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May
30

What’s In a Name?

Indulge me for a moment as I take off my nurse cap and step onto my soapbox…

There’s been a bit of buzz on one my favorite healthy living blogs about a topic that is near and dear to my heart: That of making the decision about changing one’s name upon marriage. I’ve touched on this before.

Those of you who know me or have read this blog for a while know that I chose not to change my last name when I married S. Apparently such a decision has now been labeled as “selfish”.

Hm.

I won’t even delve into the question of why this decision belongs so squarely to the female in this culture, about why the male is not similarly interrogated about whether he is changing his name, about why he doesn’t have to deal with raised eyebrows and pursed lips that say “Why in God’s name would you ever make THAT decision???” And then there’s the reality that legal marriage for same-sex couples is becoming an option in more and more states (Yay!) – how do such partnerships approach the issue of names when the time comes to tie the knot? By breaking the stereotypical marriage mold, maybe they have something to teach the rest of us about decisions around signifying a lifelong commitment.

But these could be posts unto themselves. So for now, let’s return to the insulting idea of “keeping one’s name = selfish”.

This is my second marriage (hopefully my last!). The first time I wanted to show my commitment to my husband by taking his name. Then I lost myself. And it’s taken a long time to find my way home. When the divorce became final and I took my name back it was a gesture of independence, of freedom, of telling myself (and everyone around me) that I was just fine, just as I was. I didn’t need someone else’s name to be me. I vowed that if I ever got married again, I would have to find someone who was okay with me not changing my name. Cuz I wasn’t going back there.

Enter S. He is nothing like my first husband. Our relationship is the polar opposite of my first marriage. Losing my way is not at issue.

And yet I found myself holding onto my own name, still choosing to signal my independence, my “me-ness”. And S never asked me to do anything differently. He celebrates me being proud of my name and its meaning to me. He agrees that having the same last name shouldn’t automatically mean that the wife takes the husband’s. He even floated the idea of changing his name to mine. (I know. Where did this guy come from?) Ultimately he decided to keep his own name for similar reasons that I kept mine. And I respected him for that, just as he respected me. Especially because he actually thought about what that meant in the process of considering his own name change. We both considered it and we both came to personal, individual decisions. I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

I completely respect the choices that couples  make when it comes to signifying marriage. Some choose to adopt a spouse’s name, some choose to hyphenate, some choose to create new names together. None of them signal a loss of personal identity. None of them are “anti-feminist” … some of the strongest feminists I know change their names with no apologies. It’s a personal decision, with personal reasons – I’m in no place to judge.

I just wish that my choice, to keep my own name, was also respected. It wasn’t made lightly.

Given my personal journey, keeping my own name felt right. It made sense. It signified that I had survived a broken marriage, a fraught divorce and emerged on the other side a whole person. It signified that no matter what the future holds for S and me, I would still be a whole person at the end of the day.

In my opinion, the romantic comedy line about your spouse/partner “completing” you is dangerous. Your partner helps you grow, stretches you, makes you feel loved and supported and part of a team. But you’re complete as you are. And if demonstrating this individuality by keeping my own name is selfish, then I’ll take it.

With no apologies.

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