Monday, January 07, 2008

Who Am I?

My thoughts on women changing their names at marriage have, possibly, been a little off the feminist beaten track. I took my husband's name, as I'm sure most of you know. I figured you have to have some man's name, and at that point in my life I pretty much rejected further association with my father. I would be more tolerant of his weaknesses and limitations now, but the decision had to be made then.

So I took a new name as a symbol (to myself only) that I didn't have to be defined by my father. But now what do I do? Divorce is inevitable, apparently, and I have this name linked to a family that doesn't want me. And I've had that name longer than I had the other. Who the heck am I now?

My professional reputation, such as it is, is all with this name. Only my siblings and my mother even know the old name, probably, so changing back to my former name would be confusing to my friends. A soothing truth is that my children have this name. Sharing their name isn't essential, certainly, but is comforting and a little grounding right now.

Latching onto that might just be another manifestation of the dangerous tendency available to women of defining themselves through their children. And of course I'm more than my name, but I have to have one. And I don't know exactly what I want here.

Which leads me back to the feminist policy-making. What could I possibly tell a young bride? "Don't change your name because 26 years later he could turn into a duplicitous scumbag, and then who will you be?" You can't say that when everything is hopeful and new and when the focus should be on permanence and commitment. But I do sort of wish I'd thought more about that possibility, and that I didn't have this permanent-feeling symbol that I turned my heart and identity over to someone who much later rejected both.

16 comments:

jill said...

I believe there's a lot of value to the idea that one decide on one's name as a practical matter. Changing your name is an arduous, somewhat confusing process for all concerned. Is the hassle (and potential for dropping off certain important grids) worth the trouble? Only the woman can answer that, but for some I think it's a Pyrrhic victory at best, a battle she must fight over and over again. Is your name central or peripheral to your identity? How much energy do you want to devote to this process?

I changed my name on marriage primarily because in the long run it made my life easier, since my unmarried name was considered difficult to spell (or read, apparently - despite being perfectly phonetic). I was able to keep my beloved initials (which actually spell out my nickname), and I hardly ever have to spell it out for anyone unless they're a 1.) a supreme dimwit, 2.) not listening to me when I tell them what my name is ("and how do you spell your name?" "Smith?" ::embarrassed pause on the other end of the line::) or 3.) Really, really careful that I'm not one of the > 1% of people named "Smythe."

In the long run, this is better for me. In the short run, I discovered that it's easier to change your name with the credit card companies (a phone call) than on your frequent flyer accounts (they require written missives) or worst yet, my most-loathed Comcast (you have to physically go to one of their offices with your G-D marriage license - hell with that, and our bill still bears my unmarried name).

I know my mom thought about it too and decided that on top of everything you talk about, she had been known by her married name for 50% more years than her unmarried name. So she kept her married name.

Elisa said...

I would just keep the name. It's YOUR name, too, after all this time. Your "maiden" name doesn't mean anything to you, so going back to that is just a rejection of something, rather than an affirmation of anything, if that makes sense. Otherwise, I guess you could make up a new last name for yourself, but that's going to be way more hassle than it's worth.

jill said...

Your "maiden" name doesn't mean anything to you, so going back to that is just a rejection of something, rather than an affirmation of anything, if that makes sense.

Indeed - and I also have a half-formed thought around how, if you chose to move away from your current name, you're still letting him define you - via negative space, possibly. But still. Hence my question of, "what is practical for me?"

Perhaps my mom's (in)famous decision-making process: say to yourself, "I'm changing my name to [x]." Consider your feelings upon making that positive statement. Then say, "I'm keeping my current name." Consider your feelings then. Usually, the gut-level emotions that rise up on making those two (positively-phrased) statements are powerful indicators for what will work.

Megan said...

Random comment from someone who just went through the process of changing my name despite my professional identity being attached to it: I simply added the new name on to the last and used both for a year or so. I'm in the process now of dropping the original name. We'll see how it works.

M. Adams > M. Adams Brooks > M. Brooks

Brooks was not a name that either my wife or I had in our immediate past families - it went back a few generations. Perhaps there are branches in your family tree worth exploring for names.

And if you keep the name you've been using for so long - good for you. I've got a dear friend who kept her married name after a divorce because she didn't like her initial last name. (Much to her ex-husband's chagrin...)

Lexy said...

I muddled with my kids' first names and legally changed them to what we had been calling them for years. One went by his middle name, the other was named Michael at birth but we ALWAYS knew he would be Micah - so we changed them when they were teens, already experiencing "that's not my name."

It wasn't hard but it wasn't easy either. Had to have the changes posted in the newspaper in case they were "deadbeats" and someone was looking for them. Had to change all the official stuff.

I now highly suggest that people not name their babies within 24 hours of giving birth - I was kinda loopy and would agree to anything.

But about you. I took my husband's name when we married cuz it was a much better WASP name than my Russian maiden name. Now that my parents are gone, I wish I had kept it. It's a cool name, it's ethnic (which I now love), there aren't many with this name in the world, it's where my roots are.

So where are your roots? With your maiden name, married name, or a brand new name. Any would be fine if you identify with it.

Lexy said...

I should have added that your kids may be offended if you change your name but I'm sure an explanation may help. If the name is good enough for them, then why not you? Are you erasing us, too? Those will be some thoughts in their minds.

Renee said...

I don't know. I think at some point you *became* Andrea Rusin (and not necessarily the moment when the priest said I now pronounce you...) It's your name just as much as it is his, you earned it, you raised children with that name, and unless it makes you feel ill to keep it, I don't see any reason to change it (unless you really want to.)

My mom has been married three times, but to this day uses her second husband's last name because she likes it best of all the options. After several years of marriage my best friend just finally added her second husband's last name to her maiden name (never took her first husband's name, nor did she ever give it to her/his daughter). When Scott and I got married our friends were equally split between 'Well of course you're keeping your last name, right?" and ""Well of course you're taking his name, right?" I took his name because it felt right, and also because I was never fond of my maiden name. If something ever happened between us I think I would keep the name.

I say screw policy and do what feels right to you.

Renee said...

After several years of marriage my best friend just finally added her second husband's last name to her maiden name (never took her first husband's name, nor did she ever give it to her/his daughter).

To add:
One of the reasons she never took her first husband's last name was that *he* was between changing his last name from his birth father, who was an asshole, to that of the man who actually raised him, and her daughter automatically got her last name because they weren't yet married when she gave birth.

Names are complicated shit, yo.

Lisa :-] said...

Hmmm... What's in a name?

I find it interesting that you associate your maiden name with your father. I never looked at it that way. I always thought of my maiden name as MY name, but, of course, it IS my Dad's name...

I would have no trouble going back to my maiden name if my husband...defected. I never much cared for his family, and I don't have kids. As for YOUR kids...I don't buy the argument by one of the previous commentors that your kids will have "issues" if you change your name. Your (ex)husband will ALWAYS be their father, so his name is appropriate for them. But their father will no longer be YOUR husband (and not by YOUR choice...) so why should you carry his name around? They're adults. They should be able to deal with that.

Elisa said...

I kept my "maiden" name for 10 years of marriage and then switched to my husband's last name for various reasons, and my kids have never cared much one way or the other. I do like having the same last name as them, and I like the way it goes with my first name.

I had no real trouble changing my name on my driver's license, credit cards, etc. The only entities I have been unable to convince of my name change are ebay and Paypal (even faxing them all the documentation they asked for didn't work, so whatever, call me what you want, ebay).

Anyway, Andrea, I think a name that you have used for pretty much your entire adult life, not to mention your career, is YOUR name as much as anyone's.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little more on the radical side of this question. What is a "maiden" name? A name you use when you're a maiden, a virgin? My name stayed the same when I lost my virginity and it stayed the same when I got married.

My name is mine. period. It was given to me at my birth, and it's mine. If I choose to change it, for whatever reason, the new name will be mine. I will not change it to reflect my sexual status, my marital status, or any other status.

Loretta_S said...

I associate my surname with my father, but in a good way. He did a lot to establish my initial identity and sense of self-worth. I didn't change it when I got married. I had too many positive associations with the name to want to leave it behind. One of my sisters changed (then changed back when she divorced), the other hypenated. So we've all currently got the name in some form.

My sister worked with someone who sometimes went by her married name (current husband's), her children's last name (first husband's), her "professional name" the one that she got her advanced degrees under and had all of her professional reputation. I can't remember if that was her "maiden" name or not. Talk about complicated. Yikes.

I agree with Renee, no matter what convention says, you have to do what you want.

sabellak said...

Because of nonsense at work that HR has alternately blamed on the IT department (um, not according to their director), homeland security (!), and more probably the IRS, I now have a hyphenated name that neither I nor my husband intended me to have. Basically, I changed my name with the social security office, and hence needed them to change it on payroll, but wanted to continue using my maiden name on publications, with students, etc. They have done this for others for YEARS. Well, no more, apparently, and I get to be the test bunny. So back to social security I went.

Sigh. Had I realized it was going to be this irritating, I would have kept the maiden name. I don't think Duryea cared that much until I was told by work that I HAD to do it their way, 11 months after the fact.

Anonymous said...

Came across your blog by chance -- very interesting post. If keeping your name reminds you of the 'duplictous scumbag' you married, then why the heck would you want to hang on to it? Let it go.

Your identity is in your heart, spirit and relationships with others, not your surname. I don't know you at all, but would say to forgive your father, go back to the name you were baptized with, and use the moment to creating a spiritual rebirth. Nothing in this world is permanent, my dear. Be mindful of your blessings. Practice gratitude.

Peace be with you.

Emma said...

I changed my name with my first marriage - and when my husband died four months later - I changed my name back to my maiden name. I felt that my married identity hadn't had time to integrate into who I was. In my second marriage, I kept my 'maiden' name - and when that marriage ended I decided to change my entire name - first and last. I enjoyed having my identity be my own choice - and found that my chosen name was a better fit to who I was than my 'maiden' or married name. Just some thoughts to ponder....

Elspeth said...

My MIL took her husband's name, and kept it even when they divorced because her son had it. Her ex-husband isn't even alive anymore, but she still has his name, and now I do. I changed my name because I wanted to change it, and liked the name I changed to. I definitely wouldn't have changed to a hard to spell name, but this was a step up. My sister is keeping her name, has given her baby her name, and even her fiance is considering taking her name (crazy to me, especially since his name is like a previous poster's, very very common, and our name isn't).

I think you should do what you like, and I'm sure your kids will understand if you change your name. Sure it's the name of your ex-husband, but it's also their name so you have a reason either way to keep it or change it. I'd do what you want to do or feel comfortable with.

I also understand the professional problem - I didn't have trouble when I got married and changed my last name, but I have been toying with the idea of changing my first name, and have no idea how I'll go about doing that, especially work-wise when your references know you in a certain way.

Good luck on your choice!