What's in a (last) name?

8 years ago

When we got married, there was no question that I would keep my name.

Even writing it sounds funny. It is "my" name after all, of course I get to keep it. And my husband never did, never would, ask me to change.

At the time, it didn’t feel like a feminist statement, although I was a little disappointed to see how many of my friends changed theirs. It was more that I like my name, I have a professional reputation behind it, and I can't stand paperwork.

Keeping your own name is common enough now that most people give it a shrug and a “whatever,” but only a few take the time to write both names out when addressing Christmas cards. We are called by our last names outside of professional situations so rarely that it jut doesn’t come up much in day-to-day life.

Now I’m pregnant. And the first thing people want to know is, “who’s name will the baby have?”

I thought I wasn’t being a feminist by keeping my own name. But I find myself really struggling with the idea of giving my husband's name to our baby.

My sister, ever helpful, has already changed my name for me – assuming both that the baby will have his name and that I will dutifully follow suit. She addresses me only as Mrs. __.

I can’t hyphenate. It looks funny and doesn’t fit on an SAT application. Plus, as the child of divorced and remarried and divorced and remarried parents, I’ve experimented with hyphenation on my own and it always felt forced, never natural. Some people have names that flow right into each other, allowing a whole new combination to which they both switch. But ours put together makes a noise like a raspy beetle stuck in your throat – it ain’t pretty. Still others have suggested pulling a last name out of thin air, as if I have always wanted to be a “Johnson” or a “Mayfair” or a “Thinhipster.” That strikes me as more of a vanity plate than a lineage.

So I look at our families. And I wonder if the parts of me that are essentially “me” are really contained in my name. If the way his brothers and sisters interact with each other is contained in his name. If giving our baby his name is giving in, or a gift, or an expectation. If giving her my name would be stubborn, or selfish, or create more trouble than it’s worth.

I really don’t know.

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