The Name Game – or Why I Decided to Take His Last Name.

One of the things that has popped up while wedding planning has been the name game. Who takes whose last name?


(The above phrase seems to be pretty popular on Pinterest,  and it made me laugh when I saw it!)

First of all, disclaimer: I support the right to choose. Whether you’ve taken his last name, hyphenated, kept your maiden name, he’s taken your name, you combine your name into one, or you end up with a completely different last name altogether, I think that’s great! These are modern times, and all of the old traditions don’t really apply anymore these days. It’s not as important to carry on a family name as it was in the past, and most of us aren’t royalty who don’t really have a choice in the matter. (Although who really knows any royalty’s last names, anyway!?)

Here in Germany, there isn’t quite as much freedom with the name choices as there is in the US. There’s no Princess Consuela Bananahammock, as Phoebe in Friends decided on, faced with wonder at all of the possibilities when the man at the registrar’s office told her she could choose any name she wanted. On a similar note, even naming newborn babies is regulated here, and you won’t end up with any names like Peaches Honeyblossom, Tallulah Pine, Sage Moonblood, or Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen. None of that here. In fact, baby names must be gender-specific and on a list of approved names! But I digress.

So for German law, you’ve got four easy choices when you get married. 1) Both of you keep your own names, 2) she takes his name, 3) he takes her name, 4) or you can hyphenate both names, but only the woman has a hyphenated name, and then the children get only the husband’s last name, as hyphenation cannot be passed down.

With those choices available, the current trend is to keep your own names, which in my opinion is great when both partners have a professional life in which their name is essentially their brand. That’s probably why celebrities often keep their own names. I don’t know anything about their real choice, but can you imagine Angelina Pitt or even Brad Jolie? Not likely. And in Germany, keeping your maiden name seems to be the cool thing to do, though it is also practical because most couples who get married are already in their mid- to late-thirties and already have an identity built up around their names.

Enter my decision: I have decided to take his name. There are definitely pros and cons for me, which I plan to explain here. Let’s start with the cons, since for me, the pros outweighed the cons enough to make the change.

Cons of giving up Gilmour

  1. Gilmour is a nice name, and I can’t help but smile every time people compare it to the Gilmore Girls. Plus, Sarah Gilmour is also the name of a model whose famous father, David Gilmour, is a member of Pink Floyd, so it will probably drive down my blog hits when I change my name. (Kidding!)
  2. It’s higher up in the alphabet, and my new last name will move me down to S, the 19th letter of the alphabet. It’s not a big deal, though, but it probably means we’ll be waiting a bit longer to watch our kids graduate from school, as those kinds of things are usually done in alphabetical order.
  3. After I got engaged, I started to feel nostalgic about my maiden name. It is kind of a weird feeling to give it up…
  4. My new initials will be SMS, which is what Germans say for text messages. They’ve even made a verb out of it: simsen. “Ich hab dich gesimst!” I once heard a German friend of mine say. And if you shorten it to just the first name and last name, SS is not really a great letter combination here, considering German history…
  5. Everybody knows my heritage. They can automatically see that I’m not German, and though 9 times out of 10, people guess I’m from England (God knows why…), at least they can see that I’m not from around here before I even open my mouth.
  6. Paperwork. I am soooo not looking forward to that. Especially changing the American stuff, where they won’t know what an umlaut is or how to use it, and I will likely have the same problems as Tobi has had with different versions of his name floating around out there – Stäbler, Staebler, Stabler. People without umlauts in their alphabet just don’t understand how it works.
  7. Gilmour is easier to pronounce than Stäbler. As hard as I try, I just can’t get that ä without sounding Schwäbisch (a dialect from Stuttgart, where his family comes from). And my mother told me the other day that she also has trouble with it and could use some pronunciation lessons on my soon-to-be new last name. Ha!

Pros of choosing Stäbler

  1. Growing up, I always assumed I’d take my husband’s name. Yes, that’s the traditional thing to do, and that’s likely  why I dreamed of it as a kid. But for me it’s a nice idea to have a family with one name, where it’s clear to people that we belong together. And we won’t have any difficult decisions later on on what to name the kids.
  2. Sarah Stäbler acutally sounds really nice. I pronounce my first name the American way, and Stäbler the German way. It just has a nice ring to it!
  3. It will fit in my passport. Since I am not hyphenating my last name, I won’t end up with something ridiculously long to fill out on forms, like Sarah Michelle Gilmour-Stäbler. My fingers got tired just from typing that!
  4. Tobi is already really well-known in his business with his own last name, and even though he thought Tobias Gilmour sounded really cool (by the way, it’s pronounced Toe-BEE-us, not Toe-BYE-us), it’s good for him not to have to change his name. Although I think he would have been willing to, had I insisted, and that is really cool of you, Tobi!
  5. Okay, so the language nerd in me comes out: I freaking LOVE the idea of having an umlaut in my name! Apart from the stress of it when dealing with non-German speakers (see #7 above), I just think it’s so awesome to have a character in my name that doesn’t exist in my own language. Besides, it could be worse – saying “it’s like an ‘a’ with two dots over it” is easier than trying to explain the Eszett (ß)…”it’s like a capital B with a long tail, and it’s pronounced like an S”… One of my friends saw the address on my wedding invitations and thought it was actually a “p”. Peter, my best friend and fellow language nerd, took great pains in writing a beautiful Eszett in my street address on a recent card he sent me, and he pointed it out to me so I could admire his handiwork. So anyway, yes. Ä is cool!

So even though I have a few more cons than pros, the point that carries the most weight is having the same family name. And for me, it’s a nice way of combining our cultures and accepting that Germany is a really big part of my life right now and, with a German spouse, will be in the future.

What is your personal preference about changing your name? Did you run into any initials trouble like my SMS, or my mom whose maiden name Susan Arlene Wood had her initials change from SAW to SAG when she got married…? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


8 thoughts on “The Name Game – or Why I Decided to Take His Last Name.

  1. Hi Sarah, I really like your post. It is nicely written and covers everything you need to know about German names etc. I am from Germany myself and my last name has an Umlaut in it. As I am living in the UK at the moment I know what you are talking about. My partner recently adviced me not not use ‘ue’ instead of ‘ü’ in my job application to make life easier for future employers, because he thinks the ‘ü’ is part of my identity. The problem is that people then change the ‘ü’ to ‘u’ and not my prefered replacement ‘ue’, but I think I have to live with that until we will get married. I am old fashioned as well and of course I would like to take my partner’s name. Another pro (at least for me that is): His name does not contain any Umlaute. ;-) Best wishes from the UK, Katja!

      • Cool! Thanks for stopping by, Katja! Hamburg is such a beautiful city…I really love it!

        The umlaut thing sure is a tricky subject. Funny that I’m excited to get one and you’re excited to get rid of it! The thing people don’t realize is that if you take the umlaut away, it totally changes the pronunciation unless you add the extra “e” after it!

  2. I love hearing your thoughts on your decision. I’m already dreading the day (very far in the future) when I will have to wade through my own naming decisions!

  3. Back in the early 1900s, when my great-grandfather immigrated from Kiel to the USA, my last name was spelled with an ‘üh’ in it. Along the way, it got changed to ‘ueh’ — pretty common for immigrants from German-speaking countries. But that combination (in the middle of the word, not at a syllable break) tends to confuse Americans for some reason. They look at my last name and guess and are usually off by a mile.

    Except now that I live in Germany, locals tend to try to spell it with ü instead of ue…but that’s not the name in my passport.

    I know a couple local native Germans (well, they live in Nürnberg and Frankfurt, so ‘local’ is relative) with ‘ue’ and ‘oe’ combinations in their official names, and not ‘ü’ or ‘ö’ — even though they are pronounced the same as the ‘ü’ and ‘ö’ varieties. They, like I, are constantly correcting (other) Germans’ reflexes to correct our non-umlauted vowels to the umlauted ones. It’s kind of a pain, but there are worse things in life.

    Maybe you should teach all your non-German peeps the ‘ae’ version of your last name from the get-go, just so they never ever get into the habit of spelling it ‘Stabler’ — that would really get on my nerves.

    With the Umlaut? Super.
    With the ‘ae’ spelling? Also fine!
    Just a bare-a? Not good.

    • I hadn’t thought of the opposite problem – that people without umlauts in their name have trouble with Germans putting an umlaut in! Funny. You’re right, the name thing can be frustrating, but there are worse things in life.

      I figure for me, I already have people misspelling Gilmour as the much more popular Gilmore. I automatically spell my name for people before even saying what it is, but somehow people still spell it wrong!

      Sarah is also apparently an issue here in Germany, as most of my students have spelled it “Sahra.” I’m like, what the…?

      That’s a good idea to teach my American friends/family Staebler. I think they’ll be more likely to pronounce it more correctly that way, too. Don’t want to end up with STAB-ler, like stabbing people. Hah! It’s pronounced like “stapler”, with a B instead of a P.

  4. Well for me, when I married my husband, I took his last name (he’s French) and it didn’t go over so well, maybe because I’m a man too and men changing their last name for marriage is still something more or less taboo in the US lol (or it could have been the whole same sex marriage thing LOL). Personally, my (former) last name in France was too hard for people to say (Carrington) and since we live in France I though it makes sense that I would take my husbands last name, for that an all the other reasons you mentioned as well (esp. in regards to kids later on lol) now hearing my US family pronouce my new last name is funny lol

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