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Taking my wife's last name

Monday 13th October 2014

I’m just going to say up front that I don’t wear cardigans. I’m not whipped. I’ve never been called an intellectual. I don’t consider myself a feminist. I’ve never made or wanted to make a political statement.

Alex McKewen with his son Eddie.

Photo: Diego Opatowski/RNZ

I’m just a simple family guy who listens to the Rock and looks after my kid. I watch wrestling and MMA in my garage with my mates. I drink Tui, not craft beer. And I like BBQs and metal.  

And I took my wife’s last name when we got married. And no, she didn’t make me. In fact, she didn’t even ask me to do it.

I know there are stereotypes about guys who do what I’ve done. The missus once read out a comment on an article that said men who change their last names were “cardigan-wearers”, which I thought was a pretty good insult.

But, the reality is, I’ve never met a guy who changed his name to his wife’s name. And I’ve had very few reactions, I guess because the stereotypes just don’t work on me. I’m a bogan tradie, so the only question I get is “why?”

So I guess I’ll start there. I met my wife when we were both 17. We moved in together a few weeks after meeting. Neither of us muck around. “Get shit done” is kind of our motto. In saying that, it took 10 years before we got hitched.

I knew she wouldn’t take my last name. I didn’t even bother asking. That’s not who she is. She questions everything, and never does anything just because that’s how it’s done. I won’t lie, it can be infuriating, but it’s also what I like about her. She’s got an opinion on everything, and it’s pretty rare for me to have a strong opinion on anything – so we balance each other out that way.

She’s a feminist - one of those outspoken ones – but I have to say, based on my limited experience of having one girlfriend who is a feminist, is that they make good partners. There are no real boundaries. Everything is on the table; you don’t have to do something just because you’re the guy or because it’s a done thing.

When we decided to have a kid, we talked about who would get to stay at home looking after it. I have spoken to heaps of dads who are gutted that they never even got the chance to talk about being stay-at-home dads. I’ve been at home full-time with my son since he was four months old. It’s the best job there is. I know in lots of homes it’s just – you’re the dad, go to work right after the birth, see you kids at night and on weekends. Done. I’m pretty stoked that I had way more options.

Anyway, the point is, I didn’t change my name because she’s a feminist. And she never busted my balls about it. She never even asked me until I came to her and said – “hey, I reckon I’ll take your name”.

My old last name is my dad’s last name. Frankly, he doesn’t deserve to have his legacy passed on. The only thing he has given me in my life is a burning focus to be a really, really good dad and husband.

I knew one day we would have kids, and I didn’t want them to be associated with my father in any way. But also, I thought it was weird to make a woman go through pregnancy (which is mostly shit), and then labour (which is really shit), and then insist your kid takes your name when she’s the one who has done all the work.

So I thought it’d be good for the team if we all had the same last name – kids and all. So that left a new name or taking my wife’s name.

I’ll be honest, I pitched for Awesome. Alex Awesome sounds pretty cool. But the wife wasn’t into it. She said she’d feel like a dork applying for jobs with the last name Awesome. I would definitely hire someone with that last name, but that was that. Awesome was off the table.

Pretty quickly, I just decided I’d take her’s. I like her dad as well. He’s been more of a dad to me than my dad, so I guess there was a little bit of a tribute to him in there.

But really it just made sense. As I said, I’m a simple guy. At the end of the day, all I care about is being a good dad, husband, and son. Taking her last name, us being a team with the kids, shedding the baggage of my dad – there were heaps of reasons, but they were all pretty simple.

When I told the missus she was pretty happy with it. She liked the idea of a team name too. We didn’t really tell people before the wedding. But I did sit down with my mum and talk to her about it. She told me to do whatever makes me happy. Her opinion and my wife’s opinion were the only opinions I cared about.

When we were introduced as Mr and Mrs McKewen at the wedding there was clapping and shouting but that was probably because everyone was boozed and happy that we got married. Nobody there said anything to me about it. Our friends aren’t jerks. They care about whether you’re a good person, not what your last name is. It’s the same with my family – if they cared, they never said anything to me about it.

We had a few cheques and cards given to us as Mr and Mrs Mackenzie (my old last name), but that was fine. As expected really.

When we went to the bank though to change my name on our account, I got a reaction from the teller. She was in her 50s (probably) and she really didn’t get it. She said “that’s different” in a kind of pained way. But she was polite.

When I got my license done I had to take in proof of marriage, which I’m guessing most women don’t have to do, but I really don’t know either way. But other than that – it hasn’t been a big deal. Frankly, I get more of a reaction from people when I say I’m a stay-at-home dad.

I think if anything, the wife probably gets more. I know some people will always think she’s a ball-buster because of my choice about the name. And she is, but this wasn’t one of the times where she was pushing something. She really wasn’t involved that much. And it wasn’t a political statement, I think when you’ve got one person in a relationship who is “political” people assume all your choices are made with that in mind. But that’s not us.

Now, after almost three years married, I think most people assume she took my last name and I’ve always been a McKewen. I think people who know don’t question us because they know us – we do things the way we want to. One friend who has a rubbish father has said he’d take his wife’s name. I think either way you should discuss it before you get married – but really, I don’t care what people do in their own time.

General criticism about men who change their last names doesn’t really reach me. And if it did – I wouldn’t care. My life is sweet. I’ve got a cool kid, an awesome wife, and a chilled out, simple life. What do I care if someone doesn’t like what I’ve done with my last name?

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