As I looked down at one of the most generous, meaningful, thoughtful gifts I've ever received, my heart twisted a bit. I was profuse and honest about my gratitude for such a beautiful, hand-embroidered gift. And I quietly ended my thanks with a nervous, almost inaudible addenda: "It's great that Jason and I already share the same last initial, or this hand-embroidered set of monogrammed items wouldn't be accurate."
Because, you see, I'm keeping my last name. And I'd never thought it would be a big deal. And I simply didn't know how to react the first time it suddenly became a big deal when, unexpectedly, I was given a generous gift in front of a large group and because my first response to any generous gift is to be vocally and genuinely grateful. And I ended up saying something, but not in a way that necessarily got noticed or felt right. Because my name had suddenly become complicated. In an instant, it was no longer just my name. There was an expectation about it that tied into strong traditions about The Way Things Are Done and what family means. My name was no longer just a name. Keeping it suddenly felt like a statement, and I wasn't prepared to make a statement at that particular emotional moment. I wasn't prepared for how emotionally alienated I suddenly felt from an important moment and line of traditions that don't speak to me. I wasn't prepared to talk about it as I sorted through the jumble of anger, love, frustration, yearning, and dig-in-my-heels stubbornness that this gift had suddenly provoked.
For me, it just seemed obvious that I'd always keep my last name, regardless of marital status. I learned from my mother, who had taken her first husband's name. Then her career took off. Then they got divorced. And by then, it seemed like too much professional confusion to change her name. She vowed that if she ever changed her name, it would be back to her maiden name, but it was such a giant paperwork nightmare that she never bothered. When she met my father, he was wise and open-minded enough to recognize that their commitment wasn't rooted in last names, and so she continued on, throughout my childhood, with the name of her ex-husband. She eventually changed her name back to her maiden name, when she finally became a United States citizen and the paperwork hassle was going to be a nightmare anyhow. She and my father are still happily married.
So when I hear arguments about women and name-changing that center around mothers wanting to share a last name with their children, I just shake my head silently. I can understand the emotional pull and sense of logic behind it. But I also know, from experience, that we never felt like less of a family because we didn't share the same name. My mother-daughter bond was cemented over rocking chair bedtime stories, adolescent tears, and Sunday phone calls when I lived abroad. I remember finding many adults rather presumptuous when they referred to my mother as Mrs. MyFather'sLastName, though it was very useful for weeding out telemarketer calls.
I understand that there are arguments for taking your husband's name - maybe you hate your father and want to be rid of his last name, maybe you hate your last name for aesthetic reasons, maybe the "family" name has a lot of emotional resonance for you, or maybe it's something else altogether. And I also know that there are complicated arguments in same-sex partnerships about having a shared name to publicly claim and legitimize the partnership. I get it. But for me, I always knew that my name would remain my name, regardless of marriage. And I know that this marriage will be rock-solid, regardless of my name. I've experienced my entire life with this name, and it's a life and accomplishments that I'm proud of. I have a professional history attached to my name and I want to feel connected to those with my legal name (no personal-name and professional-name solution for me.) I'm not worried about the family-name as an imperative part of the family bond and neither, thank goodness, is Jason. I am fine with our future children taking his name, since it's more important to him than it is to me. And, like my mother before me, I have a true abhorrence of paperwork and I'm sure name-changing would be a horrendous process.
But as the wedding draws closer, I'm starting to realize that most people assume I'll change my name. Some of the assumptions are subtle. For example, when I looked for return address stamps on Etsy - you know, that marketplace for independent artisans? - none of them had room for two full names. Every stamp was either "The Jones Family" or "Mr and Mrs Jones" or simply and informal "John and Jane." I was so ticked off I ended up designing our own stamp for the invitations (and life.) Some of the assumptions are more challenging, like when I'm left stuttering out a reply to a generous monogrammed gift. And sometimes it's just frustrating, because it feels like I'm always gearing up for a defensive fight, as if my decision is some sort of attack on all my friends who are taking their husbands' names. And sometimes it's just lonely, because I'm one of about three married peers who haven't taken their husbands' names. With all the pressures and expectations pushing down on me, it would be really nice to have more allies. More people who understand that my name isn't a statement of any kind. It's just a name, specifically MY name, and I don't see anything particularly strange about wanting to stick with it from birth through to death, with Jason as my partner for the rest of this journey.
I also haven't figured out a good way to let people know that we're not becoming Mr. and Mrs. HisLast. No one seems to like my idea about announcing the bride and groom with our entrance as "Jason HisLast and Becca Herlast" but I haven't come up with a better option. I don't want to make it a big deal announcement, but I do think there should be a subtle way of making it clear at the wedding without banging everyone over the head with it. Because, while I don't want to make anyone feel uncomfortable at our wedding, I don't want to feel uncomfortable with the ongoing assumption that I suddenly have Jason's last name. It's hard for me, it's hard for the person at the other end who feels either silly or defensive, and it's just hard to have to deal with it again and again.
I never expected it to be this hard. My mother's different last name was just matter-of-fact. My mother's last name and the rightness when she returned to her maiden name are a powerful reminder of what married names mean and don't mean. And yet. Here I am, grappling with this uncomfortable facet of many modern marriages and partnerships in a world that hasn't really updated its social expectations or etiquette for these sorts of dilemmas. And like I said, sometimes it just gets lonely dealing with this all on my own.