Sunday, January 30, 2011

to change or not to change

That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet -- or so Shakespeare would have us believe. Perhaps that's true, but wouldn't renaming certain roses 'lilacs' and some 'daisies' and others 'mums' begin to get a little confusing?

Ay, and there's the rub in the decision to change one's name after marriage, a decision reserved most often and almost solely for women. Since becoming engaged, I have struggled with this issue. I still haven't come to any clear-cut decision. No matter what I decide, it will be either a bureaucratic or personal nuisance, or possibly both. Should I keep my name, I will constantly be asked to explain to those I encounter why I made such a decision, or having to explain that no, my last name is not the same as my co-conspirator's, it is ___. If I change it, I'll have all the bureaucratic hoops to navigate, contacting all sorts of people and businesses and agencies to let them know that I'm married, my status has changed, and so has my name. (Will I have to do this anyway? I actually have no idea.) By keeping my name, I could be accused of all sorts of things, such as not being committed enough to family, being too selfish, not letting go of the past, and a multitude of other ridiculous accusations that I cannot even fathom. It's tempting to keep my name just to spite -- to challenge -- such senseless judgments and preconceptions (or more appropriately misconceptions) about the role women are expected to play as spouses and mothers.

Further, surnames are so loaded with patriarchal symbolism that it's almost as if I cannot make a completely 'feminist' choice. My last name is that of my father, not that of my mother, etc., etc., back through the family genealogy. And then the confusion of naming children. Hyphenation seems an obvious compromise, but an incredibly imperfect one.

All feminist and social issues and annoyances aside, this has been my name for the past 30+ years. Changing it would inevitably confuse everyone who would have no reason to know that my relationship status is changing in the law's eyes. It would even be confusing to myself, learning to call myself another name, someone else's name.

On the other hand, the co-conspirator has a much more interesting last name than I, as well as one that carries much more clout around here. (Honestly, if that weren't the case, I wonder if this would be as difficult a decision. I wonder if therein lies my answer?) Moreover, certainly there is something deliciously enticing about reinventing oneself under a new name, and this is probably one of the easiest ways to go about that. More importantly, it would be nice to share the same last name with the co-conspirator, as a symbol of being part of the same family, and of starting a new one. But in the process, it would be nice to honor both of the families from which we came instead of just one.

Is there a non-awkward way to do that?

These small things, a niftier, snazzier last name that carries a little weight + a reinventing of my public persona currently are of equal weight on the scale with all the rest of my stick it to the 'man' mentality. Ideally, the social issues wouldn't play into it. I'd freely admit to overthinking, but this is my - our - identity, which is not something that can necessarily be taken lightly.

At least I have a few more months to decide.


  1. No non-awkward way, I imagine :\ It's so unfair we're put in this position to begin with. I personally don't think there's a single right decision, either from a feminist or a personal perspective. Wishing you the best and hoping you'll feel at peace with whatever you decide.

  2. I haven't come up with a non-awkward way either. Thank you for your kind words and support! I'm sure the 'answer' will come to me, one way or another.

  3. It's an incredibly personal decision. My husband and I opted to both hyphenate (and were blessed with two last names that hyphenated well.) Neither of us wanted to lose our names (I consider my pre-hyphenated last name as much my mother's as my father's because she's had it for 40 years), but we also wanted to have the same name as one another and, most importantly, our children. Being the only two people in the world with our name is pretty cool. It's a one-generation fix, however, as our children will already have a hyphenated name and face their own challenges of how to deal with it. For us, it was the right decision. People like to tell me I hyphenated my name incorrectly (his name before my name simply sounded better, we both agreed) and are surprised he hyphenated his, but it works for us. And I love having his name almost as much as I love him having mine.

  4. Ha! I didn't know there was a 'correct' way to hyphenate. My mom keeps telling me not to hyphenate mine, but I only would if the co-conspirator changed his as well. Ultimately, I'd like us both to change our names in some way, either my last name becoming both of our middle names, or one of them, or some other way; he seems unwilling to do anything like that, so I am ultimately unwilling to go through the wretched paperwork alone. I'd like our mythical kids to have the same last name as well, but I can tell you this right now: Whatever my last name when they are born, that will be theirs. Thank you for sharing your story! It's nice to know I'm not the only one to struggle with this decision.


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