I have a post on A Practical Wedding today about how easy it was to decide to change my name…until I realized I’d also be changing my domain name. Some of this you’ve heard before, but I also elaborated a bit more in the post on how I made the decision to change my name.
Though I mostly focused on my relationship with my dad and how our relationship affected my decision, that wasn’t the only factor. (The fact that I lisp every time I introduce myself was another. It’s not something that I have to think about on the Internet, but I hate it in real life.) I also didn’t mention some other aspects of the name change. Like the fact that in the house I grew up in, we had four women and three different last names. Or the fact that my mom and I had often discussed changing our last names to something new and totally different when I was in my late teens/early twenties. She, too, had thought about shedding her married name, and when my brother was born, she was faced with the dilemma of what his last name should be. He was not in any way a Wilkerson. Should she give him her maiden name and return to it herself? We talked about it a lot, and one day I realized that the middle name she was planning to give him, which was the first name of my grandmother’s brother and her own brother’s middle name, was actually a common last name. So I suggested she make that his last name instead of his middle name, and it just made a kind of sense. Around the same time, my aunt got married to a guy who no longer spoke to his family and she and my new uncle chose a new last name together that meant something to them. But then there’s my grandma, who still goes by her married name, even though she got divorced in the 1970s and no one can pronounce the name. And my mentor, who chose a fabulous new last name for herself after she got divorced, a name she kept after she got remarried. And my coworker; he and his wife kept their names when they got married, and their son has her name. All these people helped me realize that last names do matter, but they are also quite fluid.
That said, there are still things about name changing that make me queasy. I’m not looking forward to the first time Eric and I get something addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. His First Name His Last Name;” for some reason, that makes me uncomfortable in a way that taking his last name does not. And I’m not going to argue that I’m making the most feminist choice by keeping my name; I’ve read enough feminist discussion on this topic to be convinced that yeah, keeping my last name probably would have been the “most feminist” thing to do. But…I can’t do something that’s completely inauthentic to me just to advance the cause; the best I can do is make a decision that feels right for me and then go to bat for any woman who chooses to keep her name or man who chooses to change his.
Sometimes, in my more sentimental moments, I miss my dad and feel a little sad and guilty that I don’t want to keep his last name. And then I remember that he was actually a junior, and he hated that. He had a bad relationship with his father, and being called “Eddie” made his skin crawl because it was what everyone called his dad. So…I think he’d understand. That said, I don’t like the idea of completely erasing my relationship with him from my name, because, painful as it may be, it’s part of who I am today and I can’t erase it from my life. Lately I’ve been leaning toward making “Wilkerson” my middle name after I get married as a small and less conspicuous way to represent this part of me, but I haven’t decided yet.
One of the things I’ve learned in the past year is that weddings are a really amazing tool for self-reflection and learning more about the family you came from. (I could go on and on about this, and I will, another day.) So while I sometimes feel annoyed that women bear the brunt of the last-name-changing anxiety, in my more optimistic moments, I see myself as really lucky that I have an excuse to deal with family legacy and personal identity through my wedding. Had I not met the person I planned to marry by now, I’m fairly confident I would have gone through this process anyway and just taken my brother’s name as my last name too (and encouraged my mom to do the same), probably to coincide with some other big life moment, like turning 30. There was another post on A Practical Wedding regarding name changes that touches on why you might desire to change your name as you grow up that I loved. The author wrote:
“Plenty of cultures allow (or even require) people to assume new names upon rites of passage to mark their new identities (see Catholic Confirmations, Buddhist Shinbyu ceremonies, fraternity initiations, and so on). I know many women choose to keep their given names because they feel that those names are tightly woven into their identities. But my given name almost feels like a cocoon I need to shed to feel truly independent and self-sufficient in this world. I’m going to be doing a whole lot of transcending in the months leading up to and after the wedding, while assuming a bunch of new identities — college graduate, wife, badass independent adult — and I want a new symbolic identity to match. Marriage just gives me a good legal excuse to do so.”
I get the feeling of shedding a cocoon and I’m glad I have the excuse to do so. I wish men and people who aren’t married had the excuse to do so too, because I really believe that examining your personal family history and adult identity is a worthwhile experience. I initially really resented the name change conversation and the touchy issues it raised, but now I’m actually really grateful to have gone through it.