The Day I Divorced My Husband’s Name
Names make the news all the time. Just weeks ago this world waited with bated breath and whispering humbleness for the name of the new prince of England to be announced. People are still mocking baby North West’s parents (Kim Kardashian and Kanye West) for the joke they seemed to have pulled off. It wasn’t that long ago that Cher, Madonna, and Prince ruled the world with no last names at all, the latter going without a name entirely for a while.
Image: Rex Roof via Flickr
I get it. Names matter. I can’t argue with that, but I am amazed at how much names matter to complete strangers. A name is really only the business of the parties involved, isn’t it? When my husband and I were married it was the height of the hyphenation craze. Everyone was doing it. And since I’m such a trend follower I hyphenated, too.
Yeah, fashion, that’s why I hyphenated. Ha!
The truth is—and I know you’re not surprised—I wanted nothing to do with the tradition of patrilineality, a system in which an individual belongs to his or her father’s lineage and by proxy to ones husband’s lineage. Puh-lease! I wasn’t just out of finishing school waiting to be courted. The marriage wasn’t arranged. I wasn’t being given away. I wasn’t coming to the table with large tracts of land. I wasn’t a maiden longing to be made whole by receiving her husband’s name. I was more the type who would deny my father and refuse the name change game. I was my own woman! My dowry consisted of three cats, a blue Chevy Sprint (think Mini, but less cool), a Visa card with a balance, and a box of mix tapes. I already had an actual life and changing my name was not going to be part of my marriage contract, damn it.
But more than that, I liked my name. I LIKE my name. It has history. It has heritage. It’s even slightly enigmatic (long story).
Image: Kelly O'Sullivan
I was keeping my name.
Obviously I chose a man who understood my point of view so the name thing was not initially an issue.
Fine. Easy. We won’t change our names.
Hey let’s have kids.
Cool. What shall we call them?
What to call the kids. We went back and forth on this for a while. Me, the unyielding feminist with the beloved Irish/Jewish name (longer story), and him, the only son of a good Midwestern family who just assumed any grandchildren would bear the family name.
Out of love and compassion I acquiesced. Sort of.
I agreed any future children should and would have their father’s name. But they should and would have their mother’s name, too. Equal is equal after all. And so we hyphenated. All of us. Me. Him. The kids. Even the cats have a hyphenated name on their vet files. We’re one big, happy, hyphenated family. The only challenge has been teaching the kids to spell a last name that consists of three capital letters and two forms of punctuation.
Everything was just fine.
And then a few months ago I had a personal epiphany having nothing to do with my marriage and everything to do with my writing and I quietly deleted my husband’s name from my Facebook page.
I got more than a few private inquires gently asking if everything was okay. My husband, whom I may have forgotten to warn, got a few concerned texts from his friends. The concerns even trickled up to his boss. Let’s keep that off his desk. He’s having troubles at home.
Hey, Shakespeare, what’s in a name? Well, apparently everything because people wonder what’s up when you alter it.
She hast transformed her name. Me thinks something smells off.
Where are the roses when you need them, Willy?
Image: Kelly O'Sullivan
Yes, I changed my name. Rather, I reclaimed my name. I reclaimed my name because it was time. The kids know who they are. The cats don’t give a damn. And my husband, well, he’s used to me.
So, no one need worry. No one need send flowers. I dropped the hyphen but there was no subtext to the action. All is just fine at home. The hyphenated and the hyphen-free retainthat dear perfection we’ve had for more than twenty-three years.