Thursday, November 19, 2009

What's in a name? (part one)

I am thinking of changing my name. This comes as a great shock to me. When M and I had our (illegal) wedding in 2006, we discussed this and decided we would both keep our names. It was a pretty short discussion, really. Neither of us could envision taking the other's name, nor asking the other to take ours. We did come up with an all new name blending halves of each of our last names, and we still use it "internally" to this day, but it's not something we ever gave serious thought to taking on legally.

Until very recently, I've never second-guessed our decision to keep our own last names. I never thought it took away from our partnership, and in fact, I felt good about what it said about our individuality within that partnership. I have told people that I like to think I would have kept my last name even if I had married a man, and I still believe that. If I don't fall asleep before I finish this post, I'll even explain that seeming contradiction to you. Ultimately, I never gave much thought to last names at all... until a little over a year ago when it became apparent we would need to provide someone with one.

The one thing that was never on the table for us was hyphenating. This is 100% MY opinion for MY family, so I hope that I don't offend anyone with my explanation, but here goes: I was opposed for the obvious reasons - it makes for a last name that is cumbersome, long, awkward, etc., but the deal-breaker for me was that I wanted to equip Elliot with a name that would leave him all of the options to make when he is an adult and has his own family. In 20-something years, when he decides to spend the rest of his life with Ms. or Mr. Wonderful, I want HIM to be able to keep his name, take his/hers, or hyphenate the two. Hyphenated names are like T intersections in this scenario - you can turn left or right, but you can't continue forward on the same road. Can you imagine if he took theirs ALSO and had three last names? What if Ms. or Mr. Wonderful has a hyphenated last name of his/her own - they could put them together and each have four! Anyway, I just wanted to make things as simple as possible for him, both now and later, by giving him a straight-forward, single last name. Again, MY preference. I am not placing judgement upon anyone that came down on a different side of this complicated decision.

The decision to give him M's last name was mine. She was pretty uncomfortable with it at first. She didn't want my family to think she asked for that, and she felt bad that he and I wouldn't have the same name. I was adamant for two reasons: First, I felt that since I had the privilege of carrying him, she should have her own unique connection to him as well. Second, I didn't know if and when we would pursue a second-parent adoption, and I figured if they had the same last name, it would grease the wheels for her with his schools, doctors, daycares, and so on. Of course it doesn't make her his legal parent, but it might make some people forget they need to ask, and when you're in our shoes, that's a valuable thing.

I thought I was completely okay with him not having my last name, and once I got over the initial weirdness, I was, for a while. In the last couple of months, I have felt my Mama Bear instincts slowly emerging and I feel this intense need to define our family - K, M & E - as distinct from my family of origin. If we were legally married or Elliot was our direct biological offspring, I think that might alleviate the need for me a bit, but we're not and he's not. I still think we'll complete a second-parent adoption, although I don't know exactly when or how. But I want to do more. 2/3 of my family has one last name and I have another. The answer seems obvious, and yet I feel so much internal resistance.

I would love to unpack that a little more but I'm literally falling asleep typing this, so I'm going to leave it here for now, but I'll be back to work on this more soon.


jessie said...

I think I could have written this post. I feel the same way about hyphenated names so Holland has Greta's last name but I get pangs of sadness that I don't share it.

Inlocoparentis said...

Great post. Making the decision to change my name was hard, and truthfully it still doesn't feel real, even though I now have a social security card and a driver's license with my new last name on them. But there is something really comforting to me to know that we will all have the same name when the baby comes. I also wanted to be able to get address labels that said "the N family" for Christmas cards like my parents had. I don't know why, it's just one of those things that I had always imagined. All things considered, I'm glad that I did it.

Denise said...

It wasn't hard for me to give up my last name; I never felt it was my last name - it was the the last name of my adoptive stepfather, and a name I never liked having.

However, we did spend many years discussing a potential new last name that was just ours. That was hard to let go of when we started discussing me taking H's last name. In the end, we simply never came up with a name we liked, and H decided she was actually pretty attached to her last name. So I switched.

Now that it's been a couple years, I've settled in to the name and am happy that we can refer to ourselves as the H Family, and that our future kids will have the same name. It does make me feel awkward for R; she was raised in a family where all three of us had different last names, and now she is the odd one out. We of course leave the option of our last name open to her, but she's old enough that it's unlikely she will take it. Overall, I'm happy with the decision and feel it does give a sense of unity and family in a world that offers few protections.

Meegs said...

I hear you on this. I decided that I would take Trav's last name, and it was my decision which I made easily. I thought. But come a week or two before the wedding, and I had this... something... in the pit of my stomach about giving up MY name, the one I've had my whole life! I did find a little silly thing to do with my middle name that made me feel better about the whole thing (I can explain elsewhere if you are interested, but its too much to go into here), but it was still hard.

That said, now that its been a few years and I'm well settled in with my new name, I'm very attached to it. I like that we are the H family and that our kids will have the same last name as both of us.

I know its not easy now, but hopefully your decision will bring you some joy/contentment in the end.

Can't wait to read about this some more.

Trinity said...

I didn't change my last name either. Back then (almost 10 years ago) I was a pretty serious feminist who really felt that it was more meaningful to keep my name. I didn't even have my father walk me down the aisle because I hated the symbolism of a man "giving away" a woman to another man. While I still consider myself a feminist, those hardcore feelings have tempered a little. BUT, I am still very happy that I kept my name.

We have had the discussion about other last names as well, should we ever be able to add to our family. We haven't come up with an answer yet... Who knows?

Two Moms, Two Monkeys said...

Great topic! I took R's name for very different reasons but most importantly we wanted the boys and us to all have the same last name so there isn't any question as to who the parent is. The boys are biologically R's and I carried, so we each have our own connection to them and didn't feel the last name would make either one of us more or less connected. To be honest, I am a really bad driver and spend alot of time in traffic court. My maiden name starts with a V so I would always be called last to fight my case! R's last name starts with an A so that was a total deal maker for me!

nutella said...

2moms2monkeys, that is hilarious!

I ended up taking Strawberry's last name for the same logic that you cite. I got the have the baby, we all get to have her name. For a while we tried to come up with a new unique name, but never found one that we liked. I dropped my old middle name and moved my old last name into it's slot so I still have it as part of my identity.

It took about a 6 months for my new name to feel like it fit. The name change process and associated name change business was a pain, but now that it's done, I'm happy with our identity as the S family.

Anonymous said...

I was married early in my 20's and took my husbands name without a second thought, and then as soon as I figured out he was loser, all I asked for in the divorce was the right to my own family name (in MD, you have to do that, oy). 10 years later when I married my real husband (hate to call him my second since he's my one and only real husband!) I hemmed and hawed about whether or not to take his name. I thought about it, I mused about it, I asked what everyone thought, and then one cold windy day we were taking a walk and he asked me what I wanted to do,and I said "I want to take your name", and I did. It is an akward name, it is Jewish (and my family name is the same as the christian house of worship, so he wasn't going to take that one!), and I have to spell and respell it many times a day. But I love it too. If our names weren't so discordant, we could have combined them, and that would have been a lovely way to define our family, but essentitally, that would be Lurch, not so attractive. I think all three of you having the same last name is a lovely idea.

tireegal68 said...

what a great post and great comments too! I really get where you are coming from - although we have not got to the place you are yet and don't have a little one to name:) - but I am totally on the fence about what to do when we have our little one. I like Susan's last name - and we also have an "internal" name that is our combined name that sounds kind of fun and eastern european, but is a bit of a mouthful. I also like my own name after taking a long time to get used to it. It really helps me identify with my dad and his family and now he's not here any more it means a lot. In England where I am from it is a pain because people always guess how to spell it and spell it wrong. In the states it's normal to have a name that needs to be spelled so I find it easier to deal with. Anyhoo - gotta run but I am going to come back and read the whole thing again. I would love to hear the rest of your thoughts on it and what you decide. PS what's second parent adoption like in your neck of the woods? I would imagine in a metropolis it might be easier than if you were in the woods?
Here we are lucky that it is a breeze - although it costs but still a breeze.

Luisa said...

well I'm on the other side of the fence, in that we saddled our precious with a hyphenated name. I fully expect her to ditch my cumbersome ethnic, hard to spell name as she grows up but for now it has been amazingly easy to be her non-birth parent wiht daycare, schools, doctors and hospitals never asking because we share a name.

I have always had a problem (for me) with being a gay couple and having the same last name. To me living in a place without legal marriage it makes us more like sisters instead of partners.

As much as I don't really care for my last name - its still mine and I don't want to change it.

I don't think a hyphenated last name is really going to hinder the kiddo that much and they can choose to keep it all or ditch some of it when they are grown. and it makes our children both of ours to the outside world - it has been really nice for me to share a name with precious.

probably didnt help you much but my 0.2