I just came across a Newsweek article about women changing — or not changing — their names when they marry. Having personally tried several of the options at one time or another, I was curious about what the author had to say.
She describes all the different approaches women take, summarizes some statistics, and concludes without ever telling us what she herself has done or plans to do. And she doesn’t explain the one thing I’ve always wondered about — what happens when people with hyphenated surnames marry people with hyphenated surnames?
Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s how I played the name game:
My first marriage, to my high school sweetheart, was in 1965. I’d grown up with and pretty much still lived in a world where a marriage was for life and women proudly took their husband’s last name. I kept my maiden name as my middle name, mostly because that’s what my mother had done and what I thought everyone did. As it turned out, that wasn’t always the case. Lots of people expected to see my middle name remain unchanged and my maiden name to disappear entirely. Not a problem most of the time, except when people had preconceived notions about my monogram or obligingly inserted my (wrong) middle initial on something for me.
After a divorce in 1983, I kept my married name to avoid confusion at my son’s school. By then schools were having all kinds of problems keeping track of kids, parents with different names, and blended families.
However, when my son finished high school, I decided to go back to my maiden name. It wasn’t an altogether easy decision. I didn’t want to sever that name association with my son, but I really had no desire to keep my ex’s name the rest of my life. My first and most permanent personal identification has always been my parents. If I had to choose a name to use for the rest of my life, it was going to be theirs, not my ex’s.
That necessitated changing the name I’d been using at work for some twenty years, but at the time it wasn’t really a problem. In fact, it helped to be using my dad’s name again, since I was working at the medical association and he was a doctor. Losing the social ties was never a consideration for me either. People who knew me well enough already knew who my family was, and those who didn’t, didn’t matter.
Fifteen years later I got married again, to a conservative, old-school kind of guy who expected me to take his name. It seemed a small concession at the time. But when my dad died eighteen months later, something inside me needed to have his name again. He was gone. He’d always been my rock, my identity in life. I couldn’t not keep his name, my family name. So I went down to the DMV and changed my license back to my maiden name. The huz was pissed, and I didn’t much care. We were divorced a year later.
When I got back to Oklahoma, they weren’t as nonchalant about the name change as New York had been. As far as they were concerned, the marriage had constituted a legal name change, and it would take legal paperwork to change it back. What a hassle. But I did it.
And I’m not changing my name again. Ever. Not for anyone. I am who I am, and my name is the one my parents gave me. Deal with it.