Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On Changing My Name

When we got married, I changed my last name.

This surprised many including Andy (I think) because I am not really a "traditionalist" and I fall into the category "feminist." Several people have asked me about it, and I really do have reasons. Here they are:

  1. First, I do not like the last name I was given at birth. I love my father. I love my father's family and our wonderful family legacies, but I do not feel that that legacy is connected to the name that provided for all kinds of name-calling and obscene jokes from elementary to high school. I did not like having to spell my last name every time someone asks because they cannot believe that's really my name. Andy's last name is prettier and easier and way less conducive to name-calling. Period.
  2. I have four parents. They have different last names. We have no real "family" name.
  3. In this country, we have no matrilineal heritage through a name. I find this very sad, but that's the way it is. As far as I'm concerned, I traded one male name for another. There's no reason to be loyal or emotional or nostalgic about that.
  4. I am not famous/published/career-oriented (yet?). Might as well change now.
  5. Connected to Number two, it is important to me to have one family name to signify Andy and my new family together. I like the signs people gave us that say "The _ Family," showing that we're embarking on a unified journey together. I strongly believe in individuality (we did a unity candle at our wedding, but left the individual pillars burning to signify that though we combined our journey together, we remain unique people along the way), but I also believe strongly in community. I believe that people can be true individuals only in community (one of the wonderful paradoxes of life), and I like that we are signifying our marriage as unification through one name. Sure, we could have combined our names and achieved the same unity, but see Number 1 again.

It's interesting what an emotional, complicated issue this is for many people. It is also interesting how much I've thought about my decision in these few weeks of marriage. I have never regretted my decision or thought about changing my mind, but it is a strange thing to change your name. My name is such an integral part of my identity, and changing it is an odd thing. I am proud to sign my new name, and to be changing it everywhere, and to think about my new family and my new identity.

And really, no matter what last name we choose when we get married, all of us always get a new name. Now, Andy is Husband. I am Wife. Those are names I do not have any trouble getting used to.


Marsha said...

This is indeed a complicated issue. I think few people give it serious thought and just dive into the wife-take-the-husband's-name thing because "that's what you're SUPPOSED to do." You've obviously put a lot of thinking into this!

When Jan and I got married, we wrestled with the same question. We wanted to share a name, but neither of us wanted me to take his. We thought about having him take mine, but mine was even more difficult to spell/pronounce than his. We also considered combining the letters in our two last names to make up an entirely new one, but there were way too many consonants and not enough vowels, so we kept ending up with very Slavic, very harsh-sounding possibilities.

So we hyphenated our names (mine first, then his, so we wouldn't have five consecutive consonants in the middle), and we BOTH changed our names. This lets us share a name without either of us having to let go of the ones we started with.

When we told his mom we were doing this, she said, "I see... But what if you have kids? And they get married? Won't that be complicated?"

Our reply: "That's THEIR problem." Heh.

And yes, Sylvia does share our hyphenated last name. We have friends who did the same things with their surnames and have a son who's a few years older than Sylvia. We're kind of hoping they get married one day just so we can see what the name train wreck looks like. (I'm guessing they'd throw their hands up in frustration and say, "SMITH! We're changing our names to SMITH!" Ha!)

Jen Anderson said...

I changed my name for pretty much the same reasons that you gave. I wasn't teased for my last name, but my brother was always jealous of me since someday I would GET to change it.

And I'm endlessly amused by being The Andersons. It's so kitchy to me, mostly because most of my friends are single.

I did slack off on taking care of the paperwork for almost a year, and the name change ended up coinciding with a career change.

I made the change without much thought because I had already thought it through years before. Part of feminism is being able to make our own choices, including changing our names with marriage.