Dear Miss Madame : To Have and Have Not

Please welcome to PDXX our new advice columnist, Miss Madame, an expatriate living in France who in real life goes by the name of Georgia Erwin.

Miss Madame PIC

FEATHERS IN A RUFFLE OVER FOREIGN HUSBAND’S NAME? Expat expert Miss Madame counters with logic, and we all know who wins.


Dear Miss Madame,

I am a thirty-year-old American living in Paris. Two months ago my French boyfriend and I decided, for reasons both amorous and pragmatic, to get hitched. Despite being non-religious (and, needless to say, it makes me uncomfortable to participate in a practice that has been, throughout history, an approved form of oppression), we figured the pro of being able to live in the same country and stay together outweighed the numerous cons.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly—the wedding was fun and only fifteen minutes long, the reception was an all-night party, living as husband and wife has proved to be minimally different than living together as lovers, and I was enjoying being married—until now. All week, while processing my visa and health insurance paperwork, I’ve been bombarded with forms, letters, and official documents addressed to someone who doesn’t exist:

Madame My-Husband’s-Last-Name.

How is this legal? In no way, shape, or form did I change my last name, and I have absolutely no intention to. When I brought it up with my French in-laws they assured me that of course I’d be able to keep my maiden name on my birth certificate and marriage license. I tried to explain that I want to keep my name on EVERYTHING, and they were very confused.

Dear Miss Madame, please help. What should I do?


Doppelganger’d and Confused


Dear Dope’d Doppel,


First of all, my congratulations on your nuptials (sounds like it was high time!)  Now, my dear expiatory chérie, I hate to say this to any honest person seeking advice, but I feel I must.


Tsk, tsk. Shame on you.


Let’s take a moment here. Deep breath. Relax your shoulders, your hands, your buttocks, your thighs, and your hypocritical attitude.


I understand. I really do. Having personal power inexplicably seized by a government body can be a wee bit disconcerting—but let’s not let our delicate egos get in the way of practicality, shall we? And yes, I know. Being denied a choice feels harsh at first, but let’s think of it like cereal options in a grocery store—if there were fewer choices, we’d all waste less of our precious life-time making pointless decisions over Madame Bran versus Madame Oat.


Because, in the end, it’s six of one and a half-dozen of the other. Who’s dead? Who’s sick? Who’s been deported to an area of conflict? Nobody, that’s who. Let’s try, dear Dope’d, to put this in perspective.


Taking your husband’s name is a mark of respect for him, and for an institution in which you have chosen to participate (willingly, I might add.) To make irrational demands would be the same as if I marched into a mechanic’s shop and starting moping about the unwieldy pliers. If you want to play, you have to follow the rules.


To me, your attitude is more at fault than the circumstances in which you find yourself. If you screw your pretty expat head back on straight, you may see that you’ve made a mountain out of a molehill, and buried your castle of happiness under the rubble.


Reasons why taking your husband’s name is a Good Idea:


  • When you and your husband have children, they will feel as though they are actually related to you. Children are easily confused, and (as you will soon discover, my dear) need no help alienating themselves from their families.

  • Your husband will not secretly question your wifely devotion. (Married men are already insecure enough. Let’s not encourage them!)

  • Doing so puts others first—just think of the hassle you’ve circumvented for the sake of your friends (and your postman)! A simple “Mr. and Mrs. Husband’s-Last-Name” is all they ever need remember, or write. Once again, we’ve saved vast amounts of life-time by eliminating needless options.

  • Urinating against the wind is futile. If an idea is government-approved, that means many, many more people than You and Your Husband have endorsed a regulation that affects many, many more people than You and Your Husband. Selfishness is never the answer. In the same vein, I’ll take the liberty of giving you a piece of 20-carat advice:


Marriage is All About Compromise. The sooner you understand (and practice!) this mentality, the sooner you will achieve that much-vaunted wedded bliss and happiness. Which is, after all, the goal of any well-spent life, my dear.


Best of luck in your exciting new adventure, Dope’d!


Gros Bisous,

Miss Madame



image credit Taylor Erwin

4 thoughts on “Dear Miss Madame : To Have and Have Not

  1. Funny story. But you can keep your maiden name in France. I am French, although I live in the US, and kept my maiden name when I got married in France. In a funny twist I felt how you feel when I moved to the US where I took my husband’s name for immigration purposes. So I wonder if your little problem isn’t simply due to your immigration status. Just a thought. Also you will be called madame regardless of being or not married in France, while in the States this is the other way around.
    The American way keeps me younger!
    Enjoy my native country!


  2. I’d be pissed too, although maybe in France there is nothing she can do about it. It’s automatic? No choice? That’s unfortunate. I don’t agree with Madame’s reasons. My husband does not question my loyalty because I didn’t change my name. I don’t question his because he didn’t change his. Kids feeling like they’re related? Prior to adopting family last names in Turkey, everyone took their father’s first name as their last name. So kids did not have the same last names of either parents. In Mexico, some families hyphenate their names and the kids become “Clarissa Mom-Dad.” This is completely a social construction. I don’t want to be called Mrs. Thomas Breaden because my identity is not solely shaped by whom I love and am wed to. Neither should he be Mr. Sermin Yesilada. If we consciously choose that, then that’s different, and people should have the choice. I’ve noticed many gay and lesbian wed couples take each other’s names. As Karelia mentioned above, that could be because the don’t have that choice. It may not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a big deal to me.


  3. This column is too much fun. I will have to check back regularly.

    This column makes me think back to college when I had a job writing thank you notes to wealthy alumni. I was a young feminist, so I addressed all the cards to Dear Ms. So-and-So. My boss made me redo all of them and write them to Dear Mrs. [Insert Husband’s Name Here]. She said to some of the older alumns, addressing a woman as “Ms.” implied that the sender thought the woman would soon be getting a divorce.

    As a lesbian living in a state that still does not legalize gay marriage, I am just waiting for the day when someone calls me “Mrs. Fay Stetz-Waters.” Maybe in this lifetime : )


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