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Better Together

When my husband and I got married, neither of us automatically assumed that I would take his last name, Palmer. We are both progressive thinkers with rebellious tendencies, and the whole idea of taking my husband’s name just felt like a sacrifice of my identity, all for the sake of tradition. Plus, I liked my last name, and there was something unsettling about changing it after a quarter of a century living as a Hunt.

My husband, who’s probably more of a feminist than I am, offered to take my name. But that didn’t feel right, either. I wanted our names to represent us both, and we both truly wanted the sense of unity that comes with sharing a family name. My husband felt no particular attachment to carrying on his last name. His father was never around when he was growing up and he hasn’t heard from him in over 10 years, so he embraced the idea of forming a “new clan.” (It must have been a Mel Gibson-Braveheart-guy thing.)

While we were more than thrilled with our decision, we never imagined that our friends and family would have such strong — and negative — reactions.

We talked about using a hyphen to join our two names but felt that those names just looked like titles of corporations: “Hi, my name is Susie Proctor-Gamble.”

Then we considered the combination names, where you sacrifice certain letters to create an entirely new word, but our options were pretty bizarre. Did we really want to be known as the Halmers or the Pants?

Finally I read about a couple with the last names Green and Smith, who ended up putting them together to become the Greensmiths. Genius. It rolled off the tongue and sounded completely normal. And our last names were generic enough on their own that they could work together, too. We tried out the two possible combinations and ultimately found that Huntpalmer flowed much more nicely compared to Palmerhunt. (Plus, selfishly I liked the idea of an H monogram versus a P.) Problem solved. Shortly after our wedding we had our names legally changed to Bryn and Richard Huntpalmer. When the judge finally referred to us as the Huntpalmers, it felt natural, and we excitedly assumed our new names. Our daughter is now the world’s firstborn who shares our name.

While we were more than thrilled with our decision, we never imagined that our friends and family would have such strong — and negative — reactions. My mother-in-law was personally offended that my husband would no longer carry on his father’s name. “I get that Bryn might be a modern woman, but couldn’t she just keep her name instead?” she asked. It didn’t even occur to her that my husband wanted to change his name. And to this day when she sends mail, if it’s to both of us she will address it correctly, but if it is just for my husband, she uses his former name. My dad and stepmother, meanwhile, never actually voiced their disapproval, but I can tell they find it odd as well; they too refuse to address mail to me correctly. I don’t let it bother me, though: whenever I get another package addressed to Bryn Hunt, I just roll my eyes and move on.

While several of our single friends really liked the idea and even began playing around with different ways to combine their own names with their current partners’, others clearly thought we were weird. Some even made jabs at my husband for somehow “sacrificing his manhood” to our marriage. Luckily, my husband just shook it all off, since most of his friends were simply concerned about how this would affect the college nicknames they had for him; once he assured them that they could still call him “Palmer” or “RP,” they moved on.

I will admit to being surprised at the reactions we’ve gotten, especially from family. While our solution was certainly untraditional, we’re not alone. Now that I have a combined last name myself, it seems I’ve been noticing them more and more in other couples. The mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, for example, was born a Villar but combined his last name with that of his wife, Corina Raigosa. Like my husband, Villaraigosa grew up with an unreliable father and remains estranged from him today. I guess the stereotypical male desire to carry on the family name doesn’t really apply when the man who gave you that name isn’t worthy of being remembered. Why not turn over a new leaf and create your own heritage? Flush out the bad and start anew? My husband has said that our decision to create a new name entirely empowered him; he feels better starting our family without the bad memories associated with his father’s name.

Many people have asked me how being a “Huntpalmer” affects me day to day. Honestly, once I got over the initial adjustment period of remembering to sign with my new name and updating all of my credit cards (which would have happened even if I had just taken my husband’s name), the hardest part has been needing to slowly spell my name out every time it’s required. (Two years later, I have my spiel down to, “It’s Huntpalmer, all one word, H-u-n-t-p-a-l-m-e-r, no hyphen.”) Mostly, I just look forward to the day when my little girl asks about her last name. I will proudly explain the thoughtful decision her father and I made to honor both of our pasts while celebrating our union and the future of our family. A name is what you make of it — and I’m glad my husband and I chose to make ours together.

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