Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Guest Post: A Rose By Any Other Name Will Still Confuse the Social Security Administration

The name-changing dilemma is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart. Although I didn't have any problems deciding to keep my last name when I got married, I struggled immensely when we had a baby and had to face the dilemma all over again. I thought I would be okay giving Henry my last name as his middle and giving him Matt's last name, since I am inextricably linked to Henry (by virtue of carrying him inside of me for nine months and then breast feeding) in ways that Matt is not. However, when it came time to officially decide on Henry Cotner Bradford, I couldn't do it. I cried at the thought that he would be Henry Bradford on a daily basis and my name would be relegated to the shadows of Middle Namehood.

In the end, we really had no choice but to hyphenate, but that is definitely not a perfect solution. Just yesterday, I was trying to schedule a doctor's appointment for Henry. The receptionist asked for "the last name." I had to explain, "Well, if you mean my last name, it's Cotner. But the patient's last name is Cotner-Bradford. And our insurance is under my husband's last name, which is Bradford."


I love hearing about how other families make these decisions for themselves. So, with that, I will turn it over to Sanyamakadi to tell her family's story!

By Sanyamakadi
It seems like everyone has the same concerns regarding weddings and marriage, so you end up with a ton of blog posts on the same topic. I love that, and it is so interesting to hear the different perspectives! Here is mine on the classic question, what to do about your name.

Growing up I figured I would not change my name. I like my name; it’s unique (if you googled my family name everyone that came up would actually be related to me), and my generation is all girls so if we all changed our names the family name would not continue. So, no question.

But then I fell madly in love with Socrates and I suddenly felt that it was important that we share the same name to symbolize the shared family we had become. How did that happen?? In addition to the sentimental reasoning, we also had a practical one to consider--my husband has a 6-year old son, Pickle, who has his mom’s last name. Between school and aftercare and playdates it quickly became very tiring to introduce ourselves as a three-person family with three last names between us, not to mention that we felt it made things more confusing than necessary for Pickle.

So what to do about it? I didn’t want to give up my name and neither did Socrates (and one of the reasons I love him is that we were able to discuss that possibility--he never for a second pressured me to give up my name, even though until I broached the subject he had always assumed that is what his wife would do). We valued our names as they were and did not like the idea of combining them to make a brand new name. We did consider losing our middle names and being Socrates and Sanyamakadi HerName HisName, but I didn’t like it because more often than not people see that and drop the “HerName,” just treating it like a new middle name. Neither of us were huge fans of the hyphen (and it made our names pretty long), but in the end it seemed like the best option, so that is what we did. For sound (and to bump the family up to the front of the alphabet), my name went first. To me it could have gone either way but I do acknowledge that it is a big deal that Socrates agreed to have my last name go first, as it means he is the one making the major change to his initials and having to explain it in his professional life.

We were married in California, where either/both parties to the marriage can change their names by listing their new names on the marriage license, and that’s it. This is a Big Deal because in most places a woman can change her name this way, but a man needs to get a court order to do so, which involves another payment, and putting the name change announcement in the newspaper, and waiting for months until the court can hear the case. When we got back home to DC and tried to change our social security cards using the marriage license we discovered that it would not be quite as easy as we thought. I was able to use our (non-certified) marriage license to have my name changed in about 5 minutes--the woman at the counter barely even looked at my application. Then Socrates came up and she said, “Wait a minute, you can’t use this, you have to get a court order.” We showed her the instructions on the license, and she was still skeptical, and went to go talk to her supervisor. And then her supervisor’s supervisor. And then her supervisor’s supervisor’s supervisor (seriously).

Finally supervisor cubed came out and we explained the situation again. He said, “I still don’t see where you say it is okay for a man to change his name this way.” We patiently pointed out that the directions indicated, “Any person can change his or her name...” with “person” applying to both men and women. At this he only laughed and said, “Oh, those crazy Californians!” Finally he went to go talk to HIS supervisor (government bureaucracy at work!) and came back to say he had some good news and bad news. The bad news was that the license was not certified (we had to mail it back to CA to be certified within 10 days of the marriage and hoped we would be able to change our IDs before doing that) and so he couldn’t accept it. But the good news was that we had convinced him that CA actually did let men change their names this way, so if we brought back the certified license and spoke with him again he would let Socrates change his name. So at this point the name change rested on us happening to get this guy the next time we waited in line at the Social Security office. As we left I mentioned to him that the original woman had allowed ME to change my name using the non-certified license, so did I now need to give back my new social security card? He just waved his hand and said, “Oh no, you’re fine.”

In the end we admitted a defeat for gender equality, mailed the marriage license back to CA to be certified, and Socrates filled out a court petition to change his name. The funny thing is 3 months later I still have not gotten the official copy of the certified license back, so I cannot change my driver’s license or passport, but Socrates’ court order has come through, so he can now do those things without any problem. All this bureaucracy is frustrating and ridiculous, but six months from now it won’t matter and we will have our new family name...and hopefully have even gotten used to using it.

Sanyamakadi means “eyes blinking in the sky” and is the Malink√© word for “lightening”, which was one of the first she learned as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea. She loves to travel, create adventurous food, and fly kites. She met the love of her life at a swing dancing class and now spends many happy evenings dancing around the living room with him and her new son.

A huge thank you to Sanyamakadi for sharing her insights with 2000 Dollar Wedding kindred spirits! If you have an idea for a guest post you would like to write, please send me an e-mail!

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Anonymous said...

we actually did the same thing - i even had that moment of "oh...wait...my last name is about to disappear...nooooo!!!" and it took us a good week (and lots of tears on my end) to come up with the hyphen as a solution. it still baffles me sometimes to see my daughter's absurdly long name, and i hope she doesn't have to bubble it in on standardized tests someday.

now, i am re-partnered (dd's dad and i were never married, and we coparent now, and have done so since she was about 1 and she is now almost 4) and we've had the same chat: dd has myname-dadsname, and when we marry, will i keep my last name and have partner keep his? so, we'd have 3 last names as well. and what about our children? oddly enough, i feel more okay letting my future children take just his last name maybe because i was able to preserve mine with my first daughter, but i may not feel that way when future children arrive...and then what, then we hyphenate those names as well and introduce yet another name into the family? i don't have a solution...but i'm glad to know that i'm not alone :)

Maureen said...

I grew up in a household with three different last names, so taking my husband's and having one name for our "new" family actually seemed nice to me. However, even just having to have the woman in the relationship change her name is incredibly difficult. I was married in Sept. 2009, and just found out that to change my CA driver's licencse wasn't enough. In order to change my name on my registration, I had to send in my car title along with an affidavit! Hello, you're the same agency. Moving my former last name to my middle name confused the hell out of insurance companies and credit cards who wanted to simply tack it on, hyphenate it, etc. I just finally got a corrected insurance card. After all of this I wonder if the continuity of all having the same name was really worth it.

Rachel said...

I was actually going to email you, Sara, and ask you to do a blog post on your naming decision since I was curious about it!

My kids have my husband's last name and they have my last name as the second of their middle names. My last name is 10 letters and my husband's is 6 letters, so that's 17 characters with the hyphen included and that just seemed so long. I pictured my little one playing t-ball someday w/ this super long last name printed on the back of the t-shirt - would there even be room for a number?! :)

And it seems like most forms I've ever had to fill out barely leave enough room for just my last name to fit. I was also thinking ahead to someday when our kids might choose to get married and what would they do if they already had a hyphenated name: would they hyphenate a third last name?

My husband didn't bat an eye at me keeping my last name when we got married. We started dating in h.s. and he knew me well enough by the time we got engaged (after talking it over together and just deciding to get married) that I don't think he even asked about what my last name would be after marriage. He just knew. This is pretty great, too, considering we grew up in and still live in a small-town that is pretty "traditional". It is still really rare around here to find other married couples w/ different last names.

I had hoped for a different solution for our kids but my husband just wasn't on-board w/ it - it was just too "out-there" for him. I wanted to create a last name for our family (just choose a name to be our last name) - something short. And then he and I would each hyphenate OUR last names to the new FAMILY name and the kids would just have the new name. So we would then all share a last name but he and I would not lose the name that had always been ours and had been given to us by our parents. I do know of a few families who have done something similar (though I don't know of any who hyphenated their last name to a new name - I do know of a few who just took on a new family last name and dropped their given last names).

I do sometimes think about how I don't have the same last name as my three kids. But in today's day-and-age, it really is pretty common to see any combination of last names in a family (though probably more often due to divorce/remarrying than from couples who have chosen to keep their own last names).

I guess we all do what feels best to us at the time. I'm still happy with our decision to do it how we did it. It works for us. Our kids can someday decide for themselves if they'd like it differently.

I do enjoy reading/hearing how other families decide about their last names, so thanks for sharing this blog post.

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