Friday, March 23, 2012

the name

This is always a controversial topic, and so for a while I have avoided writing about it.  But as my wedding draws closer (less than 6 months!) it occupies increasing brain-space.  This is a topic that everyone has their own opinion about, and I think we can all agree that each woman's (person's?) decision is made for deeply personal reasons.  But.  That does not stop us from judging each other about it. 

I am talking, of course, about changing your name when you get married.

The first time I got married, I did not change my name.  At the time I thought it was because I had a firm sense of my identity, and that included my last name.  Now, I am thinking maybe it was, a bit, that I did not have a firm sense of my identity, and that hanging onto my name gave me some much-needed stability.  Or, maybe my decision not to change my name reflected some deep ambivalence about marriage, or that particular marriage, that I was not prepared to acknowledge explicitly at the time.  I don't know what the "real" reason is, I only know that changing my name was not even really an option for me.

This time is different.  My decision to change my name started as a compromise of sorts between me and Kathy.  She was, at the time we first discussed it, reluctant to give up her married name because she wanted to have the same last name as her kids.  I understood this, but couldn't help but cringe a little when she was called Mrs. Hislastname at the school (for the record, she has never gone by Mrs., but for some reason elementary school teachers and administrators love thrusting this title on people), or worse, received mail addressed to Mrs. Hisfirstname Hislastname (yes, people still do that).  The truth is, probably that no matter what her actual name is, she will get called Mrs. Hislastname.  I know this because I get called Mrs. Hislastname by kids (and adults) at the school.  Talk about cringing.  But I digress.

Anyway, at the time, she was reluctant to change her last name back to her "maiden" name (although I hate that term -- really, maiden?) because she wanted to have the same name as her kids.  Which I got.  But we also wanted to have the same last name, and I was definitely not going to become Mrs. Hislastname, whatever they might decide to call me at the school.  She was also concerned that becoming Kathy Mylastname would feel to the kids like her "choosing" me over them.  Which I also got. 

One of the reasons we wanted to have the same last name is that we plan to have a baby someday.  Even if she remained Kathy Hislastname, I was going to be pretty adamant about the baby not being Baby Hislastname.  But if it was Baby Mylastname, then it would be me and Baby, Kathy and her kids -- like two families instead of one.  Also I liked the idea of having the same last name as Kathy. 

Another reason we want to have the same last name is that we're lesbians.  No one expects either of us to change our last name.  I think it's part of the "not a real marriage" bias.  They expect straight women to take their husband's name unless they say otherwise (though hopefully this is changing?  I don't know, because I'm not a straight woman) but expect us to keep our names.  I kind of like to surprise people, and I want people to have to acknowledge that we're actually married, even if it's just when they say my name.  Also, when you're lesbians, there is no preconceived notion about who should take which name, so it loses some of the patriarchal punch.

So, for a while, we were stuck.  Kathy was Kathy Hislastname, I was Erin Mylastname, and we couldn't figure out where to go from there.  So we compromised -- she would change her name back to Kathy Herlastname, and I would change my name to Erin Herlastname.  Movement from both of us.  That was how it started. 

Now, years later, I have had to hold Kathy back from changing her name to Kathy Herlastname before we get married -- I want us both to change, not just me.  But she is definitely ready to no longer be Mrs. Hislastname (at least officially, if not at the school).  Also, as time has gone on, I have become more and more comfortable with being Erin Herlastname, so that it doesn't even feel like a compromise -- it's something I am very excited about.  And, once we became engaged and explained it to the kids, and they got over their disappointment about Kathy not sharing their name anymore, we found that they are also pretty excited about it -- it seems like it ultimately feels to them like me joining their family instead of her stepping away from them.

But still, I am stuck with what to do about my existing names.  My middle name is also my mom's middle name.  My last name is my father's last name (and my mother's now too, but it came from my father), and is very long, hard to pronounce, and ethnic, which I like.  Aside from its benefits in rapidly identifying telemarketers, I like that my long, hard to pronounce (German) name ties me to my distant ethnic background.  Especially since I am not really Irish, despite being named Erin.  My existing name is kind of incongruous, in a way that I like. 

So, what do I do?  Do I shed my middle name, which I am kind of fond of and share with my mom, in favor of making the long German last name into my new middle name?  Do I keep all three existing names and tack Herlastname on the end -- so that I effectively have two middle names?  Do I say goodbye to my long German name? 

I thought this would be the easy part.

1 comment:

  1. Such a good question! The name thing drives me kind of insane. No matter what decision you make, and what painstaking (polite) effort you put in so that people will know what your decision was, there is constant need for clarification and explaination.

    As a straight woman, I would say that people, in general, are NOT getting more used to women making their own decisions about name choice. The only exception I have found was in NYC (so many reasons to love it...) - not nearly as many people there thought it was strange that I wanted to remain Joy Mylastname. Even in London, most people are still surprised.

    I hope that people continue to be more understanding in the future. It's quiet surprising to me that people don't realize how much one's name can be linked to their identity. Good luck making your choice!! (I would keep all the names, but I am a fan of people having more than one middle name :-D)