Monday, October 18, 2010

The Name Change Gray Area

I am a feminist--unabashedly, passionately so--and I had always planned on taking Mr. Octo's name when we got married. Here's why: I like the clear "family unit" connotation that having the same last name as your spouse offers, I like Mr. Octo's last name specifically, and I want to have the same last name as our future children. Additionally, our last names sound super dumb when hyphenated (they have the same final syllable, so they sound oddly similar and rhymey). Mr. Octo was not at all interested in taking a combined name or changing his own name, but repeatedly expressed that he didn't care what my choice was, and wanted me to do whatever felt right to me. So, I decided that I'd be changing my name.

Then we got married, and immediately, nearly everyone started referring to me as Mrs. HisName. Often, it was meant in a cute, pointed, "you're married now!" way, but sometimes it seemed to just be an assumed fact of life (ie, receiving cards or mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. HisName, from people I am certain I never told whether or not I actually wanted to be addressed as such). And, surprisingly, although changing my name to HisName had always been my plan, I found that I did not like the way it felt. At all.

I guess what rubbed me the wrong way was that it felt very sudden, and it felt like I had very little agency in the matter. I explained it to Mom Octopus by saying that with all the other emotional changes a marriage brings, the quickness with which my name was replaced was making me uncomfortable. In the weeks leading up to the wedding, I thought a lot (and, sometimes, struggled a lot) about what my new roles and identity as "wife" and "married person" were going to mean, and how they were going to change me. The sense that I was now, literally, a different person because I was married didn't feel good. I was also uncomfortable with the assumptions people made about what I'd prefer to be called. I hadn't been especially forthcoming with my name-change plans one way or the other before the wedding, so it really surprised me when many, many, many people automatically started calling me by his last name, without asking me what I actually wanted. It quickly started to feel like my last name had been taken away from me, rather than something I purposefully and consciously chose to change.

I know I had sixteen months to get used to the idea that I'd have a new name after the wedding; it's not like my own plans were a surprise to me. Hey, what can I tell you? I felt how I felt. I thought that I'd be ready to go by a new name as soon as I got married, and then, it turned out that I wasn't. Mom Octopus advised me, "Do whatever you need to do. Take some time if you feel like it. There's no right answer. Just go with what feels right." Mr. Octo continued not to care about whether or not I kept or changed my name, and continued to encourage me to do whatever made me happy.

So, I decided to just sit on it for a while, and think, and do nothing. I took a few weeks to let my new marriage sink in (during which time I continued going by my maiden name), and planned to re-visit the issue when our day-to-day life had more or less gotten back to normal.

Now that the excitement and thrill of the wedding, as well as the stress and anxiety and general feeling of Something Huge Is About to Happen are all over, I've realized that I do still want to change my name. I still like the fact that sharing a last name is a social signifier for "married to each other." I still like his last name, and the way it sounds with my first name. I still like the idea of having a common name with our future children. I still don't like the way our names sound when hyphenated. I guess the issue was really that I wanted to feel more like I was in control of the process, and that my name would change when and how I decided it would.

So far, I'm taking the process slowly, and doing things when I feel ready to do them. I changed my name on Facebook (a big deal, haha!), and I've started using his last name in non-legally-binding situations (like making restaurant reservations or whatever). I will probably start introducing myself by my married name now, and signing non-legal correspondence with my married name. I will start the actual government-documentation process.......whenever. Soon-ish. I'm not in a rush, and I don't think it's a particularly big deal if I take some more transition time between socially becoming Mrs. HisName and making it legal. I'm also still deciding whether or not I want to scratch my current middle name and replace it with my maiden name.

I feel good about my name change now. I feel much more like it's happening on my terms and because of my personal choice, and not like it's something society at large assigned to me without my consent.

I never even planned on writing a name-change post, because I honestly felt like it was simply a matter of personal choice and personal business, so why would we discuss it? I'll do me, you do you, no need to analyze each other's choices. However, I decided to write this post because I realized that there's another aspect beyond, "which option did you pick for yourself?" In my own name-change process, I realized that the decision is often offered up as a black-or-white situation. You're EITHER on Team Change-Your-Name OR you're on Team Keep-Your-Name. But now I know that it doesn't have to be like that. You can also wait and see how it feels. You can also realize that you don't have to be ready to change your name at the exact same moment you get married. You can also change it whenever the eff you feel like it and not a moment before. You could also think you want to change your name, and then get married, and then realize that you don't want to change it after all, or vice versa. You could also change it in five years, or ten years, or when you have children, or whatever. I've always believed that changing your name is a choice, but now I also know that there are more choices than two.

What do you all think?

1 comment:

  1. well said! funny enough: people who think i married a man often ask right away if i changed my name, and people who know i married a woman assumed that i didn't. weird, right?

    i'm glad you got to make the conscious decision. i was excited for you when i saw your change on facebook... but also annoyed for you when i saw people congratulating "Mrs. HisName" before you changed it! aaand sorry if i'm projecting.