Mark L. Kemp wasn’t always Mark L. Kemp. Before that, he was Mark Layten. But a few years after becoming a stay-at-home dad, he decided to change his last name to match the one his wife and children used. Then, 10 years later, he and his wife divorced. Kemp kept his (relatively) new last name—but it wasn’t an easy choice. Here, he opens up about his unique family dynamic, as well as whether he thinks he’ll ever change his last name again.
Your wife kept her last name when you got married, and then several years later, you decided to change your last name to hers. What prompted the decision?
“I was working part time [when our first child was born], and then a couple of years later, we had our second child. At that time I said, ‘I’ll stay home full-time.’ It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but especially for a father, if you have a different last name than your kid, it’s a pain in the neck everywhere you go. You take your kids to the doctor’s office or whatever it would be—eventually pre-school—and you have to explain all this. A bunch of people were calling me Mr. Kemp anyway. So a number of years go by, and our youngest was six, and I was planning to go back to work and stuff. And we got some pieces of news then: One was that my wife was pregnant again. And she got an offer to move to where we eventually ended up living in Arizona: Scottsdale. I decided at that time, since we now had another child, I was not going to go back to work. I would continue to stay at home. We were going to an area where nobody knew us. So I said, “You know, I think I’m going to take your name. We’ll all be the Kemps.” So we moved out there, and that name is the only name anyone here knows me by. We had the baby, and then we had another child, so we have four.
Although our marriage turned out not in the end not to be successful, at the time I wanted to change my name, I hadn’t worked in six years or so. I worked part-time for a couple of years. I felt very vulnerable in the marriage. I wasn’t working, she was working. I wanted to do another thing just to solidify our bond. I thought taking her name would add another link in the chain, I suppose. I thought it would let her know my commitment to the marriage.”
How did you decide to give your kids your wife’s last name?
“We had some discussions about that because, since we had different last names, that was going to have to be a decision. Once we decided that she was going to be the one continuing to work and I would be the primary parent, I think that made me more open-minded to other options, including with respect to a last name. I remember it was her suggestion to give our kids her last name. I had some problems with it at first, largely just kind of male ego-type stuff. I could see the merit of what she was doing. And actually, if the parents have different last names, I don’t see any solid reason why the name of the children should be the father’s last name.”
Was your wife excited when you told her you wanted to take her name?
“She didn’t like the idea at first, and in fact many of the times when we were out and people would call me Mr. Kemp, she would always correct them really quickly. She was uncomfortable with the idea, and I just told her, ‘Think of it as a gift I’m giving you: a gift from me to you that we’ll all have the same name.’ She eventually was OK with it and even kind of enjoyed it, I think.”
How did your kids respond?
“When we were married, we talked to them about the name change, and they were fine with it. They’ve never had much of a thing to say about it. They’ve always had the same last name. At the time, when I took my wife’s name, our oldest was eight, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. Half the people were calling me Mr. Kemp anyway.”
What about other people in your lives—how did they react to your decision to take your wife’s name? “Very negatively, mostly from my family. They said things like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ ‘What are you doing this for?’ ‘You’re a wimp’—and they said other stronger things, too. They didn’t sit me down and try to lecture, though. Her family wasn’t too crazy about it, either—we both come from fairly traditional families. My family wasn’t terribly happy with our arrangement that I was staying home and she was the one who was working, so it kind of just created another point to be unhappy about.
A few of our friends liked the decision—mostly her friends, women. But I would say overall the reaction was largely negative or people didn’t say much of anything. We didn’t get enthusiastic excitement from too many people.”
You’ve told us that you and your wife got divorced and you decided to keep the last name Kemp. Could you walk us through that decision?
“About eight years after we had moved out here, we started having some serious trouble and decided to get a divorce. … I went over all the different things in my mind at the time. Ultimately, I decided largely for the reasons that I changed my first name in the first place that I was going to stick with it and keep the name: Mostly because I wanted to have the name bond with the kids. And if sometime in the future I wanted to change it, I could do that.”
How have other people responded to your decision this time around?
“I didn’t really get much of a response because everybody out here just knows me as Kemp. It would have been more of a reaction if I had changed the name, I think. My family again was disappointed, but they didn’t say much. And my ex didn’t have an opinion on the matter. I think she kind of liked me still having her name. She’s remarried, and her husband and she have a different last name. I’m not remarried. If I did remarry, I might take my wife’s new last name. I don’t think I could keep my old wife’s name in a marriage, and I don’t know what would be the purpose of going back to my original name. I don’t know.”
What would you want other men who are considering changing their last names to know?
“There’s a lot of paperwork involved in it. I guess this is true for women also. Don’t expect it to be the most popular thing you’ve ever done. If you care what other people think about you, you probably shouldn’t do it. But you should do what you want to do. It’s your life. It was just a ton of paperwork.”