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, “$#!@ 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. 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.” She feels like a lifetime ago.