“So we’re really doing it?” I asked Joel.
“I guess we’re doing it!”
“Okay, here it goes.”
Click. And just like that, our marriage license application, submitted virtually in COVID times via the NYC City Clerk’s online portal, created a brand-new surname for us both: Goldshore.
When Joel and I got married in October, we did something that almost no one we knew had done: We blended our last names.
This idea had been on our minds well before we started thinking about marriage. It kind of started as a joke. My last name was Shoretz and his was Goldschlag, so we started casually asking ourselves, “What about Goldshore? Just kidding… unless…” The more we contemplated it, the less reason we saw not to do it.
Part of our decision was that no other choice felt quite right. As a kid who identified as a feminist — largely fostered by my mom, who taught Sociology of Marriage and the Family to college students and taught me to just say no to Barbie — I had always assumed I would keep my name. I thought taking my future husband’s name would be akin to being swallowed by the patriarchy, relinquishing my identity to someone else.
But even though my mom kept her maiden name, my parents gave us our father’s last name, and, throughout my school years, my mom often answered to Mrs. Shoretz for the sake of ease. Joel’s mom also kept her maiden name, but after a decade of extra-long Israeli airport security sessions stemming from her having a different name from her children, she ultimately changed her name to Goldschlag.
When I asked my mom if she ever felt burdened having to juggle multiple names, she said, “I like having a backup name if I ever need to make a quick getaway. Plus, I get twice as many raffle entries!” While amused by this Classic Jewish Mother response, I bristled at the thought of clinging to a version of myself that would frequently be confused or ignored. Instead of a feminist statement, the prospect of keeping my name began to feel like playing a losing game, in which my version of myself would end up being upstaged by my identity as a wife and, hopefully someday, a mother.
Hyphenation presented its own challenges, not the least of which was the clunky one-two punch of Shoretz-Goldschlag (or Goldschlag-Shoretz, no less of a mouthful). We figured it best to spare our future children the burden of bubbling in all 18 characters on standardized tests. We even thought about keeping our names professionally and giving said future children the name Goldshore, but we feared three last names would be hard to manage. And given that I never considered taking Joel’s name, nor did he expect me to, it didn’t feel right to ask him to consider taking mine.
So name blending it was. We never seriously considered other name combos. Though our families and friends teased us (“Why not Shoreschlag? What about Schlagetz?”), Goldshore was the smoothest, most aesthetically pleasing and easiest-to-spell choice, a respite from a lifetime of “no, it’s actually sCh” (and yes, that’s six consonants in a row, l-d-s-c-h-l) and envelopes addressed to Lily Shortez, Shortz, Cortez, Suarez, and other literal misnomers.
Still, it felt like a radical move. Despite the logic, name blending is a rare phenomenon. For straight couples, any option other than the woman taking her husband’s name is relatively uncommon. Only about 20% of women in the U.S. today keep their maiden names, a percentage that has barely budged since the ‘70s, whereas a 2018 study revealed that under 3% of men took their wives’ last name upon marriage. The very term “maiden name” is inherently feminine, with no widely recognized masculine equivalent.
In an increasingly egalitarian society, this is a pretty staggering double standard. Names don’t necessarily have to hold all of your identity, but they’re undoubtedly significant. The fact that so many women change their names and so few men do reflects the concept of marriage as a fundamental shift in identity for women — the transformation from Miss to Mrs. — and not for men.
The (heteronormative) question regularly posed on bridal sites — to take his name or to keep your own? — indicates a larger illusion of choice that women are presented with. Going through my own assessment of options, I thought of all the ways women are presented with “options”: to have children, to have a career, to wear makeup. The idea that it’s all just personal preference, like ordering chicken or fish off a menu, belies the way in which every choice is culturally dictated and inevitably judged. The fact that most women still go through the complicated ordeal of taking their husband’s names demonstrates that the cultural hurdle to defy these norms might be even greater than the bureaucratic one.
Eager to talk with someone else who had created a new last name, I emailed the only person I knew, a friend from my college a cappella group who had created an entirely new last name with his husband. He responded within a few hours with his organized (bullet-pointed!) thought process. “We both liked the idea of establishing a new identity as a family together,” he wrote, “which may be especially meaningful to me because it wasn’t so long ago that hardly anyone recognized or approved of gay couples.”
I was struck by the sense of purpose with which he described their choice — the privilege to share a name with your partner and to be recognized as a unit. My friend and his husband, who got married before same-sex marriage was legal in all 50 states, didn’t have the same set of gender-based expectations that straight couples do. They were able to consider thoughtfully that getting married means creating a new family together.
This vision of marriage resonated with me and Joel. Having been together for more than a third of our lives, we questioned if and how marriage would feel any different. But becoming the Goldshores set the tone for a deliberate transition into a new phase of partnership. I was not subsumed into his identity; we forged our own path, joining two equal selves to make something new and uniquely us.
We think of Goldshore as a beautiful way to honor both of our family names, taking parts of each to make a new whole. Because our relationship began when we were teenagers, we have, in many ways, each been raised by both our sets of parents. Our name is a reflection of that shared history, and we hope our children will feel their name gives them a sense of equal connection to both the Shoretz and Goldschlag clans.
I embrace changing my name not as a loss but as a celebration. Creating our new married name was a performative act of becoming us: the moment we said yes to a life lived together, grabbed one another’s hand, and jumped into the unknown future, knowing only that we will create our world together. It was also, in a way, a vow of its own — to live our lives intentionally, authentically, as partners.