Solving the marriage surname problem

Not that I ever intend to change my name at this point in my life, but this would be a great solution for me if it didn’t screw up the eponymous blog thing.

Jersey writers Alice Kirby and Larry Charny decided to marry in 1988, she refused to take his name, but so did he.

Kirby, 54, is a fiction writer and Charny, 48, is editor of The Story Prize. With a nod to the creative world of fiction, the couple abandoned their family names and adopted a new surname. Today, they are Alice and Larry Dark.

Smart. No muss, no fuss.

Many women keep their maiden names as a mark of independence. Still, an overwhelming 90 percent of all brides drop their surnames, according to the Lucy Stone League, named for the woman who refused to take her husband’s name in 1855.

But today, in a trend that is not new but growing, couples are constructing their own names — sometimes mixing syllables from both sides of the family and often just picking a name that has special meaning or rolls well off the tongue.

Kirby-Charny would have been a mouthful, notes Dark, who toyed with the sardonic moniker Dark Jr.

I am (and have always been) enough of a feminist that I think changing my name to match my husband’s would be a remnant of the days when women were physically the property of men (ergo the name change). Plus, I like the idea of both halves of the couple starting over. This makes a whole lot more sense than hyphenation.

Darcie Shapiro and Jeff Klein created a new name in preparation for their marriage in 2003. The New York City couple, both 28, constructed it from their mothers’ maiden names.

Darcie’s mother was born Behar and Jeff’s was Ruthberg. “Har” and “berg” mean mountain in Hebrew and German, respectively. So they opted for a blended name — Sharlein.

Darcie Sharlein, who is studying to be a Jewish cantor, said she never assumed she would take her husband’s name.

“It was important for us to have the same last name and one day our imaginary children would also have the name,” she said. “It was a way we could honor both families, a symbolic way of joining them together.”

Yep. I like this idea a whole lot. But at this point in time, I don’t ever see me changing my name. Not unless I have to perform some kind of life-changing act, have plastic surgery, and get a new identity through a black-ops agency of the U.S. government. Oh, wait. That never happens in real life. Yourish it is.

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17 Responses to Solving the marriage surname problem

  1. Many people will change the last name into Hebrew when they go on Aliyah. Originally, anyone who became a government official in Israel had to change their last name to Hebrew (such as Golda Meir)

    Golda Meir (Hebrew: גולדה מאיר‎, born Golda Mabovitz, May 3, 1898 – December 8, 1978), also known as Golda Myerson from 1917-1956

  2. Mike @ says:

    A nightmare for genealogists, for sure.

    Imagine tracking your roots with all the surname changes through several generations, and finding out that your cherished last name, that you thought it descended from a long line of famous rabbis, it was only a concoction made up by a meshuggah couple :-)

  3. Not really. Record-keeping is much better now. It will all be on computers and searchable by the time the genealogists of the future want to look for roots.

  4. russ says:

    Not exactly a new idea. William Mandella, in Haldeman’s The Forever War, says that his parents wanted to reject the idea that the woman was the property of the man, and decided to choose a new name to represent their love – and that he almost had a much shorter name. They chose Mandala, but didn’t know how to spell it.

  5. Jay Tea says:

    Hence, I presume, the “Mr. Meryl Yourish” category…


  6. In general, this sounds like a good solution to the problem, for those people that see this as a problem.

    In some cases, however, there is historical significance to the family name (e.g. “Custis” – Martha Washington’s maiden name). If someone with such a name would change it, it would become very easy for future generations to lose track of the family history.

  7. What’s in a name in Jewish World Review talks about where many names came from.

    Many people got new last names when they came into this country. There were those who got names assigned by a clerk on entry because the original name was too hard to spell or pronounce. Some people entering through Boston were given the last name of the “Blue Bloods” (such as Potter or Adams) by clerks who wanted to have a laugh at the expense of the aristocracy.

    Some people were given insulting or scatological names because they could not afford to bribe the officials in Europe. One such name was Goldwasser which was Anglicized in this country as Goldwater. This was the original name of Barry Goldwater’s Jewish grandfather Michael Goldwasser.

    One friend of mine shared my last name (though he wasn’t a relative) by accident. His grandfather was escaping induction into the Czar’s army and was originally named Cohen (since he was one). He had a forged passport in the name of Robinson. The immigration clerk got his passport mixed up with the passport of the man ahead of him in line. Neither one of them was going to complain and risk being rejected.

    The AustroHungarian empire had a law that only the eldest son of a family could get married. Thus, many families took on a different last name for every brother. Many people escaped conscription by taking the name of a dead person. When the army came to get them, they were shown the tombstone.

    As far as Jews are concerned most last names are of relatively recent origin.

  8. Yep. My half my grandfather’s family use the name Mendelson—son of Mendel, my great-greatgrandfather, the name my great-grandfather used when he was running away from being impressed into the Czar’s army. (Wonderful people, those Czars.) My great-grandfather never changed his name, but my grandfather did, and passed it to his children. Of which only his son kept it, of course, though it’s probably a centuries-old Spanish name.

    I think my name came over from Russia intact, though. Then again, my father didn’t tell me he had a middle name, so I can’t really trust what he said about his family name. Dad’s middle name? It was the name he went by his whole life. We didn’t discover until he died that he had a first and middle name.

  9. Ed Hausman says:

    Alice Kirby and Larry Charny decided to marry in 1988, she refused to take his name, but so did he.

    Today, they are Alice and Larry Dark.

    Larry won. “Charny” means “black”.

    * ****** **** ****** *

    My father’s family had a conference after some time in the US to settle on a uniform spelling for the name.

    My mother’s father ditched his personal name and patronymic when he left Russia and shortened his family name to the first syllable.

    These family names were recent anyway and of more use to the local bureaucracy than to us.

    In Iceland, they still use only personal name and patronymic, so there is no conflict when marrying.

  10. Ed Hausman says:

    You want a neat way to trace genealogy without changing names? Each spouse keeps their original name, with boys taking the father’s last name and girls taking the mother’s last name. This would match DNA tracing nicely, too.

  11. That would have sucked for me. I don’t like my mother’s maiden name.

  12. Terry Koznowski says:

    Larry’s and Alice’s story is not as touching as it seems. Larry anglicized his surname, and Alice adopted it. Charny (czarny) in Polish means dark or black

  13. Yeah, but the second couple’s story is legit.

    Larry is apparently a jerk. Bet the marriage doesn’t last.

  14. Laura SF says:

    I kept my name when I got married. I was willing to hyphenate (we both have 4-letter names), but my spouse didn’t like it. My issue was the kids – I didn’t want to be the only one in the family with a different name. But he solved that by insisting on giving the kids MY last name!

    People have a real hard time with that bit, oddly – especially traditional guys.

    Luckily, my husband doesn’t mind being called by my last name, or having the family referred to by the majority name. In fact, he considered changing his name to match mine but the combination (with his first name) would have sounded bad…

  15. Meryl this may be of interest

    Search results for: Kirby
    (origin: Local) The name of several small towns in England, whence the surname is derived; so called from Kirk, a church, and by, a village or town.

    From a surname which was originally from a place name meaning “church settlement” in Old Norse.

    It is quite possible that it was easier to change to “Dark” rather than “Church”.

  16. I forgot to mention

    Polish and Jewish (eastern Ashkenazic): nickname for someone with dark hair or a dark complexion, from Polish czarny ‘black’.

    would probably mean that the name church might not have been appropriate for the two of them. So it would not be that he won but that the two of them preferred the meaning.

    I tried to google Yourish but I kept getting sent back here rather than find a meaning. (:-)

    I did get this

    Surname yourish not found.
    You may want to try these similar names:

    The meaning of the surname YAROS is – the descendant of Yarosh, a Ukrainian form of the Russian name Yerofey.

    I should also mention that when my mother’s uncle went to Israel after World War I, he changed the family name to “BenHillel” (and yes his father was the one that I am named after).

    The second president of Israel changed his name to Ben-Zvi for a similar reason.

    Yitzhak Ben-Zvi (Hebrew: יצחק בן צבי‎ (November 24, 1884 – April 23, 1963) was a historian, Labor Zionist leader, and the second and longest serving President of Israel.

    Born in Poltava, Ukraine, Ben-Zvi was the eldest son of Zvi Shimshelevitz, who later took the name Shimshi.

    Similarly, I would change my name to Yitzchaki (and possibly pretend that it comes from Rashi Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki) or to BenYitzchak

    My current last name is derived from the Russian patronymic so it would be in the same tradition.

  17. Bob says:

    Meryl Monroe has a certain ring.

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