Who am I?

Recently I found out that by taking my husband’s name when I got married, I gave up my own identity.

Wow! I had no idea. So, how do I get it back? I mean, I’m pretty sure my husband is equally as annoyed with me now as he was before we were married – he’d probably say I haven’t changed too much at all. Okay, maybe I’m even more annoying, but that tends to happen when you go from living 1,500 miles apart to living 15 inches apart. Not that we stand that close all the time – I’m being a tad facetious. (Don’t you love that word? It has every vowel in the order they appear in the alphabet!)

So, if I’m basically the same person I was before we got married, how does changing my name mean that I’ve given up my identity? I found this quote from David McKay – I am pretty sure he’s a late somewhat high up member of the LDS church, which is completely irrelevant to the quote.

 

“Some people think that if they change the names of things, the things themselves will have changed, too.”


Of course, Shakespeare said it even more eloquently in Romeo and Juliet:

 

 

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

I don’t think you can put it anymore succinctly than that. One argument for not taking a husband’s name is sentimentality about the loss of self. Is this just a cover for being afraid of change perhaps? Marriage – with or without a name change – is life altering and can certainly be challenging to your personal perspective of self. You have a partner and life filters through that partnership, for the most part, instead of filtering through your individual side. That’s a HARD adjustment to make and the divorce rate proves it.

 

Another argument that was just pointed out to me is a little more practical, and filled with a dash of bitterness and a touch of disdain. This particular woman’s case against taking your husband’s name is coming from a more practical perspective. When you take his name, you have to change everything – passport, health card, driver’s license, etc. It affects your credit rating and when you divorce, you have to rebuild all of that.

Give me a break! No, seriously – that’s your case for not taking your husband’s name? Because it’s inconvenient when you divorce?

Perhaps it’s naïve of me, but it seems as if there is an assumption going in to the marriage that it will be disposed of eventually. I actually see that as more of a problem than changing the name. Granted, I was raised in a conservative Christian home where my parents stayed married to each other until my mom’s death, but I think it’s really, really sad that so many people start married life with the notion that, if they find they’ve made a mistake, there’s an out. To me, it seems like a good idea to take more time and just be sure. But I digress.

I decided to do a little research and found a couple of sites that give details about name-change practices in various parts of the world and other sites that attempt to give some of the history of why women change their names. Of course, some of the history is based on Biblical customs, though I’m not sure why since the article actually specifically mentions that surnames didn’t become the norm until many centuries later. The whole Biblical argument is one that seems pretty thin to me, but I’m not a Bible scholar! Personally, just like with the legal institution of marriage, which is based on Biblical principles, but not necessarily Biblical itself, I think name changes fall into the same category. It became a practice based on an interpretation of scripture. We’ll skip the discussion of dodgy scripture interpretations for now – that’s definitely a topic best left for another day.

I’m sure there are people out there who think that if a woman doesn’t take her husband’s name she doesn’t actually love him – or she’s a raging feminist. That type of conclusion isn’t going to stand up any better than saying that taking your husband’s name will cause you to lose your identity. In writing about this, I tried to think of all the women I know who married and didn’t take their husband’s name in any form. I was only able to come up with a handful. The majority of my acquaintances/friends seem to change or hyphenate their names. That surprised me since I have a fairly diverse group of friends from all different types of backgrounds.

Personally, I’m not for or against women changing their names upon marriage. It’s a personal decision that can be based on a multitude of reasons. I have never heard of any valid moral argument for or against the practice. Some women can’t wait to change their last name to something simpler. Some don’t want to change to something more complex. High profile women may keep their maiden name for use in their profession. Sometimes a woman is fine with changing her name, but just can’t be bothered with doing the paperwork. For some, they want to avoid confusion when they have children – so they choose to have the same last name as their husband/children. Some women really feel attached to their name; others feel a strong inclination to take their husband’s name.

Whatever the decision, whatever the reason, whoever the person – does it really have to be such a big deal? My name is not my identity outside of legal identification. My name does not define me, whether I assume my husband’s name or not. It’s just a name; it isn’t who I am.