Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What's in a name? (part two)

First off, I want to thank you again for your comments on my last post about names. I'll admit I was hesitant to blog on that topic. My position on the fence is a little precarious and I wasn't too keen on exposing myself to others' opinions just yet. I get very fragile when I'm on the verge of a decision. (Just ask poor M who got an evening of the silent treatment a few weeks ago when I was coming to terms with another major decision and she had the audacity to admit she'd already picked up on my change of heart!) I shouldn't have worried. I have the best blog readers ever. You all gave me some great perspective and helped things along a bit, I think.

So, here's where am I stuck:

No, before I get to that, here's how I got here:

Everything I said in my last post about realizing I'm the "odd name out" has been simmering for a month or two, and it's been fueled even more recently by my increased desire to define the edges of our little family of three. I've started several projects to this end, from reviving the second-parent adoption conversation in our house (Appointment with the attorney in 2 weeks! Thanks for calling, M!) to buying us all matching Christmas stockings (well, kits, that will probably take me until E is in kindergarten to complete) that are completely different than what either of us had growing up. I'm just all about OUR family right now and I want to do things that reinforce and support and honor OUR family.

The major tipping point came courtesy of fa.cebook. Ha ha! I was tagged in a picture from the wedding of a family friend. I attended with just my parents and my brother. The caption, added by the bride, read "The MyLastName Family".When I read that, I felt like it was just wrong. M and E are my family, and they weren't there. I think I'm extra-sensitive to this because we aren't legally married. This gets back to what I said in my last post about thinking I might keep my name if I were in a heterosexual marriage, even though I'm now considering a different path. Scrapping my current last name isn't something I want to do, and I know that part of my reason for considering it comes from some of my own internalized stigma of M and my relationship. In looking at that picture, I felt like M and E - my family - were literally and figuratively invisible. This was acceptable because we aren't legally married, and easily achieved because my name connects me to my family of origin instead of them. Maybe I'm being paranoid, but I feel like if we were legally married, people would have to acknowledge us, but since we're not, so I have to force the issue with the name. Furthermore, there aren't many legal options available to us in defining our family, which makes those available seem all the more desirable. It's simple supply and demand.

The other thing that happened was that I sent out some Halloween cards and each one was addressed to a couple with a shared last name. After writing A & B Smith and X & Y Jones half a dozen times, I started to resent the cumbersome cluster of names that denotes our family.

So these two minor incidents inspired enough of a freak out on my part that I found myself wanting to change my name - something I'd never even seriously considered before, let alone desired. This realization ushered in some interesting mental acrobatics:

1. My current last name connects me to my family of origin.

2. I want my allegiance to be to M and E rather than my family of origin.

3. I need to take M and E's last name.

4. M and E have the same last name as her family of origin.

5. I feel very uncomfortable ditching my family of origin name in favor of hers.

6. I need to mentally divorce M and E's last name from her family of origin before I can take it.

7. If I convince myself that last names do not necessarily connect one to their family of origin, point #1 above becomes moot and I can keep my own! Yay! No, wait. I'm just back where I started.

I can skip down to wanting M and E's last name simply because it's theirs, but I still get hung up on this idea of taking M's dad's name (well, his dad's dad's dad's...), because that's what it traces back to in the end. Basically, I need two different realities to co-exist in order to feel comfortable: In my case, I need my last name to be inherently connected to my family of origin so that I am justified in abandoning it in favor of a shared K-M-E last name. But in M's case, I need her last name to NOT be connected to her family of origin so that I can assume it without feeling like I'm leaving my family to join hers, becoming her property, or participating in some other weird patriarchal phenomenon. I guess the ultimate solution to THIS dilemma would be all of us changing to an all new family name, but it seems like a lot of trouble to make all three of us change and it's not like we have something we love to change to anyway.

I probably didn't explain that well at all. It's hard for me to articulate. I know the answer. If I take the name, I take it because it's E's - not M's, not M's family, etc. It's the name we decided to give E - a decision I'm 100% fine with - so I just have to decide if I want to take Elliot's name or not. And I probably do.

It just seems like such a freaking pain in the ass. There are little things, like I love the sound of my name. My last name has three syllables and I'd be changing to a last name with one - that's just a big change to the sound of my name. I like my initials and my signature. My signature hasn't changed a stroke in the last 15 years. My name feels like this hugely important part of me, and I can't imagine giving it up. I cringe when I think of all of the million little places my name will need to be changed - how did you all DO that?! It's all just kind of overwhelming.

That said, I suspect this desire to define and proclaim our family will only strengthen with time, so I suspect I will make the change eventually. I just have a little more peace-making to do with the idea first.


jessie said...

All very valid points. My issue over is that Greta doesn't think I should change my name until we can legally get married in our state

Inlocoparentis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Inlocoparentis said...

I deleted my first comment after I went back and re-read it because there were a couple of points that could be clearer.

It seems to me like you've done a lot of hard thinking about this name business. It is a tough decision, no question about it. It was not as hard for me because: 1) I embraced the idea of leaving my family of origin and joining S's because, as you know, my family has gone out of their way to act as if our marriage/family is invisible, while hers has not; and 2) her last name sounds better, is easier to spell/pronounce, and I generally like it better than my own.

An option I haven't heard you discuss is hyphenation for you (I totally agree with all your reasons not to give E a hyphenated name). I thought about doing that. It is a bit of a pain because your name becomes longer, but it would allow you to have a clearly identifiable, recognizable tie to E and M without giving up your own name, signature, etc. Plus, the hyphenated name is, as a legal matter, not the same as anyone else's - it's only yours. Kind of like a shout out to both your families - the one you and M have created and your family of origin. Having now gone through the clusterfu*k that comes along with a name change, I tend to agree that changing everyone's name would be a nightmare.

I also just wanted to tell you how impressed I am with these daily blog posts. I know it's a lot of work but I look forward to the new post every day - it's like an advent calendar.

nutella said...

I can totally follow your line of reasoning. And yeah, if you make a change it will sound and feel totally weird for awhile. But then, it won't.

As for the process itself, yeah it was a pain, but I did it all on my own (no lawyer). It involved 2 trips to the county courthouse to file paperwork. After I got the court order I changed my social security # in person at the SS office. The DMV took 3 trips, 1 for my liscense and 2 for my car since I didn't bring the right paperwork the first time. All of those had to be done during business hours, so I did have to take some time off of work. Everything else (bank, passport, health insurance, work etc.) I was able to accomplish online, by mail or by fax.

anofferingoflove said...

this is a great post. i always get caught up on #4/5 when i think about taking my partner's name also...