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

Monday, April 4, 2011

Guest Post: What IS in a Name?

By Lauren of Suburbalicious Living

So. The name change issue.

Whether or not I would change my last name was the biggest argument of our entire engagement, and actually, of our entire relationship. Every time we tried to discuss it, I would cry and Jeff would yell. And we'd be awkward around each other for hours. And we'd still be at a stalemate. It was awful.

I picked up this book right before the wedding, and it finally shed some light on the situation. Gottman, the author, argues that there are two types of marital conflict--solvable problems and unsolvable problems. The former involves who will do the dishes, and the latter involves issues to which each party has attached dreams, desires, and life choices to the outcome, rendering them unsolvable. It doesn't mean that you can't work around them, but it does mean that a compromise is unlikely to be reached.

When I applied this mode of thinking to the name change issue, based on the "discussions" we'd had about it over the year, I realized that we had each attached childhood hopes and dreams to the name question.

Some background seems necessary. My father left my family when I was three, and I've never seen or heard from him. This in itself is not a big deal (Ok, I guess it's a big deal, but it just meant that my family looked a little different, and that I got to grow up with my grandparents. When you never have something, it's not a big deal not to have it. You know?) I started using my mother's last name when I was five, and had it legally changed when I was 12. I got to tell the judge what I wanted my new name to be, and why. The name I was given when I was born is the most common of all last names in the US, and the name I took later is a Polish nightmare with too many consonants that nobody has ever been able to pronounce. And I love it. To me, my last name represents my grandparents and their nine children, especially my mom and her four crazy sisters. And I already changed it once!

Therefore, me not changing my last name was a no-brainer. My hopes and dreams were completely wrapped up in the fact that keeping my own name in a marriage symbolized true partnership and equality--merging my life with someone while keeping my own identity. In addition, Jeff's last name is almost as common as the one I was born with. Boring! And that was a Really. Big. Deal. for me.

Jeff, on the other hand, had deep-seated beliefs about a family, and for him, that meant sharing a name. His name. One name, one identity, one united force against the world. That is what he grew up with and experienced, and that is what he always planned for himself. His hopes and dreams included two people united under the Mr. & Mrs. title. And that was a Really. Big. Deal. for him.

You can see why we got nowhere when we "discussed." The best thing about this whole issue was that by the end of the year, we really learned how to share what was important to us. I learned that I needed to say "Jeff, ever since I was five years old I've identified with this last name because of x, y, and z" and not assume that he would know what I was trying to say when I sobbed "I'M NEVER CHANGING IT." Turns out that doesn't work so well.

It really came down to the night that we went to get our marriage license. Both Party A and Party B have to list their surname after marriage. We were there 10 minutes before it closed. I really wanted to make a decision and have it behind me. So I wrote down "Myname Hisname" with no hyphen. And brought it up to the (incredibly sweet) woman at the counter, who said "you can use any name you want, but the computer only registers the last one on the form, so you can hyphenate?" to which I shook my head no. Then she said "Ok, well then I'm just going to cross this one out..." and hovered her pen over Myname. I turned white as a sheet (according to Jeff) and kind of stared at her like a deer in the headlights. She told me to think about it and come back in a few days.

I didn't change my name legally, but professionally I started using Lauren Hisname Myname. And I felt good about that decision, but not completely, because I felt like I let my husband down in a way too. But it was the right one for me. I think.

Now that we're married, now that we're on the other side, I can see why two people choose to share one name. And I can see that I wouldn't be taking his FAMILY'S name, I'd be taking his. Our extended families have nothing to do with it. And I sometimes wonder if I'd had the space to make this decision without the emotional baggage of everything else that goes into planning a wedding, if I would have made a different choice. It's not an easy topic!

------------------- Lauren writes about marriage, home ownership, turning 30, and striving for more out of life over at her blog, Suburbalicious Living.

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blind irish pirate said...

Followed you over from your blog, Lauren. I never had quite the emotional attachment to my name, but there was a very visceral reaction that I had when I thought about changing my name, particularly the whole bit about the "leave and cleave" aspect of marriage.

I think for me it was fighting down the panic that marriage = bondage/slavery/loss of identity on the part of the woman. So many of my friends ended up seemingly "losing themselves" in marriages and relationships, and I resented the idea that it would happen to me. My way of going against the current and fighting my panic was to keep my maiden name. I essentially was Mylastname Hislastname, no hyphen.

And, boy, has it been a pain in the ass. People assume it is hyphenated, and that's the worst. Other people told me that it was time to let go (which I politely told them what they needed to let go). And sometimes, like you, I wish that there could have been an easier way to discovering what would have been "better."

Intrepid Blogger said...

Thanks for writing about this Lauren. It was a really tough decision for me too. I was raised by my Dad and have the same last name as he does and really struggled with changing my name. I wanted to have a symbol of being a family with my husband but not at the expense of my dad. It was a really difficult decision and for me, was also made when we got our license (I cried at the counter though...). I decided to keep my name and my husband was really supportive about it which helped. I think some people disagree with my decision but like you said, I made the one that was right for me.


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