I’ve always been for equal rights for women. I feel fortunate to perform on stage, drive a car, vote, hold a good job, and have so many other freedoms that women were denied for so long and in some places are still denied. But I admit that whenever I heard about a woman keeping her maiden name, hyphenating, combining, or taking any other route than simply adopting her husband’s name I thought it was weird. I even commented on an Offbeat Bride article about the name change decision, saying:
“I am the last person in my family lineage to have my last name. Were we living in medieval times this would be a catastrophic event… but since we’re not living in medieval times it’s not such a big deal. I think a lot of women fear that taking their husband’s name will somehow erase their identity. I don’t look at taking my husband’s name as erasing my pre-married self. I’m just adding a new layer to my identity and 28 years from now I’ll be Brink M. longer than I was ever Brink P.”
For our fourteen-month-long engagement I planned to take my husband’s last name, and didn’t really give it a second thought. But in the days and weeks following our wedding IT started to happen to me. I felt like I was being erased as an individual.
As early as our wedding day people started calling me “Mrs. HisLastName” and I didn’t like it. It was as though I had ceased to exist. It felt like my first name was “Mrs,” my last name was “HisLastName,” and no identifier of who I was previous to getting married was left. My co-workers were calling me “Mrs. HisLastName” in a friendly celebratory way and finally I just said “Please stop calling me that. My name is Brink.”
It made me especially angry when we would receive something addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. HisFirstName HisLastName” as though I was not even worthy of a first name anymore. As though I am just a wife. I love being his wife, I love that we’re married, but I want to define my marriage. I don’t want my marital status to define me.
I was truly dismayed to discover that on top of feeling like I was losing my identity I really disliked how my “new” name looked and sounded. I never really considered how aesthetically pleasing or harmonious my given name is, but once I realized that it made it even harder to give up.
Because I had intended to take his name all along I shoved these initial misgivings under the rug. I thought perhaps I was going through an adjustment period, like getting a new job, or apartment, or pet. I started using it at work following the wedding and I didn’t get used to it. It looked wrong, it sounded wrong, and above all it felt wrong. It didn’t feel like me.
But, I felt really awful about it feeling wrong so I tried to get myself excited about it. I tried to take solace in the fact that my last name could become my first ever middle name but that turned out to be not much comfort, because how often does one really use their middle name? Most forms or accounts only ask for and display a middle initial at best.
The turning point for me was when I attempted to fill out the form to legally change my name on my Social Security card. I sat down to fill it out and got hit with a totally unexpected wave of violent emotion. It sounds so dramatic and if it hadn’t happened to me I’d accuse myself of exaggeration but my hands were shaking, tears were blotting the page, it just felt SO WRONG. It felt like I was signing my life away. Like I was willfully erasing everything I’ve worked for and who I am.
I believe that marriage is a union of equals. After thinking it over it seemed unequal and unfair that I, as the woman, was expected to give up something that’s been part of me for my whole life simply because we made the decision to get married. I found out that my name means a whole lot more to me and is a bigger part of my identity than I previously thought. It’s a part of me and it’s not a part I can give up.
Changing my mind about changing my last name was undoubtedly really confusing for my husband, because I had clearly stated my intention to take his name once we were married. Since he didn’t have to experience being called something else post-wedding I’m not sure that he can ever fully understand. But a driving force of our relationship is acceptance and not attempting to change the other person. My husband accepted my change of mind with a calm good grace that greatly increased my respect and love for him, a feat that I previously thought impossible.
In our still stubbornly patriarchal society it is still the norm for a woman to take her husband’s name upon marriage. I think there’s a misconception that women who choose a different path aren’t as committed to their marriage as those who do. My feelings about my name are in no way connected to my feelings towards my husband or my marriage. Whether we share a name or not, I am his wife.
As strongly as I feel about keeping my own name I also don’t think that it’s wrong if person wants to change their name after getting married. What it comes down to is a personal choice. There is no right or wrong answer and no one should feel uncomfortable about making the choice that is right for them.