Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Name Game: Couples Edition

Why did you keep your name when you got married?

The short answer I give is that I like my last name and I'm too lazy to deal with the hassle of changing my name. It's 2014. I think that answer should suffice, but I get the feeling it doesn't.

A friend in Georgia told me that everybody there loves monogramming things. It has to be the monogram with the last initial made big in the middle. She said her friends there short circuit when they find out she and her husband don't share a last initial. Whatever will we do if we can't monogram!

The bigger answer is this: All the reasons I could think of to change my name were about other people. Other people will assume I have my husband's last name. Other people will mistakenly call me by his last name. Other people will think I'm making a feminist statement. Other people will wonder what to call us (Mr. and Mrs. ____?). Other people will wonder how on earth they can monogram something for us. 

I'm the one who has to go to the DMV and Social Security office. I'm the one who has to change my name on my bank accounts and all my online accounts. I'm the one who has to inform my colleagues and students and to have my work email account changed. I'm the one who has to correct my resumes and my syllabi. I'm the one who has to update my W-2s for my various jobs. And I'm the one who has to change my name in my own head and think of myself differently. Since it's up to me to make the change, then it's also up to me to say no if I want to. 

I'm speaking from experience. I changed my name once before, and I always regretted it. I never felt like the name belonged to me, and I have no desire to repeat that experience. 

I do like my name, but mostly, it's that I'm used to it. It's how I think of myself. I haven't changed who I am just because I got married. 

At the start of one semester in an ESL class, I was taking attendance. As I read some of their names, they would say, "I go by Jessie," or, "You can call me Vincent." Students from other countries often change or shorten their names to make them easier for English speakers to pronounce. Not everyone changes their name, though. They are content to wrestle with the English alphabet and let English speakers deal with their names as best as they can. I got to one student who said, "And I go by Ji Young because I like my name," and shrugged her shoulders. So, what's better: changing your name or not changing your name? Neither. Both. It's not my question to answer. 

If a woman wants to change her name when she gets married because she likes the idea of sharing a name, great. It's none of my business. If someone wants to change their name to distance themselves from their family, because they've never felt confident about their name, or because their name is hard to pronounce, great. Again, it's not my name, so I don't get a say in this. 

Everybody should have a name they feel comfortable with. I hope people take some time to weigh their options, but other than that, I'll call you by whatever name you want me to and I won't think much about it.


How should people refer to our titles? Refer to us separately. Hint: We know we're together! Mr. ___ and Ms. ___. Or just forget the titles altogether. We're not living in Elizabethan England.  

What are we going to call our kids? We'll probably follow the Mexican tradition and give our kids one family name from each of us. Since we don't have kids, I'm not worrying about it, so neither should you.

What should people call our family? The ___ ___ family. In Spanish, la familia ___ ___ or los ___ ___.  I don't care which name you put first or if you hyphenate it. See how easy that was?

Was my husband okay with my decision? Before we were talking about marriage, I made it clear that I was happy with my name and intended to keep it if I ever got married again. If you're really asking if my husband allowed me to keep my name, picture me searching my neck for a collar and leash and finding none. 

What should you do or say if someone tells you s/he wants to keep/change their name? The correct response is, "I'll support whatever you decide." 

If you're still feeling dissatisfied with my explanation, it's probably because you already had a strong opinion on the matter and you weren't actually curious in the first place. In that case, check yourself. Otherwise, I hope this clears the air and empowers you to own your name, whatever you decide it's going to be. 

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