I Would Change My Name
I was starting to realize I always notice smells. This room smelled of bureaucratic dust and the yeasty, lingeringly angry odor of people standing in line all day, exactly how I imagined the county recorder’s office to smell. We stood right up front, because we made sure to get here just as the building opened. Warned of the epic wait times in Los Angeles municipal buildings, a lifetime of lengthy DMV lines and once, a four-hour wait to apply for SNAP benefits, had prepared us.
I had taken the morning off work and met my future husband here, this beige hub of government business. Paperwork must be filed, names must be changed, and this is where you came to do it. I tried to make the outing romantic and exciting in my mind, taking more care with my appearance than I ordinarily would, but really there was no getting around the blandness of the occasion.
Just a line to wait in, a few forms to fill out.
We were getting married; I would change my name.
I always assumed I would take my future husband’s name. That’s just what you did in my small, conservative world. Only militant feminists kept, or gasp, hyphenated their last names upon marriage. I was not a militant feminist. I fancied myself a sort of friendly feminist, happy to vote and own my own property, but not willing to upset the status quo, which might rob me of my fairy tale ending. I was going to have that wedding, life was going to be fabulous, and no one was going to stop me. That mindset emerges when you are two parts romantic fool and three parts relentless terrier. Goal-oriented, I like to think.
Anyway, that’s just how it was done. I was going to become a person I didn’t know yet. She seemed okay. Nice enough. But I didn’t know her at all. I didn’t trust her.
Natalie DeYoung was still a person I was just getting to know. I had circled her warily for decades, trying to make her into who I wanted her to be. Responsible. Sweet. Successful. Beautiful. Selfless. Married with two-point-five children. Legitimized by those relationships. I would finally know who I was because I was the wife of X and the mother of Y and Z.
Recovering from alcoholism taught me otherwise; to acknowledge myself – the real self, not just the version I’d constructed based on proximity to stronger personalities and other people’s desires. This self was a gnarled web of contradictions I was just learning to fight for, because I finally understood that no one else was going to do it for me.
I wasn’t sure if I liked her. Until I got to know her. Until I started to become her.
Earlier that week, I had sent in my thesis, the culmination of ten years of study, for publishing. Natalie Marie DeYoung, it said on the copyright page. DeYoung, it said on the spine. DeYoung, it would say on my diploma.
I was going to trade her in for someone I didn’t know at all.
Suddenly, standing in that line and staring at the back of my fiancé’s head in that painfully beige municipal building, I felt adrenaline pour through my body like I was Wonder Woman; or better yet, She-Ra, Princess of Power. I had to protect this girl.
I didn’t even know I was going to do it until I stared down the boxes on the marriage license forms.
I wasn’t ready to give up on her yet.
I was visiting my old high school/childhood friends at a lake party thing in late summer 1992. I was graduating college and everyone else was almost there, too. My politics had become more pronounced and vocal. Two of the girls, there, were getting married over the next year. They talked like they lived in the 1950s. Suddenly, the liquor got the best of me and I shouted, “taking your husband’s name is kind of dumb, you should have you your own identity!”
We were in the deep south. Almost all of the party was conservative. I was suddenly the turd in the punch bowl.
My wife has been married twice before me. Of course, I was divorced. I actually asked her to keep her name. She declined. She wanted to be Mrs. Burson. It was her decision.
I’m glad you are at peace with Natalie DeYoung. She’s just as cool as Natalie Ricci.
Lance recently posted…100 Word Song – Running On Empty
I wasn’t going to editorialize further, but my name is actually super-duper long now, because I kept all the names. I have a really long middle name now (not my smartest impulse decision). I swap them around depending on what mood I’m in. It’s like having a secret identity.
I liked this – a lot. Especially the end part where you want to “protect” Natalie DeYoung. I felt like I was peering inside your brain, watching the *knowing* come.
P.S. I was one of those “militant feminists” who hyphenated my name when I married my husband. And now, I’m the lazy lesbian-feminist whose deep abhorrence of filling out forms and standing in lines has kept me from legally disposing of the second part of the hyphen, even though I divorced my husband twenty years ago, and recently married a woman.
Karen recently posted…Woman in Black
Forms. Ugh. I will do anything not to fill out another form.
And it’s funny how my ideas of feminism have changed in the past five years…
This is AWESOME.I have a super long name, too. I have two middle names and I hyphenated. We’re long name soul sisters! 😉
celeste recently posted…I Watched #ReturnToZero Alone and Was Held the Entire Time
🙂 Some days I regret it – like the days when I have to fill out forms and there’s not enough space for my super-long name…
Yeah it definitely can be a PITA. It reminds me of this story of the woman whose Hawaiian surname was shortened on her driver’s license because of a character limit. The limit has since been changed to allow her name to fit on her license, but oh man! There are a lot of long names out there. I wonder how long it’ll be until the limit is contested again.
celeste recently posted…I Watched #ReturnToZero Alone and Was Held the Entire Time
And has this caused any problems anywhere along the lines?
I’m finding fewer people care about women not taking their husband’s names now. Maybe because we’re more global and there are many cultures in which a married woman keeps her name. Maybe it’s because of bureaucracy and no one has time for that BS anymore. And maybe it’s because we’ve all started listening to the people before us who fought for women to be equal. Maybe it’s none of this, I don’t know.
I just know I’m always taken by surprise when someone becomes indignant over a woman not taking her husband’s last name because it’s something I don’t hear too often anymore.
ekgo recently posted…Promises, tears, and magic
Yeah, actually, I have had problems with it. Not everyone understands the impulse to keep your name, which is why I wanted to write about it and tell my side of the story. I had some pretty complicated reasons…
I love how this moment of realization, of ‘knowing’ as Karen said, just came on you in a moment of clarity. When I filed for divorce, his last name was the only thing I wanted to keep….it’s just easier to sign than my maiden name 🙂
CC recently posted…I Deserve to be Alone….and Other Reasons I Don’t Date
That point you make at the end, about not giving up your name, sums it up so well! The whole piece was so fluid, walking through the whole process in your mind.
Shailaja V recently posted…A ‘trashy’ tale
Thank you! I had a difficult time articulating it, so it’s good to know it makes sense. Haha.
Ice Scream Mama
i was you on line for the fairy tale and i changed my name without much thought. i liked my husbands name better and my name already had some baggage attached. But i admit, for awhile i missed that girl but soon i was the me, making new memories and walking down new roads. honestly i am my new name now (17 years) as much as my old. no matter what the name says, you’re you. 🙂
Ice Scream Mama recently posted…Once upon a time
I agree, no matter the name, you’re still you. As someone with such identity issues though, I’ve needed to ease into the idea of adopting a new name…
Natti, I love reading your blog. When I got married, I was too young to consider what I was giving up when I changed my last name. I wish I was as thoughtful as you and had hyphenated my name. I often think about changing it. I love being a Spriestersbach but I do feel like some of me was left behind when I left out Espinosa (heritage, family, acplishment etc…).
Had I been married a few years prior, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought. As someone with a history of losing herself in other people, I’m glad I waited until I could get a firmer grasp on who I was.
I see plenty of hyphenated names,to me it’s okay if the people who like them have them, it’s really a matter of choice. I just erased one and replaced it with the other.
They don’t bother me now, but for some reason I always felt other people’s judgement on those hyphenated names; all part of caring too much what other people think. I’m learning how to not do that anymore.
Cindy - The Reedster Speaks
Names are such an integral part of our identity. My fifth grader tells me she wants to change her first name and my heart goes cold, thinking of the hours I spent at a spreadsheet of baby girl names choosing it. I kept my name when I married at 35, and my father-in-law was perplexed. “I mean, I know movie stars do that, but regular people?”
Cindy – The Reedster Speaks recently posted…I Can’t Imagine the Ocean.
They are! I used to want to change my name so badly in the fifth grade; I felt that Natalie was “boring.” However, I grew to love it, and now I wouldn’t change it if you paid me. It’s who I am.
I’m not that tied to my name. I changed it when I got married then changed it back when I got divorced. Besides it being a pain in the butt, it wasn’t too big a deal to me. I can see how people who are published or have jobs which required licenses would feel differently.
Kate recently posted…Lie to me
Yeah, that was a big factor for me. I wanted continuity on everything I published, because I was thinking ahead to all the bestsellers I would write… 😉
I love that you weren’t ready to give up on her yet. You know… I never thought about this whole thing until—JUST NOW. Seriously. When I got married I was like woo hoo! New name! lol
But it is weird. When i saw my maiden name now in places I feel like that was a totally different person. I have certificates and diplomas with that name too. But it’s still me. I’m circling now, ha ha Totally enjoyed reading this!
Jen Brunett recently posted…RawrLove via Amazon
I would have been the same way a few years back, but honestly I just love my name now. It was a process of growing to love it. It’s so unique, and it flows…
I loved this. I’ve pondered this my whole life. As an only daughter I pondered what it meant to give up my last name at marriage. I’ve so strongly indentified with it. I just couldn’t even picture getting married, so that was a reach. Here I am creeping toward 40, still not any closer to marriage and I think I am less attached to it than ever. Only because I dream of having pen names. 🙂
Samantha recently posted…Who Needs Anger Management Classes?
That’s another thing – pen name! I sooo want a pen name. 😉
As a genealogist, I’m glad you kept your maiden name. Future relatives will be happy you did too. I posted recently about what our names would be if our society was matrilineal. I found out several cultures are. And that is really was just 50/50 that were a patrilineal society. I enjoyed your post – it doesn’t seem like it should be possible to change your identity. Much less have to report to someone else in order to make it official!
I know. It’s so weirdly arbitrary.
That was powerful! I think in another world, I might be more attached to my name, but honestly- my last name is filled with issues. It’s not my real heritage, but my adopted one – and though it’s glamorous (Chenell) – it’s not my bloodline. So I was happy to take Andrew’s name, though I don’t have a ton of pride there either. And I don’t want my bio dads name cause he’s an idiot, so maybe I’d like to just keep my maiden maiden name (my mom’s maiden name). Or maybe, I’ll make one up. Gah. This is clearly an issue for me!
Julie DeNeen recently posted…Abstinence is Not Teaching Sexual Responsibility
Your last name is cool though. I think that plays a big factor in choosing, too. I mean, obviously, no one wants to choose a name like Frankenweiner or something.
“This self was a gnarled web of contradictions I was just learning to fight for, because I finally understood that no one else was going to do it for me.” It took me so long to learn that lesson.
Deanna Herrmann recently posted…Fire & Ice
Kellie hyphenated her last name when we married: Bertsch-Cereola. She quickly got tired of writing that monstrosity and dropped her maiden name. Kellie is no maiden.
Joe recently posted…Voicemail
that cynking feeling
Sometimes I wish I had kept my maiden name. Getting remarried made the whole name thing complicated.
that cynking feeling recently posted…teach a man to fish
Ugh. I hear you.
Samantha Brinn Merel
I had this exact same experience. I ended up not changing my name at all when we went to get a marriage license. It was only after being married for about a year that I decided to change it. It was really complicated for me to let go of being just Samantha Brinn, but after awhile, I decided that Samantha Brinn Merel is a girl I very much like, and can be proud of.
Samantha Brinn Merel recently posted…Throwback Thursday: Graduation Day
Yes, I now use both names, depending on the context.
I used to abide by all of those “rules”. It’s funny how it all melts away when you suddenly find yourself in a situation where the road ahead is uncharted–I love it! We make up the rules as we go along. This was very touching.
I certainly do! 🙂
Stephanie @ Mommy, for Real.
That gave me chills. I too always thought of myself as more of a “friendly feminist.” Marriage and motherhood have pushed me a little further away from the border of friendly, and it wasn’t until years after I changed my name that it ever began to occur to me that maybe it shouldn’t have been a given. I loved this, Natalie.
Stephanie @ Mommy, for Real. recently posted…Why Do We Write About Our Children? A Review of “This is Childhood.”
I don’t know why it still is for so many. Sometimes it’s easy to just do what we’ve always done.
I love how your name came to symbolize your self – the part of you that is separate from the “us” that happens when we marry or commit to spend a lifetime with another person. M and I didn’t want to hyphenate – our names are already long, and it just didn’t sound good. So we made up a new one. 🙂 If you Google my last name, you’ll probably only find me.
Christine recently posted…Rights and Privileges
I like the idea of just making up a new name! Like choosing a superhero identity.
This resonates with me like tuning fork. I have had illustrations published in my “married name” because an ex-boy friend mistakenly told an editor, who used an old phone number, that my husband’s last name was now mine. No one told the ex that, and even though he described himself as an iconoclastic feminist, he was nothing of the sort. My name appeared incorrectly with my work despite my correction which I had emailed to my editor prior to publication. Grrrrrr. Your essay speaks to a conflict women still face, but is barely acknowledged. I believe you made the right choice, and reading about your experience reminds me of how many women still grapple with the ‘name issue’
Growl. That would irritate me to no end.
What an amazing post Natalie. I’ve always thought of myself that way too. I’m fiercely independent. But I really hated my last name. No one could pronounce it.
Linda Roy recently posted…Be Afraid…Be Very Afraid…It’s Peen Week!
Haha! I know I’d totally feel differently if I didn’t love my last name.
Loved the smell of that beige room. Well, not the smell itself, but the way you’ve managed to reconstruct it.
Loved that you protected her.
Katia recently posted…Twisted Lessons From 90′s TV Shows – Throw Back Thursday With Netflix
Haha! I’m not a big fan of the hyphen. I’d rather run it all together in a long, mixed up verbal mess.
abundance in the boondocks
I could relate to that description of your feminist self. I could also relate to the “moment” of looking at that form and knowing the big decision that’s made with filling in that blank. I paused, stared, contemplated before writing in my new name.
abundance in the boondocks recently posted…The First Time I Waved The Flag
It’s such an intensely personal decision, and there is no right or wrong answer, for sure.
lisa thomson-The Great Escape...
Great post, Natalie. I love how you thought of yourself with his name as a stranger you would have to get to know. I changed my name when I married young and I relate to these feelings. Cool post!
lisa thomson-The Great Escape… recently posted…Coming Out of the Marital Closet
Thanks! I have so many identity struggles, I didn’t want to create another one.
It was never a thought in my head to change my name. We are three sisters, and I wanted to make sure my parents knew someone still had their name. THEIR name, because my mom took my dad’s last name.
Also, I was too lazy to change all my accounts and license and whatnot.
In traditional Spain women don’t change their names.
This has become a list of weird commentary. Sorry.
Kristin recently posted…Glad I Saw It: Salt & Pepper Feet
Lol. It is such a pain to do all the paperwork and shizz.
Sarah @ LeftBrainBuddha
Ooooh, I love this. I didn’t change my name when I got married, for many of the reasons you listed. Sarah Rudell was on my transcripts and diplomas and my classroom door, and I was just going to become someone else? And then when my daughter was born, I didn’t want her to be confused by mommy having a different last name or having teachers think we were divorced… not that that all matters. Anyway, I went in to change my name four years after the wedding (so now I have two last names, no hyphen, and I still just just my maiden name at work). I had to appear in court with two witnesses. I had to testify about why I wanted to change my name now and why I didn’t when I got married. I felt like I was being hauled into failed feminist court…
Sarah @ LeftBrainBuddha recently posted…My Summer Reading List
Yeah, I have two last names now, two, and I use them for different purposes. And that’s funny, in a sad way, the “failed feminist court.” 🙂
Given that my father and I are no longer on speaking terms, I am glad I no longer carry his last name. While I will, in some way, always be some form of my maiden name, I am happy I have taken my husband’s name. I think Ulmanis fits me perfectly and with the kind of man I am married to I am proud to take his last name.
As we like to say these days, “Team Ulmanis…F-Yeah!” Cheesy, but hilarious to us.
Kim recently posted…How One Article Changed Me
Haha! Mike and I say that, too, because no matter what, we are a part of each other’s family.
And yeah, that would be a good reason to leave off the maiden name.