My last name, Nasrullah, is actually my husband's first name, the result of trying to fit a south Asian-style name into a western configuration. Of course, I didn't have to take his name when we married. I did so because it better reflected my identity than my surname at the time we married, which belonged to my ex-husband. That name was Sullivan.
Between my first husband, a lapsed Muslim, and my current husband, a practicing Muslim, I married a lapsed Presbyterian named Sullivan. I myself was a lapsed Muslim at the time. When I returned to practicing Islam in 2001, my name was still Sullivan, although my husband and I had separated. By keeping that name I joined the small group of Muslim converts who carry European names and are thus not readily identifiable as Muslims except in person.
Had I had a Muslim first name, I wouldn't have had to wait till I remarried to be recognizable as a Muslim just by name. However, I never seriously considered taking a Muslim name. I've never understood it to be required or strongly recommended, unless of course you have a “god's” name like Olympia or Radha. I have the name of a strong and loyal woman – Ruth of the bible – who was a staunch monotheist.
Some of the reasons I kept my name are petty. I worry that I'm just not smart enough to remember to answer to a new name. And there's the paperwork. Mundane things, but significant enough to diminish my enthusiasm for a name change.
If I did change my name, I would change it to Safiyyah, after the Prophet's (SAW) wife . I came to love her after listening to Sh. Suhaib Webb's lecture series “Mothers of the Believers” and hearing the story of this Jewish princess who was picked on frequently by his other wives, sometimes for being Jewish and sometimes for being very short, as I am. The Prophet (SAW) always defended and protected Safiyyah, and the stories involving Safiyyah highlight his kindness and fairness, especially as a husband.
But would I be Safiyyah Nasrullah? Or was it a mistake to take my husband's name in the first place? If I opted to go back to the name I was born with, I would have two choices – I would be either Ruth bint Nuh or Ruth Cohen. And Ruth Cohen is a strange name for a Muslim! For now I'll stay with what I've got.