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Should I Have Taken my Wife's Name?


It took Shannon Berry a month and a half to handle the name change after the wedding. Getting a notarized copy of the marriage certificate from a circuit court judge is no trip through the drive-thru window. Registering the change with Social Security required five trips to the local office in Huntsville, Alabama. The credit card companies were impossible. “They thought I was trying to dodge bad credit,” Shannon says with a laugh.

It must have been the bushy beard and rumbling baritone that made the process extra difficult. It’s not every day that a man takes his wife’s name.

Isn’t it the person with the more abundant facial hair and deeper voice whose surname usually appears on driver’s licenses and return address labels? That didn’t affect Shannon Patterson, a father of two and a civilian analyst for the Army. Upon saying “I do,” he became Shannon Berry.

In the United States, as it is in most countries, the family identity is aligned with the father’s name. Then here comes this razor-phobic, cootie-riddled girly name-taker, tossing hundreds of years of patriarchal tradition like a garter into a pack of half-cocked groomsmen. What gives?

They debated the issue for six months prior to the nuptials. Should they hyphenate? Shannon didn’t like it. That little dash separates “us” into “her and him.” What about her becoming Patterson? That didn’t sit well with him either. “I didn’t feel it was fair to expect her to change her name without me considering changing mine.”

There was something else at play too. “My wife’s father died before we met,” Shannon says. “He had no brothers, and he had three girls. My father, on the other hand, had three brothers and four sons.”

As a tribute to her father, he became a Berry.

But you know what they say: You can’t make a new family tree without breaking a few branches. Friends thought it was silly. Should we address you as Mrs. and Mr. Berry? His family wasn’t amused. After the priest announced the name change, Shannon walked down the church aisle to greet his grandmother. “I’m going to kill you,” she said. Even little things like writing his signature tripped him up.

When they had their first child, everything made sense. “We aren’t divided by hyphens,” Shannon explains. “We’re a whole.”

Sons carry their father’s names from birth certificate to obituary. That’s the tradition. But isn’t it the bucking of tradition that’s brought fatherhood into the modern era? Dads choosing to stay home while Mom works, knowing how to mix formula, gay couples adopting: Once laughable, they are now part of the fabric of the 21st century family. Are we ready to accept the next cultural shift when it arrives? Is this it?

Call it brave. Call is comical. Shannon can handle either. Five trips to the Social Security office prepares you for pretty much anything.