Stuff in a Name

Back when I was taking the column writing class, I wrote a draft of a column about women changing their name at marriage.  I knew how I felt about it, but I wanted to get a sense of why other women did or didn’t do it, and how they subsequently felt about their decision.  I e-mailed some friends and colleagues who had a) changed their name, b) not changed their name, or c) had changed their name, didn’t like it and changed it back.  Some of these women were still married and some of these women were not.

I had expected the responses I received to be interesting, but I was unprepared for the time and obvious effort everyone put into them.  I felt overwhelmed by the prospect of condensing so much very personal information into an 800 word opinion column.  The thing wasn’t exactly a failure, but it needed a lot of work, and I had the sense that the idea was a better article than column (or, I had the excuse anyway)  so I shelved it.

I learned a lot of interesting things while researching name changes and marriage.  For example, in the Middle East (not exactly known for it’s progressive feminist policy) women don’t take their husband’s names, it’s actually illegal to change one’s name in the province of Quebec, and something like 70% of American women actually believe it should be a legal requirement of marriage to take their husband’s name.  A legal requirement!

A few of the ladies I questioned asked my questions right back at me.  So, as for me:

Growing up and on into my early adult years, I had no inclination to change my surname if I were to marry.  I think there may have been a trace of feminist thinking behind this, but mostly I just liked my last name.  I identified strongly with it and I already had a cool signature worked out for myself.  Finally, being an only child and a girl, I didn’t like the idea of my family name being donezo as soon as I married.  The idea seemed a bit silly to me: I’m me, and you’re you, so why do I have to carry your name?

Then, as is usually the case whenever you have the audacity to say, “I’m NEVER doing X”, I got married and, indeed, I changed my name.

How I subsequently felt about changing my name was not very good.  Immediately afterward, I felt shitty and depressed.  I imagined that all women felt this way having given up a part of their identity.  I’d get used to it, I thought, onward and upward.  In the long-term, however, I never adjusted and I became resentful as time went on.  I felt like an impostor in my own life, as if changing my name had somehow actually altered my personality.  I fantasized about reclaiming my maiden name.  I couldn’t do it though.  It would have been a death blow to the marriage.

Why did I do it?  I have asked myself this a million times over the years.  It all made sense at the time.

Some of the women I talked to suggested they felt pressured by their husbands or families to change their name.  I cannot say that this was my case.  I can say, I simply never brought it up with my ex-husband.  I thought it was the right and necessary thing to do in that particular situation so I went ahead and did it.  I think (but can’t say for sure) that if I had brought it up with him, his preference would have been for me to change my name.  I believe that is the preference of most guys though, so I won’t fault him for that.

The situation that made the action necessary, in my mind, was the decision to marry an American.  The American had offered to immigrate to my country.  That was fine with me – I didn’t want to move out of my country.  The easiest way to get into Canada is to be sponsored by a family member.  “Family member” includes fianceés and spouses.  I had the idea that if we had the same last name that gave us some sort of cred with Immigration Canada.  I was terrified that we would be interviewed separately to determine if our relationship was real.  I guess I thought if I had the same name, it made us look more legitimate as a couple, and maybe it would speed the process up.

I wouldn’t come to that same conclusion now.  But now I’m just a few months shy of 34, and I was only 24 then.

When it was obvious that my ex-husband had checked out of the relationship, I wasted no time taking back my maiden name.  The second I finished signing the paperwork on my new ID, I had my own identity back.  It was a tremendous source of strength and power throughout that dark time.  And, it sent a message: Fuck you, then.

Should I ever find myself upon Marriage’s doorstep in the future, I will not change my name again.  Love me, love my name.  It’s a deal breaker.

4 thoughts on “Stuff in a Name

  1. I think your age at the time of your marriage might have something to do with changing your name too. I think when you are younger it is all romantic to change your name. However, when you are older, you have established a career, a credit score and a life with your own name and that might make it harder to change it.

    First marriage I hyphenated it. After the divorce I went back to my maiden name. However, i hyphenated so that things were easier and I could go by any name of the names or combinations of.

    Second time around I hyphenated it too – but that was because I wanted to keep my identity and still have the same last name as my child. Only my passport and drivers licence has the hyphenated name and everything else is my maiden.

    Husband didn’t care either way if I changed or not.

    Just my 2 cents if you were interested!! LOL!

  2. A very interesting topic to have stumbled upon.
    I’ve been doing genealogy research the last couple of weeks. I’m 34 and my parents are getting older. I felt this urgency to find out about our history and it’s been really difficult. If women had kept their own names, going back through time and making those family connections would be so much easier…obviously.

    In my own life I am one of two children. My brother is 38 and he and his partner are not going to have children. They’ve both decided that marriage and children aren’t for them and as his girlfriend gets older the less likely they are to be able to have kids if they should change their minds.

    I haven’t decided on children yet, but, at the very least, my fiance has been kind enough to take my name. We will both share our names equally by way of hyphen.

  3. I debated about changing my name for quite a long time, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It felt wrong and awkward. I always said that if we had a baby, maybe I’d hyphen my name so that at least I shared a bit of my name with Joey – just for ID purposes so that there was no doubt that he was mine. He’s now almost a year old and I still haven’t done it and don’t see doing it in the near future.

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