This year’s annual Valentine Day feature tells the story of a local couple who bucked naming norms after marrying
By Steve Hubrecht
There’s a lot people will do in the name of love. And, for some, that includes changing their name. Usually their last name, and typically — among heterosexual couples — it’s the woman who does the changing. Usually and typically, yes, but certainly not always.
A 2018 study by Portland State University found that, upon marrying, an overwhelming number (more than 97 per cent) of men kept their last names exactly as they were before. A few opted to hyphenate their original last name with that of their new partner or to create new, combined last names. And a small number, a very small number, chose to take their wives’ last names. A very small number, sure, but that’s still somebody. A lot of somebodies, in fact, if you broaden your scope and look across all of North America, instead of just around Portland.
And if you look here in the Columbia Valley, you will indeed find couples bucking traditional naming norms, with the husband taking the wife’s last name after marrying. Consider well-known local couple Penny and Max Powers. For two decades Columbia Valley residents have gotten to know the outdoorsy and outgoing pair — and their two kids, Katia, 17, and Erik, 15 — through their many business ventures (including Columbia River Paddle and the Kinsmen Beach concession stand), through their extensive community involvement and volunteering, and, perhaps most famously, through their paragliding school (from which Max gets his popular Flying Max nickname). For a good 19 of those 20 years, locals knew them as Penny Powers and Max Fanderl, but after the pair tied the knot at a small, fun wedding at their new Edgewater home, surrounded by family, in early 2021, Max Fanderl officially became Max Powers.
It was a long time coming, you could say: the Pioneer can personally attest that Max has been talking about becoming Max Powers for at least the past eight years. And Penny assured the Pioneer that such talk goes back a good many years before that.
But taking Penny’s last name was more than just talk, and Max is quite happy with his new legal surname.
“At the end of the day, we only have so much time in our lives. Why worry too much about something like your last name? ‘Max Powers’ is fun, and it’s easy for other people to spell correctly, so why not go with it? Why not take your wife’s name?” Max told the Pioneer.
“He does seem to love having the Powers name. I think part of the reason is that he’d often have to tell people how to spell Fanderl two or three times before they got it right. Fanderl is not really a hard name to spell, but people seemed to trip up on it. They even spelled Fanderl wrong on Erik’s hockey jersey one year,” said Penny, adding that Erik, like his dad, is keen to legally take the Powers last name, while Katia seems more interested in hyphenating Powers and Fanderl together.
There are other ways in which Max and Penny have chosen not to let traditional mores define their relationship. Next week’s Valentine’s Day for instance, which falls on Monday, comes exactly one year, one month, and one day after Penny and Max’s wedding — so, technically speaking, you can still consider them ‘newlyweds’, even though they’ve been together for 20 years.
As with the Powers surname, when it comes to their long relationship prior marriage, Penny and Max couldn’t have cared less about societal norms or tradition, and simply did what made sense to them.
“Our relationship just seemed to go from one step to the next, quite naturally. Then the next thing you knew, we’d been together for five or six years, we had built a house together, and I was pregnant. Then we had a second kid. It was very clear to both of us that we as together as a couple can be, and neither one of us felt a need, per se, to be married,” said Penny.
“Our lives were pretty full and busy, as one thing and another kept popping up. It just didn’t seem to be important to be officially married. We didn’t need a certificate or a ceremony to define our relationship.”
But as the kids got older, they too started to talk about a wedding. One day Erik said to Penny: ‘Mom, why don’t you marry Dad? He really wants to marry you so much.’
The family was in flux in many different ways at the time: the COVID-19 pandemic was nearing the one-year mark and widespread vaccinations had not yet started. And the family had just moved to their new Edgewater house.
“So we thought, why not add a bit more change on top of it all, and get married?” said Penny.
They called a marriage commissioner, and the very next week got married in their own home, to the delight of their kids and their extended families.
“I think my dad actually said ‘Hallelujah, finally!’ when I told him,” said Penny.
The couple first got together in 2000 or 2001 (they can’t quite remember precisely which year). Penny was co-owner of a ski touring and outdoor guiding company. She and her business partner hired Max on contract to do some website work for them.
“We’d have these meetings…and I would sit there, kind of zoning out, because I had zero interest in (computers or the web),” said Penny.
“I thought she simply had zero interest in me,” adds Max, with a chuckle.
Some time later, Penny was keen to get into paragliding. Friends who did the sport told her she should call Max.
“I thought it can’t be the Max I know. The Max I know is a computer geek,” she said, also laughing. “Turns out I was wrong: It was the Max I knew. And he wasn’t a computer geek. Or at least he wasn’t just a computer geek.”
So she reached out to him for a paragliding lesson. “Then one thing led to another,” said Penny. “We hit it off and we always seemed to have fun together.”
And they still are having fun together, even 20 years, two kids, one wedding ceremony, and one name change later.