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My first wife and I combined last names when we married. I waited 15 years after our divorce to change mine back.

A man sitting in a restaurant garden with a drink and a sandwich.John Dutton legally changed his last name upon marriage, kept it after his divorce, and then reverted to his old name after becoming a dad.

Courtesy of John Dutton.

  • When John Dutton married, he and his wife legally combined their last names with a hyphen.
  • They divorced, but he decided not to go back to just Dutton.
  • Ten years later and remarried, he dropped his first wife’s name. He didn’t want to confuse his kids.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with John Dutton. It has been edited for length and clarity.

My name change story began in December 1985 when I was a 19-year-old student living in my native UK.

My girlfriend, Sylvie Bourassa, then 18, was French-Canadian, and we visited her family in Montreal for a two-week Christmas vacation.

Everything was fine until we returned to Heathrow Airport in London, where a customs officer questioned Sylvie and me. She didn’t have a visa, and he said they would send her back to Canada on the next plane.

“But we’re in love,” we said, desperate to appeal to his good nature. I don’t know whether he took pity on us because we were so young, but he gave us some advice.

“She can enter the UK if you guys get married within three months,” he said. “If not, she’ll be deported.”

We decided to hyphenate our last names when we got married

We couldn’t imagine being apart, so we started planning our wedding. It took place on March 8, 1986, near my parents’ home in southwest England.

Sylvie and I had discussed changing her last name when we got married. We thought it was unfair that women changed their names and men didn’t.

So we decided to hyphenate them and become Mr. and Mrs. Bourassa-Dutton. We did it through the British system of deed poll, which cost about $50. It was relatively straightforward because we only needed a witness’s signature. It felt romantic and symbolic.

Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last long. We amicably separated after two years. I know it works out for some people, but I guess playing at being grown-ups was too hard for us both.

A bride and groom. The bride is wearing a red dress and hat.Dutton, then 19, changed his name to Dutton-Bourassa when he married for the first time in 1986.

Courtesy of John Dutton

We officially divorced in 1991, but I didn’t revert to John Dutton. By then, I was living and working in French-speaking Quebec. I’m convinced that keeping a bit of French in my last name helped my career, first in media production and then in writing.

I got married for a second time in 1992. By law in Quebec, women keep their maiden names after marriage. Even if she’d wanted to, my new wife. I couldn’t have changed her last name to Bourassa-Dutton.

We divorced six years later when I was 31. We didn’t have any children.

Next, I got into another serious relationship. We decided to try for a family together.

My children’s last names are now Dutton

Then, it struck me that if and when we had kids, they would have my last name, Bourassa-Dutton. It seemed awkward to have my first wife’s name as part of their identity, and I could foresee some embarrassing questions they would have as they got older.

So, in 2001, I went through the legal process of changing my name back to Dutton. It cost hundreds of dollars — much more than the amount we paid 15 years earlier in the UK. I also had to announce my intentions in an ad in the newspaper.

Our son was born in 2003. He was 3 when his mom and I got married. We went on to have a daughter in 2008. The children’s last names are, of course, Dutton.

It’s a bit of a saga but quite funny — a good story to tell at dinner parties.

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