Saturday, August 22, 2009

My last name

In reading the above article about taking your husband's last name. I remember the day I realized my mother was a feminist. She laughed at me and said "of course I'm a feminist. How could you not have known?"
She didn't advertise it.
She always worked but took care of the house and yard and did everything domestically while my father did nothing, so it really was something I had to discover slowly. She was like a closet, mostly quiet, behind the scenes, not burning her bra, but doing the real work of change. Standing up in the office and saying "I'm not going to be paid less than my male colleagues."
But she took my father's last name and I guess I never gave it another thought.
My whole life, I wanted to get married to rid myself of my father's last name. I hated it and everything that had to do with him. I had the ball and chain of my father's name around my neck, dragging me down. He was attached to my identity and I hated it. I wanted my own.
It never occured to me that I would be co-opting an identity from my husband- aligning with another male clan that I would be attached to.
When my little brother got married, his wife did not take his last name.
I didn't even realize it until I forgot their phone number and called directory assistance and it was under her maiden name.
I reported this to my mother and she said "Oh, of course she kept her last name. I knew she would."
Then my mother said "I would have kept my last name if I could have gotten away with it. Your father is still furious with me that my PhD certificate is in my maiden name. But I was determined to do that, that was my hard work, it had nothing to do with him."
Still I never really considered keeping my last name. I always thought I would rid myself of it. I even considered keeping my first husband's last name even though we had only been married for four months, but ultimately, that was ridiculously impractical, so I changed back quickly. I didn't even have time to change it all.
But mightily traumatized by a very bad first marriage, I did not jump into the second. I was well into my thirties when I got married the second time- and even then I thought that I would immediately change my name. But I didn't. I didn't come home from the honeymoon and fill out all the paperwork.
I waited.
I started hyphenating a little.
I started putting my maiden name in the middle.
I realized my professional name was all people knew me by and if I just starting posting my married name, no one would know who I was.
So I began what I thought was a transition process.
Four years later-- my social security number is still in my maiden name-- and I only changed my driver's license this year and my maiden name is still in the middle. All my credit cards are still in my maiden name.
Somehow in that time, it became not my father's identity so much but mine, and I refuse to lose my identity inside a marriage.
Now I actually prefer my husband's name and it has a lovely tone to it and goes with mine quite nicely.
In the last five years we were dating before we got married, I became quite afraid of being swallowed up by a marriage and resisted it quite mightily. He never pushed me to take that step. It was all internal. I think he would have lived quite happily for the rest of his life with me in an unmarried state.
I did discover this beautiful unexpected comfort when we did get married.
All of a sudden, I had sister in laws and a brother in law and a wonderful mother in law and father in law. This was not just my kid's family-- it was my family, too. I mean, they had never made me feel like an outsider but I had steeled myself to that reality-- that this was HIS family. Now it is our family, I can say "my niece" instead of "my boyfriend's niece". I like that. I like owning my part in this whole family. That we belong together.
Still I developed an odd attachment to my last name. I think in this transition, I will let go of it eventually but it's going to take some time but I really have a complete understanding now why some women want to keep their names.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Your romantic life inspires me :) Thanks for posting this thought provoking entry, Miss V.!