What’s in [keeping] a name?

Part of the great migration into the wedded state for a woman, I’ve learned, is The Decision: what to do with one’s name. In my faith community, many of the women I know, love, and respect, have taken their partners’ names. My academic community has a much more diverse spread, and my friends in all my worlds are equally unique. I’ve known couples who hyphenated and took each other’s names, while there is a family that legally changed the name for everyone. Once The Chancellor and I became seriously involved, and then engaged, many asked me the question: What are you going to do with your name?

Initially, I decided to hyphenate: Queen Bess-Chancellor (obviously, not our names, but you get the idea). I wanted to hold both our names to my heart, and I wanted to identify myself as a hybrid individual–neither fully my “maiden” self, nor fully “Chancellor” self, but someone who was integrating both parts of a merging and growing identity. And then, I started receiving mail from my old church addressed to Queen Chancellor. Not what I told them. Many other family members have already begun addressing me as Queen Chancellor, and this immediate assumption that I would just take my husband’s name, as they all did, irritates me slightly (if for no other reason than that I like to be slightly rebellious and “different” from an increasingly conformist faith community, but that’s a different post in itself).

Plus, and this is kind of a lame reason, I hate paperwork. A lot. The thought of having to go through so many hoops to change my name, especially when I’ve already been accepted into my doctoral program under Queen Bess, just gives me another headache. I decided, for my own peace of mind, that I would keep my name for now, and decide officially in a year.

Once I mad that decision, I’ve had a little time to think. I like my name. I like the identity I’ve created with it. I love The Chancellor, but I like the idea of being Mrs. Chancellor to his students while still maintaining a personal and professional identity. He has told me that he doesn’t mind if I keep my name, and for that I am truly grateful. It is nice to have my partner’s support.

Another, much larger reason for keeping my name has to do with a transformation that began long before I met The Chancellor. I was born into a “medical” family: my dad is a family practice physician, and my mom is an ER nurse. You’d think that I would have been influenced or cajoled into becoming like them, right? Not so. Both my parents early recognized my thirst for words, and encouraged me with books, writing supplements, and support. They read to me at bedtime, listened to the stories I told, and took me to the library, museum, and clubs. I had been home-schooled up to the second semester of my freshman year in high school (another post for another time), and I am now tremendously grateful for the specialized attention and tough love I received in my early years of school. When I went to a denominational boarding academy, I decided that I wanted to be a journalist, and then, my senior year, a high school teacher. I was going to change the world, and be every bit as inspirational as John Keating from Dead Poets Society.

My arrival onto campus at my undergrad university shifted my entire life, though I didn’t know it at the time. During orientation, one of the administrators, who knew my dad from his medical school days, joked about me coming back when I got my doctorate. As we turned away, I told my dad, “No, I’m going to be a high school teacher,” to which my father very seriously replied, “Well, you never know. Don’t count it out for sure.” That year, as my dad would drive me to and from my orthodontia appointments, we talked about life, school, plans, and dreams. Somewhere in there, he told me that if I was at all desiring graduate education, I should just go while I could–loans, life, work didn’t matter. He said, “Once you start working and building a life, it’s that much harder to go back.”

Those words stuck with me throughout college, especially when I began student teaching. Many of my friends and colleagues encouraged me to go ahead with the MA and PhD, especially since I was excited about it, while others told me to be practical and just find a job, because I could always go later. I had received a job offer for at least a year in a denominational school, but I wasn’t sure about its impact on my long-term life. So, I called my dad. He told me it was my decision, but if my gut told me no, then I could tell the principal “No thanks” with a clean conscience. So I did. That spring, after receiving three rejection letters, I was accepted into an MA program in the same state where I had gotten my undergraduate degree–with an offer of TAship and tuition remission. It was the best decision I’d ever made.

And so, what had turned into a scoffing remark, has become a career dream: a tenure-track professorial job. I took another leap of faith this last spring, and after several rejections, I received a funded offer in a smaller city slightly north of where I am living now.  I jokingly told my dad, “I guess you’ll be able to call me Dr. Bess after all.” He replied, “With pleasure!”

And so it is: if I keep my name, I live out a legacy that has been instilled and prepared for me. By having the same title as my dad, I honor the upbringing, encouragement, and support that he and my mom provided. My relationship with my dad is intricate and complex, but in keeping the title I was born with, I remind myself (as I will remind my children) of the unselfish love and support that have guided me into a fate greater and more rewarding than I could have asked for myself.

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3 Comments

Filed under Beginnings, Family, Marriage

3 responses to “What’s in [keeping] a name?

  1. Though my recent almost-marriage isn’t exactly on par with actually getting married, my recent thoughts have been in the same vain. I never met my father’s mother–she passed long before I was born–but I have her given name as my middle name. If I were to change my last name, I would lose her full name as the capstone of mine. I toyed with adding the new last name to mine, and just having a four-word name, but I never had to come to a conclusion. Hopefully I’ll have to decide one day, but only time will tell.

    Sign all of your correspondance with “Queen Bess and The Chancellor” and eventually people should get the hint. 🙂

  2. I often get called by my husbands last name…it took me a while to get used to being called it, and for a while I was like, that’s not my name, why do people make that assumption? Now, I feel like, you can call me whatever you want because I’m proud of his name, even though it is not my name, it will be my child’s name someday, so I no longer let other peoples assumptions irritate me. Call me what you want, I am that name because it is a part of my identity now, just not legally.

  3. So, I was eager to give up my maiden name in favor of a more unique married name. When I was Kate Moore, there were 10,000 of me. Also, I have a vexed relationship with my dad, so I wasn’t feeling a huge amount of patriarchal loyalty to his name. Furthermore, I knew that I wanted to have the same last name as my children. One of my undergrad professors married and had children relatively late, after she had already established a career and published under her maiden name, which she had decided to keep. But at her children’s school and in their social life, people call her Mrs. Wife. She is only Dr. Prof professionally. I wasn’t sure I wanted that kind of divided identity.
    While on our honeymoon in Mackinac, we toured a historic house museum that featured a lot of women and the museum displays listed four name for each of them: two given names, a maiden name, and a married name. When it came time to do the paperwork, that’s what I did: First Middle Maiden Last. The four-part name with no hyphens is a challenge, though, because most computer database programs can’t handle it. My passport lists it correctly, with the First Middle Maiden under given names and my new last name under last name. My driver’s license and my credit cards only list First Middle Married, though. My Social Security card is completely sclouged up, so I don’t use it.
    I use my names differently depending on the situation: I sign First M M Last. I introduce myself First Last. When I call or write to friends from high school or college, I identify myself as First Maiden.
    I feel like adding my husband’s last name to my already existing name reflects the way that I have added this identity to my already existing identity, and added his family to my already existing family.
    On a less philosophical note, have you checked on the time limit for filing post-marriage name change paperwork? In Indiana, there was a defined window after which changing a name became a court process with fees and an even larger stack of paperwork than the post-marriage change.

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