Sunday, February 5, 2012

changing names

Ladies, do you remember writing your first name in notebooks at school followed by the last name of the cute boy a few rows up? Maybe you added a Mrs. before it? I admit that I did it too. I used to wonder what wonderful last name I would adopt when I married, what name would replace the last name of the first part of my life. It never occurred to me that I could keep my maiden name, or squish it together with my new name using a hyphen, or make my maiden name my middle name like my mother did. I assumed that I would simply drop my maiden name, become Mrs. Sarah Elizabeth ______, and immediately feel comfortable and at home in this new label for myself.

Boy, was I wrong! 

Changing my name has been a much trickier transition than I expected. As my wedding approached and friends and family members and coworkers asked what my new name would be on August 13, 2011, I found myself frustrated and unwilling to part so abruptly with the name that represented me for over twenty-four years. After all, although marriage is one of the biggest life changes one can make, the essence of who I am as a person was not changing. Why should the act of marrying a man suddenly demand a change in my name while my new husband remains on paper who he was at birth? I began working through (and continue to work through) the emotions that accompany sloughing off a name that has been an integral part of my identity for so long. At times I felt that by changing my name I would, in some way, be abandoning my family of birth. But if I chose not to change my name, what would I be saying to my new husband, my partner in everything for the rest of my life? I wrestled slowly and intentionally with the many options before me. I asked myself, “How do you want to be known for the rest of your life?” I discussed these thoughts and feelings with my husband and eventually, together, we made a decision. I will always appreciate and cherish the kindness, gentle patience, understanding, and consideration he showed me during this process. He is an incredibly wonderful person.

Our decision, by the way, is to keep my first and middle names intact—Sarah Elizabeth—then add my maiden name as a second middle name. Finally, I will take my husband's last name as my own. And our reason for this decision boils down to simplicity—I want our children to know that our family is unified, and having the same last name seems like a good first step toward living out this goal. I am committed to my husband and to the family we hope to nurture someday. I am willing to change my name to be a full part of my new family. And by keeping my maiden name as a middle name I can also hold onto a piece of myself that existed before I married. For me this was the right decision.

And after almost six months of marriage, I am growing used to my new name. I am integrating it into my identity. But still, when I receive letters in the mail addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Christopher _______, I feel a pang of mourning for not only my missing maiden name, but my first name as well. Where am I in this new address? I am the Mrs. squeezed between my husband and his name. Some days this bothers me more than others. I have learned that society, although it is changing, is entrenched in traditions that are not always fair to women.   

But I love being my husband’s wife. And I still enjoy doodling his last name next to my first. But unlike the scribbles in those notebooks from grade school, my maiden name sometimes appears between them. This is who I am now, and I like it.

1 comment:

  1. I had very similar thoughts with changing my name! It's very strange to get used to a new last name, especially being "Mrs. [that name]!" I admit to a bit of identity crisis too. I'm glad you were willing to adopt Chris's name, though. I agree that for a future family, the common family name is important. I hope you grow ever fonder of being a Showe.