In 1998, The Name and I Founder Kelly Utt-Grubb got married and took her husband's last name, but she didn't really want to.
"I simply didn't feel right giving up my last name for no good reason other than that I was female," she said.
With that most personal dilemma, an interest was sparked. She promised her husband to love and to cherish, but she also promised herself to get to the bottom of why women still take men's last names and what the other options are. She wasn't concerned with right, wrong, proper, or pretty, but rather with figuring out how to sort through the tangle of feelings and factors to make a choice that was best for her.
Fast forward a number of lovely years, and our conflicted young bride has become a trusted guide on the topic of names and naming. She's made it her life's work to help people choose names that are personally meaningful, whether for themselves, their children, their pets and animals, or their businesses, as well as to love, laugh, and celebrate all the special names along the way.
The company that would become The Name and I was originally a consulting service called Name Counsel. Kelly Utt-Grubb began Name Counsel in 2007 to support and assist those deciding on a last name after marriage, divorce, or the addition of a child, as well as to advocate for nontraditional naming options as valid personal choices.
Kelly's work with Name Counsel was featured in major media including NPR, Parents.com, Huffington Post, Yahoo, The Los Angeles Times, EquallyWed, Little PINK Book, Divorce360, iParenting, Pregnancy Today, Parent Society, Knoxville News-Sentinel, Hartford Courant, Tennessee Alumnus Magazine, Rainbow Wedding Network, YourTango, and LoveToKnowBaby, as well as on numerous radio shows across North America. You may view some of the coverage here.
We've expanded our scope to become The Name and I, and are now a blossoming epicenter for all things related to names, naming, and identity.
Ever had this thought?
"I know I need to make a naming choice I'll be happy with long term (this is a big deal!), but I don't know what to consider or where to turn for guidance."
A Personal Letter from Founder Kelly Utt-Grubb:
I completely understand where you're coming from. I faced the same dilemma when I got married in 1998. I wasn't sure I wanted to take my husband's last name, and back then there were virtually zero resources available to help. The only book I could find on the topic said something along the lines of "here are a few nontraditional options people use from time to time, but they are a huge hassle." Yes, hassle was the only actual point offered for consideration.
I remember talking to a close friend for what felt like hours and hours about pros and cons, options, and implications, all while trying desperately to get in touch with what was the right fit for ME, not just what might or might not be a hassle. I'm not sure what I would've done without that kind friend lending an ear because he got me part way through the process, but it wasn't enough.
My last name was Utt and my husband's was Grubb. Frustrated with the lack of combo solutions that might actually sound nice, I begrudgingly agreed to take his name and become Kelly Grubb. Now my husband NEVER for a minute pushed me or insisted that I take his name. But back then we were both admittedly looking at it as my problem. My choice. We never really thought about or discussed the possibility of him modifying his name.
I tried to come to terms with Kelly Grubb, thinking that I could take steps to at least avoid being absorbed (like property) into the old fashioned Mrs. Samuel Grubb. I gave our wedding officiant emphatic instructions to announce us as Sam and Kelly Grubb at the end of the ceremony. When she forgot and said Mr and Mrs Sam Grubb instead, my stomach dropped all the way to the ground inside me, right there in the wedding garden.
I'm well aware that plenty of other people have plenty of other thoughts, feelings, and opinions on this issue. And I know that plenty of other people would have reacted differently at our officiant's surprise announcement. Some brides would have found themselves really resonating with the old fashioned title and feeling proud to own it. But the thing is, it needed to work for me. And it really, truly didn't.
I put on a brave face and struggled as Kelly Grubb during the early part of our marriage. I loved my husband dearly, and I still didn't know where to turn for advice or guidance even if I had been ready to change my name. Change it to what, anyway? How would I decide? How would I feel about my choice later on down the road? How would I talk to extended family-- including Sam's very traditional parents-- about my nontraditional choice? What would it be like for our kids? So many questions.
Every time someone called my full name, every time I saw a letter or card addressed with my name on it, and every time I looked in the mirror, really, it felt like an invisible blow. I was lying to myself as I pretended this was ok with me.
I became pregnant with our first child a little more than a year later. I didn't quite anticipate it, but boy, did my growing belly unleash a fire in my soul. I could try and lie to myself about being ok with Kelly Grubb, but I absolutely could not lie to our son. I couldn't grow his perfect little body in my own and give birth to him (like a boss, I might add) only to leave my own last name out of his altogether. For me, it wasn't right and it wasn't fair.
Shortly after getting home with the baby and getting situated, I hyphenated my name to become Utt-Grubb and our son's to match. At that time, I told Sam I'd really like him to adopt Utt-Grubb as well so we could all share the same family name, but that I understood the magnitude of the decision and would respect whatever he chose.
By the time our second little boy was born 2 1/2 years later, Sam came to me to say that he wanted to hyphenate his last name too. He said that as our boys grew up and he talked to them about things like equality and marriage being a partnership, he wanted his values reflected in his actions and not just his words. What a moment! It was 5 years in the making, but we had finally settled into a happily ever after for our own little family's name. It's been 13 years since, and not once have we regretted the decision. Our boys are proud to be Utt-Grubbs.
My attachment to my maiden name was about identity. I simply didn't feel right giving it up for no good reason other than that I was female. I've always been a strong, independent type, and I expected my marriage to be a partnership. I wasn't given away. I never pledged to obey. And Sam would never in a million years have wanted me to.
The thing is though, this whole naming decision is different for everyone. There are aspects and experiences we share in common as we move through the process, but there certainly isn't a one size fits all solution. What's needed is guidance in making a decision that's right for you as an individual. And happily, that's exactly what I can offer to you now in a variety of formats: great articles, personal and business name consultations, help planning naming ceremonies, and more.
I got busy independently researching this topic back in 2005, once my babies were preschool age. I conducted my own professionally reviewed survey to determine attitudes and trends on the topic of nontraditional last names, and I used my psychology degree and my experience working in a developmental psychology lab at Emory University (a part of the Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life) to develop a process that would help facilitate a personally meaningful decision.
In 2007, I launched Name Counsel to support and assist those deciding on a last name after marriage, divorce, or the addition of a child, as well as to advocate for nontraditional naming options as valid personal choices. And today, I'm proud to bring you The Name and I, which will continue to grow and become a comprehensive resource.
Kelly Utt-Grubb's Professional Bio
Kelly is a Naming and Identity Expert who became inspired after taking her husband's last name when she didn't really want to. For more than a decade, she has helped people choose names in both their personal lives and in business.
Kelly is Founder of The Name and I, a Naming Firm, Naming News and Lifestyle Publication, and online Retailer of Personalized Gifts by Independent Makers. She's on a mission to help people pick names which are meaningful, as well as to honor and celebrate their special names along the way.
Her work has been featured in major media including NPR, Huffington Post, Parents.com, Los Angeles Times, and more. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from The University of Tennessee and she studied graduate level Interactive Media at Quinnipiac University.
As for her own last name, the family-- including husband Sam and their two teenage boys-- now happily share a hyphenated surname which is a combination of Kelly and Sam's maidens.