Dean linked to a post regarding name changing by women upon marriage. My own thoughts on the subject have a couple of unique twists to it.
As I’ve mentioned several times, my father is Kenyan and, having the kind of last name that I do, is an anomaly among black Americans, most of whom have European last names.
The thing that many Americans—black and white—tend to forget is why this is so.* Hint: it’s not from excessive intermarriage between the descendants of African and European immigrants.
Now I’m not one to wield American slavery as a weapon with which to bludgeon the descendents of slave-owners over the head, so don't get any underwear into wads that you may have to pick out of uncomfortable places. This isn’t about blame, but about facts. Fact: black Americans have inherited European surnames usually because of slavery. Fact: forbidding a group of humans the use of any totems of their culture, including the very names with which they were born, makes them better slaves. (Think about this the next time some polemicist begins to rant on the non-existence of legacies of American slavery or, conversely, some bogus legacy of same.) This is why one sees few, if any, West African traditions passed from the "old country," (also likely unknown) unlike, say, those Americans who are descended from Italian immigrants.
By no doing of my own, I was born without this legacy. As I got older and began to understand that I had something rare and what it meant, I began to cherish it.
That said, I did take the name of my ex-husband when got married. Why? Ironically, it was because of the uniqueness of my own last name in my own family: my parents divorced early and my father went back to his country. When my mother remarried, I was the only one in the family with my last name. In my new family, I didn’t want this for myself or for my prospective children. (This is an American cultural bias on my part, to be sure. See the above post, “Funny You Don’t Look Chinese” for information on how the Luo—my tribal brethren—name their children.)
However, as things happen, my ex and I never had any children and, after our divorce, I shed his name
like a gangrenous arm and returned to the legal use of my maiden name.
Were I to marry again, would I change it? I’m not sure. When I returned to the use of my maiden name, it was like seeing an old friend that I hadn’t realized how much I cherished until it was gone. Additionally, it took the Air Force three years to figure out that I had gone back to my maiden name (and this was in the computer age). I’m not sure that I want all of that fit-pitching that I did to count for naught.
Likely, however, I’d go the hyphen or double name route. Though it’s unlikely that I’d have any children at this late stage in the game, a sense of family is more important to me than some point of pride; families have the same name. You can’t sleep with your lineage. Okay well you can, but I'm sure the phrase "cold comfort" is a familiar one.
*The adherents to the Nation of Islam did not forget this and this is what the X—as in Malcolm X--is all about, X signifying the unknown last name of the first African slave “imported” in a given black American’s lineage.