A Wife By Any Other Name

When I married for the first time, I changed my name without thought. I was happy to replace the name that I associated with childhood with one that I related to becoming an adult.

I was young – 22 – and I had not yet accomplished much with my given name. Shedding it caused me no harm, only the hassle of making the changes to accounts and cards.

I embraced my wedded name, had no regrets. And, yet, in court when the judge was finishing the last of the paperwork, I was struck dumb when she said, “And I assume you want to keep your last name of B—-.”

After the mute shock wore off, it took everything in my power not to scream,Β  “$#!@ no!” I wanted away from that name as much as I wanted away from that artificial life. Besides, since he committed bigamy, there was already another Mrs. B—. That’s too many in my book.

My given name was legally restored that day yet I continued to use the other professionally for the remainder of the school year. It was strange time, bridging two worlds and using two names.Β  I worked under one name yet was applying for new jobs using another. I had accounts and cards in both names. I started my first real Facebook account using my maiden name and it suggested that I friend myself that had the married name (I had an unused account that I opened out of curiosity). For a year, I carried my divorce decree in my purse so that I could prove that I was one and the same, even though I felt worlds apart from my former Mrs. I almost felt like a fraud.

Changing my name was different at that point. I was 32. I had made a name for myself professionally and had hundreds of former students who knew me only as Mrs. B—. I almost lost the opportunity for the job I currently hold. Upon receiving my resume, one of the administrators realized that she was close friends with a former coworker of mine.

The administrator called her friend, “Did you used to work with a Lisa Arends?”

“No,” replied the friend, assuming that I was some charlatan.

She was telling the truth. It was my other self that had worked with her. Luckily, she realized the duality of my identity and called the administrator back to clarify.

That was a wake up call for me.

In a time when women married young and operated primarily in the domestic sphere, a name change was harmless. Now, with women marrying later, working outside the home and facing the realities of potential divorce, a name change can have very tangible consequences. Most discussions that I see on issue address it from a philosophical perspective, eschewing the patriarchal origins or talking about embracing the new family.

That’s romantic and everything, but what about the real world?

When my parents divorced, my mom had no real choice but to keep her married name. She had spent years building up a small business and her name was key to the word of mouth. No name = no way to put food on the table. She has since remarried yet retains her prior married name, at least in the professional realm. Ideal? Perhaps not. But practical.

I am choosing to do much the same. Although I refused to keep my former name out of principle, I now am operating out of practicality. When I wed again this fall, I will keep my given name. I simply have too much to lose if I do not.

On a side note, this reminds me of one the nicest gifts I have ever received. I won Teacher of the Year under my old identity. After the divorce, the plaque, which once occupied a place of honor in my classroom, was relegated to a closet since it was no longer in the right name. For my birthday (the first we were together), Brock snuck the plaque out of the closet and had the nameplate redone to match my new identity. Yes, I cried.

I queried my Facebook followers the other day on this topic. Many of them had also faced setbacks and hassles with multiple name changes and do not intend to change it again, regardless of changes in marital status.

Did you change your name? Would you do it again? How do handle (or intend to handle) the kids’ names (an issue I don’t have to worry about:) )?

It’s always funny when my students comment on my former name. When they see Mrs. B— scrawled across a clipboard or emblazoned on a book, they ask, “Who is she?”

“Oh, just someone I used to work with.”Β  She feels like a lifetime ago.

Besides, Tiger doesn't care what I'm called, as long as I'm still his momma:)
Besides, Tiger doesn’t care what I’m called, as long as I’m still his momma:)
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26 thoughts on “A Wife By Any Other Name

  1. I changed my name back. I’m also a teacher and had to finish out the school year with my former name. It made my skin crawl each time someone said that name. I’m happy to have my maiden name back.

  2. I kept my married name until I got remarried, then I went back to my maiden name. It was SUCH a hassle to change it! And now, to try to explain to people that yes, I am divorced, yes, I am remarried, and no, this is not my husbands name. They normally cock their head sideways and squint their eyes as they try to follow along. People who have never been through it can’t understand what it all means to have your name back, but also to have to let that part of yourself go…
    Such a nice gift from Brock with the name plate. That made me smile.

  3. I am also a teacher. I changed my name when I got divorced back to my given name. It feels strange and right at the same time. The kids at school get confused at times. I just tell them to call me just Miss if they can’t remember. Whatever they do, please don’t call me by my former name. When I hear it, it all comes crashing back in on me.

    1. My former students (many of whom I’ve in touch with after my recent publicity) only know me by my former name. To them, I will always be Mrs. B-. I don’t like it but I get it. I’m totally cool with the “Miss.” πŸ™‚

  4. 20 years of married is about to end for me and changing my last name has been a debate. My children are both about to leave school and enter into adulthood…so I asked them if they preferred I keep my married name to match theirs. Both said they wanted what made me happy. So I am going back to my maiden name on the big day. Feels freeing and helping me rebuild.

    1. I *love* this idea! I’ve dilly-dallied about which name, married or maiden, to go forward with and the idea of a different name than my kids bothered me. Thanks for showing me the forest when all I was seeing were the trees!

  5. I changed my name BOTH ( yes both) times I married. After my second divorce, I decided to go back to my maiden name and have zero intention of changing it again ( if my bf and I decide to marry, which is not at the forefront of either of our minds or hearts) My last name is different from my daughters ( first marriage) and sons ( second marriage) While confusing for teachers sometimes, it hasn’t seemed to be an issue for my kids. ( except they always forget how to spell my last name lol) Ideally of course I would like us ALL to have the same last name, but that just wouldn’t work in our situation. It is what it is. πŸ™‚

  6. I’m right there with you. Divorced at a time when I can’t change my name because of my career. Which really bothers me–until I remind myself that it’s just a name. I am who I am (now I sound like Popeye). Hopefully, I can do this name prouder than he did.

  7. I married in my early twenties and was eager to change my last name. I had never really cared for my maiden name and wanted to begin a family with my husband.Years ago, I told a friend that a name is just that, a name. Letters and sounds do not create your identity–you do. My maiden name carries very little identity to me, maybe because it was before my children. When I discovered my husband’s affair I did think about what I would do if we decided to divorce. I thought of all the women I know who have divorced and kept their married name or the ones who remarried and took their second husband’s last name. What I realized is that I have an attachment to my married name because of my children. But, yet, I would most likely not want his name attached to my identity if we split. So then what?

    1. That is a tough one. I know some women who have created their own name at that point. But, then again, it impacts the kids. It is just letters but those symbols have the potential to carry power. Maybe the trick in keeping a name you don’t really want is learning to diffuse that power.

  8. I was quick to change my last name after marriage, a decision I did not regret till the abuse, violence and infidelity started. Since my marriage was short, I had the luck of not having the name changed on my legal documents. Hence I could immediately revert to my maiden name, something that I intend to keep now irrespective of what my marital status will be.

  9. Changed my name twenty years ago when I married. I actually continued to use my maiden name at work, since I had been hired while single. It was easier. I had two last names (without a hyphen) and always signed my full last name T… M….
    When I got divorced I insisted my maiden name be restored. My kids had no problems about that. They knew I had worked under my maiden name, and always recited my full name to friends, teachers, etc..
    I re-married three years ago and my husband fully supported my decision to not change my name. He is very proud of the fact I use my “professional” name and takes care to introduce me by my full name so people don’t get confused and call me Mrs. M…

    I am going to encourage my daughter to keep her full name. It’s an outdated concept, in my humble opinion.

  10. Interestingly I have been pondering that myself as we head towards official divorce. I do not want to carry his name with me. I do not want to go back to my maiden name as consider that name part of my childhood and I have moved on. I have been browsing databases of names, trying to choose one suitable. It is not easy. Some women choose to simply drop their surname; take Cher, Madonna, and Nancy Ruth (Canadian Senator) as examples. However, I have read that can become a nightmare as bureaucracy expects everyone to have a surname. I read one blog by a woman who did that and she kept getting mail for Mrs ‘None’.

  11. I took back my given name after my husbands affair and our divorce. I couldn’t stand the idea of people thinking we were married when I filled out school forms for our daughter, and I was repulsed at the idea of being Mrs. Same Last Name as the harlot. I recently remarried and really stressed about another public name change (I’m a teacher too) AND the endless paper trail. I also found it easier to tell my daughter that we all have our fathers last names than to explain why she is the only one without the new married name. My husband supported this, but was still a little bummed not to share a family name. Maybe some day we will, but right now I’m really happy that I kept my personal and professional identity. It felt like the one part of my life that my ex couldnt shatter.
    Sometimes people accidentally call my new husband by my name, which I think is a great reminder to him as to the reasoning behind my choice! After divorce, it’s messy any way you slice it so I say do what you want and forget what “they” say.

  12. I almost kept my married name, I thought that after having it for 25+ years, since I was 19 years old- that it would be easier to keep it. But then I realized nothing about my divorce was easy.. he left me on the other side of the country after he went to a family BBQ back in Ohio and never came back, he didn’t help financially, and he left me with two dogs that had cancer I took care of until they died. He wouldn’t respond to my attorney and made the divorce more difficult than it needed to be- then I realized I never wanted to hear his name again, especially not after my first name. It’s a pain to change your name on every legal document and account, but nothing felt as empowering as taking back the only thing I could- my name.

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