveled as a family into, out of, and around the following countries:

the united states
canada
taiwan
south korea
japan
france
austria
the united kingdom
belgium
holland
spain

we did a good amount of international travel, and not once did my mother’s last name cause a problem for us. not once. i never even heard anyone mention it. and this was in the ’80s and ’90s, when women kept their last names far less often than they do now.

2. women changing their last names after marriage is a distinctly north american and western european custom. chinese and korean women keep their last names after marriage. women in most latin american countries do as well. in russia, husbands and wives rarely have the same last name. these are just a few examples, and people from all of these countries travel internationally with their kids. buying into the aforementioned myth seems to imply one of two thoughts: “the world does things this way, and deviating from it will cause problems” or “i can be progressive here, but other places might not be so progressive.” neither of these thoughts is true.

3. as my friend dave pointed out, it’s a little short-sighted to make a decision about your name — your identity — based on an event that may or may not happen in the future. your name follows you everywhere — your conversations, your phone calls, your email, your facebook, your mail, your bills, your bank accounts, your credit card, your pay stub, everywhere. meanwhile, the average american does not travel internationally with their children all that often. so letting this myth dictate the discussion doesn’t make a lot of sense. if it worries you so much, you can always bring along a copy of your kids’ birth certificates when you travel overseas. it’s really as simple as that.

for these reasons, i’m a little mystified that this myth seems to be so pervasive. a tiny part of me even wonders if it’s a fear tactic to scare women into keeping the status quo. (cue scene from a lifetime movie in which customs agents tear a woman away from her children in a foreign country — not for having drugs or weapons but for… keeping her last name!) but honestly, i don’t care whether a woman keeps or changes her last name as long as she puts some thought into it. i just don’t think this myth be the deciding factor, because really, it’s not a thing.

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