What’s In A Name?

October 17, 2008

We knew there was a problem when the border guard leaned out of the window of his little cubicle and tried to peer into our car.

He gestures towards the backseat, our passports clutched in his hand. “Who’s the mother of that baby?”

“Um… me?” Why on earth would he ask me that? He has the passports in his hand.

“Do you have identification for that baby?”

“Um… you’re holding it? That’s his passport.”

“His last name is different from yours, ma’am. I have no way of knowing if this is your baby. Do you have a letter from the father?”

This conversation is starting to make me anxious. Katie, in the driver’s seat, is gripping the steering wheel tightly and trying to look virtuous.

“No, I don’t have a letter. I wasn’t aware that I needed one. I have a passport for him. You’re holding it.” I’m starting to babble. “You can call my husband if you want, but I guess that doesn’t help, right? Because I could just give you any old number, and how would you know it was my husband, so…” shut up shut up shut up “I don’t know what you want me to do; I mean, that is my baby…”

The border guard is staring at me with that blank but vaguely threatening bureaucratic stare that is the trademark of border guards, traffic cops, DMV employees and hair salon receptionists.

“His last name as indicated on this passport is different from yours, ma’am. He might not be your baby. And you have no travel letter. You could be taking him from his father.”

“But we’re on our way BACK to Canada. We’re RETURNING from a trip. We’re going BACK to where we came from. And he IS my baby. He IS.” I want to tell this guy that I have the scars to prove that I birthed this baby and that he’s welcome to see them IF HE DARES but I bite my tongue. Border guards have no sense of humor, and, also, it’s not like a display of my scarred nethers would prove anything. It’s not like Jasper left his gang tags on the walls of the birth canal on the way out. Any baby could have been responsible for that blast site. There’d be no way of proving that it was him. At least, not out here at the Thousand Islands border crossing in the middle of the night on a long weekend.

My voice is starting to get that hysterical edge. “That’s my husband’s last name on his passport, and I am married to my husband and this is our baby and I’m headed home to him but I have no way to prove that to you so I don’t know what you want me to do, seriously.”

The border guard looks at the passports, and then back at Katie and I, and then back at the passports again. “Okay,” he says. “I don’t get a bad feeling from you.” (WTF?) “I believe that this is your baby. I’m going to let you go. Next time, though, you need to bring more documentation with you.” He leans out of his border-guard cubby and hands us back our passports. “On your way.”

Katie hits the gas and peels away before he can change his mind.

We don’t say anything to each other for a few minutes.

“I think we brought back more liquor than we were supposed to. Thank god he missed that,” I say. I roll down the window to get some air. “Also, I think that I’m going to take Kyle’s name.”

*****

I don’t have any special attachment to my family name, apart from the fact that I’ve used it most of my life, which is significant, I know, but still. It’s not a true family name. My father picked it out of a hat, literally, when I was not quite two years old; he changed our family name after a falling out with his stepfather caused him to want to sever all ties with that part of his family. So my birth certificate was amended and I ended up with the family name that I have now. There’s no ancestry attached to it, no legacy. It’s just a name.

But it’s my name, and the one I’m used to. When I married my husband, I kept that name. I made a half-hearted effort to use a hyphenated version of our names, but it was hard to keep up, and, also, it sounded funny and pretentious, like it needed to be spoken with one’s lower jaw locked and all of one’s vowels and consonants enunciated clearly and separately. It’s not that I was opposed to taking his name, but nor was I opposed to keeping my own, and I just kinda lapsed into the easiest choice. I had a vague notion that I might change it to his when and if we had children, but that seemed a long way off.

I hadn’t thought again about changing my name until the other week – the week prior to being challenged by the border guard – when Emilia introduced herself to a little old lady that we encountered in the park. “My name is Emilia M—–” she said proudly, pronouncing, very carefully, every syllable. “And this is my brudder, Jasper M—–” She indicated the bundle in the stroller. “And this is my mommy, Caffrin M—–.” She beamed at me, proudly (is there any other way to beam?) and accepted the woman’s cheerful admiration of her language skills and general adorability. I, however, felt a little bit ashamed. My daughter doesn’t know my name. And, will she be disappointed that it is not the same as her own?

And: Am I disappointed that it is not the same as her own?

I was proud of her pride in introducing her family. I was proud of and heart-burstingly pleased by her delight in our us-ness. This is us, she told that lady. We are a family.

Does it matter that we don’t all share the same name? In the larger scheme of things, no, probably not. It doesn’t matter to me that border guards might challenge me on my children’s names. It doesn’t matter to me that some people might have judgments about me not taking my husband’s name, or about me not sharing my children’s name. What does matter to me, though, is this: my childrens’ feelings about our name. Perhaps Emilia wouldn’t care so much, if she knew. Call me but love, said the poet through the voice of Romeo. The name doesn’t matter, where there’s love. But I remember being a kid, and taking pride in my family, and really loving that we were us, that we were, we four, all Connors, that we alone in the world shared this name as our own, and that it set us apart. We were the Connors, and we were family.

That I loved, that I love, being a Connors, is precious to me. But that family unit is no more. My family, now – the family that is the very seat of my heart – is the M—–’s. And I want my children to have the same pride in being – with their mom and their dad – the M—–’s as I did being a Connors.

Perhaps it’s time to make that change.

What did you do? Did you keep your name, or not? If you didn’t, how do you or will you sort this out with your children? How do they feel about it? INQUIRING AND BEFUDDLED MIND WANTS TO KNOW

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    { 247 comments }

    Pgoodness October 17, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    wow, 153 comments in!

    I changed mine when I got married – just for tradition, I guess. I shared my maiden name with my dad and brother (my mom has remarried 3 times), but I didn’t feel a special attachment to it (dad issues, probably).

    You can keep the Connors – my mom kept her maiden name by dropping her middle name and replacing it with her maiden, then took her husband’s name.

    April October 17, 2008 at 10:49 pm

    i kept my name – primarily because of my profession at the time. but also (ok, mostly) because it was MY NAME.

    now that i have kids and i stay at home with them i am rethinking the whole name thing… i still struggle with it, well, you obviously know why. but, yeh.

    Cathy October 17, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    I changed mine legally — in anticipation of the kids. Plus, I was joining a family — Hubs and his two kids. I figured it would be less complicated for all involved if I just changed it.

    However — I use my maiden name professionally.

    Makes things confusing at times, but it works for me.

    Naomi October 17, 2008 at 11:06 pm

    My Jasper has a different last name, too. His father’s. Not mine. He’s still too young to care but his sister knows the difference. At 4 1/2, Roo knows we have different last names and she seems okay with that. It does give my heart an ache I never thought I’d feel when I decided to keep my maiden name.

    Mitzi Green October 17, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    don’t know how you will find the time to digest a 157th comment, but here it is… i took my husband’s name when we married almost 3 years ago. i did so because “angela p” had made so many stupid mistakes i was ready to put her to bed entirely and become “angela m”. i didn’t think to care that my firstborn was “bob n”, and neither, it seemed, did he. until #2 was born. and #2 has always been “moosebaby m,” no question. and that upset bob quite a lot when i told him under no circumstances was moosebaby an “n.” he’s grown more outwardly accepting of that fact, but i think inside, it still bothers him and makes him feel like our little family is somehow disjointed–like not only does he spend alternate weekends with another father, he also doesn’t share the name on our wall–he’s the odd man out. i hate that, and if i ever have the opportunity to change his name, i would. because yes, it’s “just a name,” but it’s also so much more.

    Amy Ruth Webb October 17, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    I’ve been married for ten years and I had my first baby 20 months ago. I changed my name a month before he was born because it was the easiest thing to do.

    I never liked my family name as I do not get along with my father or any of his family. I’d originally wanted to change my surname to my maternal grandmother’s family name, but never got around to it. Then, the baby was on the way and I didn’t want to hyphenate his last name with my own unwanted name and I didn’t want to go to court to change my last name to my grandmother’s. But I didn’t want to be the odd person out name-wise , so the baby got grandmother’s name as his middle name. And since I never liked my last name and my husband did like his, we all ended up with his.

    Not to be judgemental, but this brings up a question I’ve been wondering about for a really long time. Why even when women keep their original surname, do they so often give their children their husband’s surname alone rather than ours alone? This seems to be the de facto situation, but how is that any better in the sense that your husband’s name is still the only one getting passed down?

    Personally, I thought it would be cool to do like your father did and just choose an entirely new name but my husband wasn’t down with that.

    Overflowing Brain October 17, 2008 at 11:46 pm

    I had every intention of taking my husband’s last name when we got married 4 months ago, however, there’s a typo on our marriage license and as it turns out, he married some girl named Kathnyn and we’re having a hard time getting my first name (Kathryn) properly spelled.

    So for the time being, I still have my maiden name, and apparently, someone else’s first name.

    My parents have different last names. It never bothered me growing up and I had the same last name as my father. I think it’s only a big deal if you let it be, but I don’t have children, so I suppose it’s much easier for me to say that than to justify or prove it.

    No Mother Earth October 17, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    I took Mr Earth’s name because I knew I wanted children, and I wanted us to all have the same last name. I like to think of our family as a team and it’s part of my theory that if you’re all going to play for the same team, you have to wear the same jersey.

    That being said, when I act, I use my maiden name. It was easier professionally-speaking, and as it is something that doesn’t involve my family (other than in a supportive role), it’s nice to keep that little bit of my past self, as a reminder of who I was and who I still am. Plus it keeps the scads of fans and stalkers at bay. ;-)

    Anonymous October 18, 2008 at 12:01 am

    Kept my maiden name, but only because my DD has my maiden name. We added DS to the pic, and he got his Daddy’s name.

    In our house, girls have one name and the boys have another. If DD decides to have DH adopt her, I’m changing my name though.

    Oh, I did that hyphen-thing for a little while, then I just got lazy and dropped it.

    Angella October 18, 2008 at 12:29 am

    I always knew I would take my husband’s name, for the reasons you cited.

    He and I are one. Our children are a part of our Family.

    I do not begrudge others who choose differently. We just want to be “samesies”.

    :)

    Myg October 18, 2008 at 1:08 am

    I was 33 when I married my husband 6 years ago and kept my name. Hell, 33 years felt like a long time to be somebody then, and I guess I felt similarly to you. It was my name and I wanted to keep it.

    Now that I’m finally pregnant, I’ve decided to change it. That’s for a lot of the reasons you talk about here. I want our kids (we’re having twins) to feel part of cohesive unit. My parents split and I was the only one in the house with my name after my mom remarried. I want my kids to grow up with their mom’s last name. I could give them mine, but in all honesty – my husband has the cooler last name! And my last name was not the original either, it so happens. It was arbitrarily chosen by an immigration officer when my grandfather came to this country.

    But after seeing the shit you got from the border cop, it almost makes me want to keep my name just out of spite. How dare that asshole treat you that way! What an imbecile.

    The Queen of Hyperbole October 18, 2008 at 1:19 am

    Eventually, I changed my name. But it took six years of marriage and the birth of my first child to convince me–finally–to do it.

    It was a bigger deal to my husband than it was to me. Which is why, ultimately, I just went ahead and did it. I had my license changed on our anniversary, in fact.

    My “pen name” (God, does that sound cliched) is a combination of my maiden and married names.

    Whatever you decide to do, there’s no disputing the fact that your border guard was a douchebag. How you resisted hurling profanities at that ass is nothing short of a miracle.

    Anonymous October 18, 2008 at 4:14 am

    My brother works for the Canadian Foreign Service. Here is a link to the letter, to make it easy. Everytime you go away change the particulars for your trip. Here it is:

    http://www.voyage.gc.ca/main/before/consent_letter-en.asp

    This definitely helps when you are crossing the border with a child EVEN if you and the child have the same name.

    And, as for who is named what, it is the relationship between people that make them a family, it is how the people nuture and treat the relationship, it is not, in my opinion, what their name is or EVEN whether or not they are biologically related. A family is someone you love, and someone who loves you.

    Irene October 18, 2008 at 5:25 am

    It’s a long time ago and I was young and naive and didn’t know I had a choice or wanted one.

    Now, I would keep my own name and give my daughter my last name and my son my husband’s last name. Or give them both hyphenated names.

    I am divorced now and use my own name again, which is a great relief to me. I am glad I am not that woman with that other name anymore, I have my own identity back.

    I think women should never give up their names.

    Kirsten October 18, 2008 at 5:36 am

    I kept my own name just because of those wonderful creatures you met at the border. Also because professionally, every licensure I have ever had is under my maiden name and I did not want the hassle of having to change them.

    However, if I’m introducing myself to someone, I am Kirsten M___, and on occassion I will sign up for magazine subscriptions as Kirsten B__-M___.

    My husband, at times has issues with the fact that I did not take his name, as his first wife didn’t either. I use his name everywhere but for international travel and my licensing though. So I’m a B__-M__ at heart.

    Tracy October 18, 2008 at 8:20 am

    I kept my last name, it was important to me and to my husband. We gave our son my last name and my husband’s last name is his first name. We are crazy like that.

    Bethany October 18, 2008 at 8:21 am

    I kept my name for the first year of marriage. My husband is Korean and I am not and we were living in Korea where no one changes their name, so it felt normal. When we moved back to the US, we kept having these experiences (DMV, bank, apartment leasing office)where it seemed like people didn’t believe we were married. Nothing overt, but kind of a questioning look. I realized that we’re probably always going to get this and when we have children, I might have the same issue, having children that are part Caucasian/part Korean. I don’t want people to wonder if I’m babysitting.
    For me, having the same name as my husband and someday, my children seems easier, as much as I love my maiden name.

    I didn’t want to get rid of it completely, so I made my maiden name my middle name.

    Lindsay October 18, 2008 at 8:31 am

    I hear you about wanting a family name, kids parents, everyone under the same moniker. My husband and I both changes our names, and now that we have a baby, we all go by the same hyphenated last name. I really don’t like the hyphen, and sometimes I drop it and Just put the names together, but officially the hyphen is easier when filling out forms etc. Admittedly, both my husband and I came to this union with simple,one syllable last names, so it made the decision a lot easier. My husband got some flack from his parents when we made the decision, but they’re used to it now. I had to threaten to write ‘return to sender – no one here by that name’ when they kept send ing christmas and birthday cards to ‘Mrs. Hubby’s First Name, Hubby’s old last name’. He had a talk with them, and it’s all good now :)

    Momo Fali October 18, 2008 at 8:54 am

    I grew up with the last name Davis. I loved that name. It was easy to say, everyone knows how to spell it, and when the song Amadeus was popular, my cousins and I changed the lyrics to “I’m a Davis, I’m a Davis…” We were cool like that.

    But, my Mom had a different last name (my step-father’s) and I HATED it. Hated it immensely. My friends never knew what to call her and I just wanted her to be like me. Not something different.

    There was absolutely no decision to be made when I got married. I loved being a Davis, but that was a different family and I was to start one of my own. I kept Davis as my middle name, which suits me fine…and all my kids’ friends know what to call me.

    Shawna October 18, 2008 at 9:17 am

    We’re a bit unconventional. Before we even started trying we decided that girl children would get my name and boy children would get his, and they’d have the opposite as middle names. When our daughter was born and we were filling out the forms I asked my husband if he was sure and he said he was.

    It worked out well. We have one girl with my name and one boy with his. When people say, “But how will people know they’re related?!?” we simply say that it doesn’t matter, that our kids will know and that’s good enough for us.

    Linda October 18, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    My name is my own; my husband’s is his own. I’ve never been able to imagine having a different one from the one I’d known growing up… also, I am lazy. The thought of changing ID, etc. is daunting to someone who hates that sort of paperwork and busy, fiddly tasks.

    To help address the “she’s my baby even though our names are different” thing while travelling (my daughter and I travel a lot without her dad), she has my surname as one of her middle names. No one has ever questioned me at an airport. It seemed easier and less unwieldy than a hyphenated name — the option my sister chose. That’s great, I think, when the names are shorter, simple and “flow” together. When the names are longer and bulky, it doesn’t work for me.

    (All of this said, my daughter’s kindergarten teacher insists, for some irksome reason, on referring to me by my husband/daughter’s last name, even though I always use my own name on correspondence. She must have a mental block about it for some reason, because there are plenty of other mothers in the class who have different last names than their children and she seems capable of addressing them properly.)

    Linda October 18, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    Ack. Just saw your comment about Jasper having Connors as one of his last names… makes me wonder about that border guard.
    Further, even if you *did* have the same last name, you could still be taking the baby without the father’s permission! Having the same last name is no guarantee of anything — many women continue to use the name of their former partner when they’re estranged.
    I knew a woman who kept her ex-husband’s name and even gave that name to the baby she had with another man after the marriage dissolved. So, both she and her daughter have the same name, but neither has any real tie to it. I know that it bothered the ex-husband, too, that she kept his name after the divorce *and* gave it to a baby who was no relation to him.

    Doc Horton October 18, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    The way we did it in our old hippie way was:
    boys get last name same as father, middle name last name of mother.
    girls get last name same as mother, middle name last name of father.

    long time listener, first time caller,
    Doc Horton

    Shaken Mama October 18, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    I took Hub-D’s last name. It’s just easier, and I kind of like it that way. It’s old fashioned, oh, and there is no way he would have acquiesced to my keeping my maiden name anyway.

    If it’s any consolation, all they do is print a little amendment on the back of your passport, so you can pretend NOT to have changed your name for 10 years. But any worried border guards can flip to that amendment and feel solace.

    Gem October 18, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    I’d split up with my little boys dad before I found out I was pregnant. I had many arguments with people (including his dad) ove what my little boys last name should be. Everyone told me he should have my name, I wanted him to have his father’s name. I argued that when I get married to someone else then my son will either a) be the only person with my maiden name so wouldn’t have the same name as his mother or his father, or b) he’d take his step-fathers name which as my ex is such an awesome dad I think would be really disrespectful.

    Right now neither me or my son give a damn that he has a different name. He’s his daddy’s son and no-one elses. I’ve not tried to take him out of the country yet but we’re in England so I’m not sure how kiddies passports work here, whether they have parents name’s on or anything. I’ll flash ‘em my bits if they want me to prove I’m his mummy!

    What would they say if the dad was taking a child with his surname out of the country? Nothing against men but aren’t they usually the ones who feel like they’re in a position where they have to take their children or they won’t see them?

    Anonymous October 18, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    My mom didn’t take my dad’s name. It annoys me. People always think my parents are divorced or call my mom the wrong name. I never know what name hotel reservations or plane tickets are under if I need to phone them or check something for them. Also when I asked my mom why she didn’t take my dad’s name she acted so pissed off that I would even ask so I still don’t know her reasoning. I assume it’s because she wanted to make a gesture to her own father who raised her sans mother since he was a widow. I respect that, but at the same time think that when people marry both are supposed to acknowledge that each other is now the most important person/thing in each other’s life. Therefore the gesture of taking a spouse’s name should trump all the other reasons to keep one’s own name. At the very least, if you do keep your own name for the love of god have a reasonable reason to tell your kids why. My mom’s lack of explanation just sounded dismissive of my dad to me. I gave up my maiden name despite initially planning to keep it. It was important to my husband I change it so I did. I don’t regret it. I really like that we are a unit, “the so and so’s”. I would like to give one of my kids my maiden name as a middle name maybe but it’s not ever used as a middle name so I don’t know if that would be weird.

    Stimey October 18, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    Wow. I don’t know that you need my comment too, but I took my husband’s last name, and made my maiden name a second middle name. On legal documents I use both last names, otherwise I use his name. I did it that way because my maiden name really does matter to me.

    I have had several significant difficulties getting into and out of Canada. Fortunately, we also seemed “okay” apparently.

    Catherine October 18, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    I took my husband’s last name because my last name was hard to say, hard to spell, hard to remember. His name, easy peasy. He wanted us to have my name because of its uniqueness. I was tired of being unique.

    As for you, it would be the name on your passport, the name you sign your Christmas cards. But to me, and to most I assume, you’ll always be Catherine Connors. You’ll be like Mir at WouldaCouldaShoulda. A personal name and a stage name. Names are free, have as many as you like!

    And I haven’t forgotten about the code thingy that my husband said he’d write. He’s working on it. Slowly. But truly.

    jess October 18, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    As neither of us wanted to complete change to a completely new last name AND we both wanted the same last name, we compromised. (It was my husband’s brilliant idea, and I was glad that he came up with it.) We both took both last names (no hyphen, just a space). I think we both enjoy keeping the ties to our respective families. We are both Rs and we are both Gs; we are the G R family now. It’s a completely new family (just as we are), but it contains the ties to our own families from singlehood, which was important to both of us. My family name really did mean a lot to me, though, so I was having a VERY difficult time with the name-changing idea.

    You have to do what is right in YOUR mind, for YOUR family. I know some who have hyphenated (only the wife, though), some who took their husbands’ names, others who kept their own, and then us (who both took both names, which I haven’t encountered before). If you want to be “the M family”, you’ll definitely have to consider how important it is to you (in regards to your children) to truly have the M name for your own. I think you can still be the M family without changing your name, but–in the end–how important that is really will depend on how much it matters to you and your family.

    Good luck with the decision!

    bellaf October 18, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    Here in Brazil there’s no tradition of middle names and all children get both their mother’s and their father’s surnames. I do believe it’s better this way, even with the male side prevailing anyway. My surnames tell the story of where I came from, so the idea of going by my husband’s name is frankly bizarre to me. I would never feel like myself.

    If I ever have a child, it will get my father’s surname and my husband’s father’s surname, which is a double name. My sister wanted my niece to have our mother’s surname as well and she ended up getting four of them. It may sound strange to you, but multiple surnames are quite common around here. What’s strange to me is a mother having to change her own name to match her offspring’s instead of just giving her offspring her name.

    Cloud October 18, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    I kept my name. I married after I got my PhD and had published papers with my name. Hubby didn’t care what I did. Neither of us have difficult last names, neither of us have issues with our families… so it really just seemed like a non-issue. Besides “Dr. HisLastName” is my father in law. I’m “Dr. MyLastName”.

    We figure with the number of kids from blended families nowadays, it shouldn’t be a problem for Pumpkin. So far, it hasn’t been. I haven’t left the country with her yet, but I guess a letter from the non-traveling parent would be a good idea regardless of name. Who’s to say the woman or man with the same last name as the baby isn’t in the midst of an ugly divorce with the other parent? It seems to me that names are a bad way to judge whether or not you have legal custody of the baby.

    I will say that airlines are more likely to decide we aren’t really traveling together and split us up- but that has only happened twice in a very, very large number of trips. Both times were pre-baby.

    Jerri Ann October 18, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    I would venture to say that changing your name now shouldn’t cause much of a rift. However, with a maiden name of “Head” I was quite ready to rid myself of that horrible name when I married. Thus far…to date, my name looks like this……..

    Jerri Ann Head Little Head Busby Head Moreland Head Reason

    All the more “Reason” to stick with just my husband’s last name now that I have children. Boy, it could have got ugly if I had been having children all those years though…

    Anonymous October 18, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    Annonymous 3:12 I have a question for you, you say “…when people marry both are supposed to acknowledge that each other is now the most important person/thing in each other’s life. Therefore the gesture of taking a spouse’s name should trump all the other reasons to keep one’s own name.” I was wondering what are you suggesting the husband gave up? If the woman takes her husbands name to acknowledge that he is the most importang thing in her life, and IF that trumps all other reasons to keep ones own name, that sounds like the wife is the only one acknowledging that the other person is the most important thing in life. How is the husband demonstrating that the wife is the most important thing in his life?

    My parents are divorced, not my mothers choice. She changed her name to my dad’s name when she married. Now, she has to change her name back or be reminded every time she signs or says her name that her marriage failed. It sounds like the woman is always doing the compromising.

    Susan Getgood October 18, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    Do what feels right to you about the name. I kept mine and intend to do so forever. Funnily enough Douglas asked once why we gave him his dad’s last name. I explained that that was what most people did, but said that if he ever wanted to have hyphenated or even my name, we would do that, it would be his choice.

    As for the border guard, if it was a US border guard, they are supposed to ask for the letter from the other parent *even if* the last name is the same whenever a single US parent is taking a US child out of the country.

    He may have been ham-handed, and certainly applying a US law to Canadian citizens returning home is not appropriate, but the intent of the law is right. Too many parents, of both sexes, have been denied parental rights due to parental kidnapping, often by a non-custodial parent.

    Wishful Mommy October 18, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    This is my 2nd marriage and I chose to change my name. In my first marriage I did not. I was (hopefully still am?) a writer and loved my byline. I was a reporter and did a bit of a survey on what others had done too. I interviewed about 20 women who did, 20 who didn’t and 20 who took some sort of hyphenated name or new name. What I came away with was : Either do it or dont but for goodness sakes, do NOT hyphenate the name. Every single one had stories of things gone wrong with insurance, police, taxes, schools, etc.

    This time I knew there would be children involved and I decided to change my name. I had heard of a horror story similar to your border story about an injured child at school who couldn’t be picked up by mom with different last name.

    Also I live in an area surrounded by my inlaws and far away from my own family. I kind of wanted to join the tribe!

    I use my maiden name as my middle name and insist on anything printed to have all 3 names. Not hyphens but just all 3 names like many authors do.

    Good luck with your decision.

    One thing that helps me: the name is not what defines me or makes me. It is what I do and feel that defines me.

    Anonymous October 18, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    anon 6:53, hmm my comment seems arrogant looking back. Apologies, when assvice is specifically asked for I tend to not hold back, and the arrogance obv goes up. :) So here’s my effort at an explanation. First off my quote that you quoted really only applies to me I guess since that is my interpretation of marriage and certainly each couple gets to make their own interpretation of what it means to be married. If the husband doesn’t mind that the wife doesn’t take his name then of course it is a non issue. I think in each couple the husband and wife give things up on different days. One might give up a name, the other might give up a promotion, living in their preferred city, or compromising on the number of kids to have. I think the argument that since the wife changes her name the husband is sacrificing nothing ignores the fact that a marriage that lasts a lifetime will present several opportunities for each to sacrifice and give to the marriage. The one thing I do reject I guess is that when you change your name you are really succumbing to something archaic. Some people (not you) I have had this debate with feel taking the husband’s name says you are his property. To me, it is a way to express love for and pride in the one you marry, and a chance to establish yourself as a unit separate from your respective families. I also think it’s sort of romantic that a husband wants a wife to have his name.

    worldmomma October 18, 2008 at 11:24 pm

    I kept my name. But in order to have our son represent his heritage from both sides and in order to avoid just the situation you described, both of our names are on his passport and all other IDs. My name is officially his second middle name and my husband’s is the last name. But we use them both as his day to day last name. If we have another child, that child will have both of our names (starting with mine) as his/her last name. So far, it has worked well for us.

    Cinthia October 18, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    Like someone else mentioned, it Latin America, women always keep their name, and everyone’s name is Dad’s last name first and Mom’s maiden last name second. No one ever takes their husband’s last name legally, though they may be known as Mrs of “insert-husband’s last name” in an unofficial capacity.

    In India, children take their dad’s first name as their middle name, regardless of gender, while many wives take their husband’s first name as their middle name.

    So I’m Latina, my fiancé is of Indian descent, and I don’t want to lose my last name (especially since his last name is not only very generic, but it’s a religious last name, belonging to a religion I don’t believe in), but if I hyphenate my last with his, the resulting last name will sound like the word crazy. Oh joy.

    Michelle October 18, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    Just as another option (and I’m not sure if this has been mentioned already… there are a LOT of comments here and I’m too impatient to read through them all):
    You are allowed to assume your husband’s last name while keeping your own. You can get a passport with your spousal name on it. You will need your marriage certificate and one additional government issued document (I switched my health card over, I have my driver’s license in my legal last name, my maiden name).
    I could never not be Michelle Maidenname. My dad had two girls and it’s really important to me to have that connection. It’s who I am. But I am also Michelle Husbandslastname. I have no problem being both. I chose to switch my passport for the exact reason you describe in this post. It galls me to have to do it, but I’d rather not have the hassle while traveling with my daughter.
    In my professional life I’m Michelle Maidenname, and in my personal life I’m Michelle Husbandslastname. Hope this helps!

    Vanessa October 19, 2008 at 1:53 am

    I’m unmarried, but when I do, I’ll be taking his last name. No hyphenation, none of that. Sue me, feminists, but I like “Hi, I’m Mr. Smith, this is my wife Mrs. Smith and these are our children, Bob Smith and Sue Smith.”

    I don’t know why changing your name equates losing a sense of self to people. Just because I change my name to Smith instead of Jones doesn’t mean I forget who I am. Neither does my family, my husband, his family or our friends. I’d just be his wife and um, since I said “I do” to this man, I’d hope I’m okay with this.

    I personally don’t like the “giving girls mom’s last name, giving boy’s dad’s last name” method. Its every parent’s choice and I won’t bash. I can just see two siblings with different last names having to explain it a lot. “Hi, I’m Dan Smith and this is my sister Susie Jones.” “Half sister?” “Nope, sister.” “Were your parents unmarried?” “Nope. She’s just got mom’s name and I got dad’s.” “Um, why?” They’ll hear that conversation a lot, I tell ya.

    I agree with the poster who said “To play on the same team, you wear the same jersey.” Its not what defines you, but its what unites you to the outside world. Multiple last names are part of a blended family be default, but when its a standard nuclear reason, I don’t see a reason to complicate things. I’ll be changing mine.

    But do whatever works for you! That’s just my take.

    Serial Mommy October 19, 2008 at 4:33 am

    when i married my first husband, i didn’t change my name at all, i kept my maiden name..i didn’t even attempt to pretend to have his name…therefore, getting divorced was MUCH easier, at least with no extra trips to the secretary of state (michigan’s version of the dmv) and social security offices…when i got married for the 2nd time, i told my would be husband that i wouldn’t be chaning my name, his mother was LIVID about that…he showed disdain…one day i was driving around and i just went and DID it however…came home with a brand new name, and the happiest hubby on the block…i have 4 kids, my daughters have a hyphenated version of my maiden name and their fathers’ names (2 different ones) and my older son just has his father’s name (same as my youngest daughter) and my youngest son has just his father’s name, which is now my name…it’s confusing…and in order to go out of the country with them all, i’d have to bring a file cabinet of documentation! good thing i’ve never been out of the country i guess…my point is this, it is just a name, and i know that when you show up and show your hubby that driver’s license with his name on it next to yours, he WILL be the happiest hubby on the block…

    Lisabc October 19, 2008 at 5:11 am

    I was 33 when Rob and I got married. Our son was two years old and has his father’s surename. It felt odd for me to change my surname to my husbands after being Lisa L**** for 32 years and being quite accustomed to it.

    I thought about it longer than I probably should have and decided that I would take my husband’s name. Doing so made me feel like it was the last thing to do to make us a complete family unit without any muddling about with two different surenames.

    lisabc October 19, 2008 at 5:12 am

    *Surname* Gah! THat’s what I get for leaving comments this late at night.

    carol October 19, 2008 at 5:32 am

    delurking to comment on this – and in my case, i kept my name AND hyphenated (word???) my husband's name in FRONT of my name…so still my "maiden" name is last… why? becuz like you say, its an attachment thing, a name i've had all my 42 years before i married, and its just so a part of who i am & where i come from… must say, since its come to be that we can't have children, i've experienced a humble happiness that i did keep my name just for me…as for my husband's name, i'm just as humbly proud to wear it too! our "family's" lines end now, but my nephews & nieces on that side will hopefully carry it on…

    carol in the netherlands

    p.s. altho' our "kid" is a dog & much loved, i do very much enjoy reading your blog for its raw honesty, candidness, rich & ebullient language, and that you live life to the truest & share it.. rock on! ;-)

    carol October 19, 2008 at 5:35 am

    whooops!! to add humour & fact to our story – our dog-kid has quite a name herself…she's purebred entlebucher sennenhond, so she has that 'official' last name which isn't short by 5 names PLUS my husband's name to finish it off!! quite regal, if you ask us, and we love it!!

    ;-)

    Susanne October 19, 2008 at 6:14 am

    I kept my name, and my son and husband have a different name. My son has known my last name since he was about two years old. I have a copy of my marriage certificate in my wallet at all times to prove that I am, indeed, my husband’s wife, and my son’s mother. People often address me as Mrs. My-husband’s-last-name and I try to smile and just go with it.

    Still, my name is my name, and I won’t change it. I have quite a few students whose mothers have different names than their children, or whose fathers have different names. People just will have to get used to it.

    Mrs. Mogul October 19, 2008 at 9:31 am

    I put my maiden name as my middle name. Of course my husband always screws my name up for when he put my name on a recent credit card he used another middle name!

    Piece of Work October 19, 2008 at 10:42 am

    I haven’t read all the comments (wow, so many!) but I’ll share my story anyway, even though it probably repeats what some others have said.

    I kept my name. It has always been my name and it felt incredibly strange and unnatural to me to change it. My kids have known my name since they were old enough to talk–not by design necessarily, I don’t actually remember how it came up, but it has always been part of our discourse. My mom is Amy S, they say, and I am Isaac A. So far they are completely unfazed by it.

    It works for us, although my mother-in-law continues to be appalled and hurt by the fact that I won’t take her name.

    When people call my Mrs. A, it doesn’t bother me. Most of the time, people get it right, and I figure when they get it wrong, it is a simple mistake. Sometimes, getting it wrong is intentional, and this is annoying but only when it is someone of my own generation–I give the older generations some slack since they are not used to the practice at all!

    Chicky Chicky Baby October 19, 2008 at 10:53 am

    Damn, that’s a lot of comments about names. No surprise really. People feel very strongly about what they perceive to be their identities.

    My first husband essentially forced me to take his name (which is part of the reason why he is no longer my husband), so when I met Mr. C I was only too happy to take his name. Mine is a bit unwieldy when coupled w/ my first name, anyway. Funny thing is, I didn’t officially take his name until last month, six years after we were married. Forgot to change it w/ Social Security. Oops.

    Anonymous October 19, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    anon 9:26,
    Thanks, from anon 6:53, I get that, the whole issue of names is personal to the particular people involved. Also, I do love the last two lines of your post. In my family the difficult thing was that my mom did change her name and was happy and proud to do so. When the marriage failed I witness her pain and suffering in the debate about what to do about her name. Meanwhile, my dad, while I’m sure he had some suffering of his own, did not have the suffering attached to his name. And, let’s face it, we have to say and sign our name just about everytime we leave our house and do business with the outside world. My dad likely suffered but it didn’t come up for him everytime he went out to buy groceries. Futher, we lived in a small town, so everybody knew my mom as the original Mrs. M and then my dad married again and another person became Mrs. M which further created some problems for my mom when her file was pulled at various health and banking institutions, half way through the discussion my poor mom would have to say “that’s not me, I think that is my exhusbands new wife’s file”, very hurtful and all tied to the last name. These things NEVER happened to my dad. He was Mr. M since the day he was born. He NEVER had to change his name, he NEVER had to change his name back [a reminder of failure] and he NEVER even had to think about it. I guess I have a button on that issue hug? Hmmm…. time for some more personal work.

    I guess I think no-one should have to change their name contingent on marriage beginning or ending, especially, one sex should not have to be the one by social custom, to have to go through this s***.

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