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My Name Is What I Say It Is

danger is my mother's maiden nameMy name is Buster Blonde (well, not really, but for the purposes of this post, let’s say that it is). Most people who know me, know that fact, and most of them call me by that name”¦or some derivation of it: Busty, Blizzle, Licensed & Blonded, etc.

When I was 4 or 5 my nanny, Sonja, got married. Her last name changed. I thought that was weird. “When I’m older I still want my name to be Buster Blonde,” I told my mom. “Alright,” said Mrs. Blonde. “If I get married I’m still gonna be Buster Blonde, OK?” I told my dad. “Sounds good to me,” Mr. Blonde said.

I said a lot of things when I was younger. Like, that I wanted to be a country and western singer and tour with the Oakridge Boys, or that I’d never get tired of the movie “So I Married An Ax Murderer”, I said I’d wear my lucky red Chuck Taylors for every significant life event (I still have them but rarely pull them out of the closet), and I told my parents I’d being going to college far, far”¦far away. I changed my mind about a lot of these things. I didn’t change my mind about the name thing.

I respect tradition (some tradition, at least) and I respect the choice of other couples to change their names, I think there’s room for all different ways of doing things, and I think people make the choice to change or not change their names for a diverse array of valuable reasons, but for me, suddenly assuming another identity at the age of 29 didn’t make sense. And what has always made even less sense is that other people seem to care about what I do with my own name. I once got into a tiff with a high school boyfriend, who I, at 17, had absolutely no intention of marrying, about the name issue. The topic of my initials came up and he made the comment that my initials were cool and it’d be too bad that I’d have to lose them some day. “Why? I won’t lose them,” I think I was genuinely confused. “Well, what about when you get married?” he asked. “What about it? I’m not changing my name.” He was instantly annoyed, and this baffled me. The issue could not have had less to do with him, especially since we weren’t even in a serious relationship. I wondered then how someone else’s last name could offend a person not involved at all.

But as I grew up, I began to wonder what affect this choice would have on people who are involved? Like a partner, for example. Occasionally the name topic would come up, especially as friends began to reach coupling age. “The person who’s right for me,” I repeated frequently, “won’t be bothered by my keeping my name.”

My mate and I have known each other since college. We didn’t have our eyes on lifelong partnership when we first met, but I know the name change conversation came up through the course of our friendship and dating. Never once did he find my plan to keep my name weird or wrong. He got it. You might think it was easy for him to have that opinion when we weren’t seriously dating, but what about once we were? What about when we got engaged? Even the most non-Neanderthal man can, unfortunately, be prone to a little chest pounding. I wondered a little bit about whether it would bother him once it was a reality. We never really talked about the name issue after our engagement, because it had always been there. He knew my position and had already expressed his understanding. Wedding cards and gifts began to arrive, including a check from a great-aunt written out to my first name and my mate’s last name. I chuckled a little bit. It didn’t offend me, especially coming from someone from another generation, but since the theoretical had become reality, I asked my mate, “Does it bother you that I’m keeping my name?” I’m not sure I wanted an answer”¦. “No,” he said, easily. “I don’t want you to. Your name is part of who you are. I love Buster Blonde. You don’t want to change it, and I don’t want you to.” My heart swelled and all was right with the world. I’m thankful my mate understands, as I hope others who know us do, that I don’t love him or his family any less than do women who’ve married and taken their spouses’ names.

After our wedding, my mate and I continued to get cards addressed to us both in his name. I continued to chuckle. “It’s fine,” I thought, “people will come around, these are honest mistakes.” And most people did come around. I also made it a personal resolve to be very respectful of other people’s names. I’d ask friends how they wanted to be addressed before making assumptions.

Everything was working itself out, until about six or so months after we married. Friends and relatives are one thing, if they don’t know whether you’ve changed your name they’re left to guess, and many people will default to the more traditional option. But businesses? That’s a whole other story. This is 2010, I expect the companies that do business with me to respect my privacy and my choices.

It started with the bank. How would I cash these checks that had been made out to me in my husband’s last name? “Well, we should have your married name on file, so that you can conduct business under that name when needed.” OK. This made sense. I guess. It’s an accommodation of necessity. And so what that they now occasionally send mail to the legal fiction that is my first name plus my husband’s last name, that will happen, right?

But what about businesses I’ve never even spoken to about my name? What about companies that lifted my information from a wedding registry and began sending special offers to me in my spouse’s name. OK. I guess that’s fine. It’s spam. I sometimes get mail addressed to Bumster Blonde. Mistakes get made.

But where does the line get drawn? For me, I’ll tell you where. I have had the same auto insurance policy in my name for about a decade. A year or so ago, I added my husband, using his actual, legal name and my actual, legal name to the insurance policy so we could save money. Simple, right?

Apparently not. I recently called the insurance company to make a change to my account and they couldn’t find me in the system. “I’m sorry, spell your name again please”¦.no, you’re not here. What’s your husband’s name?” What’s my husband’s name?! It’s my danged policy, this isn’t 1920, I’m not obligated to do business under my husband’s name. Whatever, I provided his name. “Ohhhhh, here you are!” And there I was, under my husband’s name. My policy, my husband’s name.

The insurance company, having discovered that we were married, via our having added a homeowner’s policy (a home we, by the way, purchased using our actual, legal names), took it upon themselves to change my name for me. Thanks.

It’s not that big of a big deal. That’s what you might be thinking. But to me, it is. It’s not that I’m offended by my mate’s surname. I love him and where he came from, I love his family, of which I’m proudly a part, and I was obviously traditional enough to get hitched, but it’s wrong that other people, complete strangers, regularly whittle away at my choice to do what I want with my name.

Some of you who’ve taken your mates’ names might be thinking, “I sometimes get mail by my old name, so what, it’s the same thing.” But I don’t think it is the same thing. It’s different to be accidentally addressed by your former name, than it is to be addressed by a name you never had that someone else assigned to you.

My point isn’t to try to convince people to keep their names of origin or to imply that it’s better to keep your name than to change it, you should have the choice to do what you want with your name and others should respect what you choose. My point is, I do my best to not foist my ways onto others and I expect the same courtesy in return, especially in a business setting. And please, by all means, if I’m calling you by the wrong name, tell me! I’ll make it right.

By the way, it was my dear husband who called the insurance company to make sure they had my correct name on file. I reeeeally like that guy.

*This rant has been brought to you by Allstate Insurance Co. in cooperation with Chase Bank.*

13 replies on “My Name Is What I Say It Is”

I have always been sure I wanted to keep my name when (if?) I get married, and that sentiment has intensified since my dad passed. My sister took her husband’s name and I feel like I should carry his name on, being that it’s the closest connection I have to my African and Irish heritage. But yet, I’m fearful of the exact same thing you are going thru.

A friend of mine chose to keep her name, but when her Pastor announced them he said “Mr. & Mrs. HisLastName” and she gave him the best Bish, Plz look I’ve seen yet. And the DJ kept calling them “Mr. & Mrs. HisLastName” all damn night. She was so livid, she got on the mic to rant about sexism and feminism and set everyone so straight it was so awesome I wish I’d taped it. But a bride shouldn’t have to do that at her wedding.

Great post. I think there needs to be a frank conversation about it with one’s partner. I kept my name because it’s how I am known in my professional circle, and Mr. Blue endorsed the choice. He never cared either way. But I have a good guy friend, though, who still struggles with the fact that his wife hasn’t and won’t change hers. He’s a feminist and supports her right to choose, and for that reason he won’t tell her how he really feels–but he admitted to me that it really bugs him that she doesn’t want his name, and he’s hurt by it. I think if it really meant a lot to the guy I’d consider it more seriously, even if it is my choice in the end.

When I was young I thought you had to change your name if you were a girl. After a conversation about ‘continuing a family name’ I remember thinking that the only way I could carry on the family name would be to have a boy, but not be married – like that was going to happen. Flash forward to college and guess what? I got knocked up and decided not to get married. My baby-daddy didn’t have any strong feelings on the subject so my son has my maiden name. At least twice, when he has come to visit, someone has referred to my son’s father as ‘Mr. MyMaidenName.’ Somehow people feel this is a greater faux pas than calling me by the wrong name. I just think it’s funny.
By the time I did get married I didn’t really feel that strongly about my name. My mother and her sisters have, collectively, changed their names about fifteen times so names are pretty fluid in my world. My husband told me it would mean a lot to him if I took his, so I did. He was quite respectful about the whole thing.

Fantastic, fantastic post!

When I was wee I thought I would have to marry someone with the same last name as me (it was the early ’70s and keeping your own name was much less common). I was so happy when I discovered I could get married (if I chose to) AND keep my own last name.

In grade 7, my English teacher suggested that now would be a good time for the boys to develop a unique signature; but that the girls didn’t need to bother because they would change their name when they got married. I took exception to that I started practicing my own damn signature, with my own damn name!

In my 20s I was in a long-term relationship and the topic of marriage had come up. I was very clear that I had no intention of changing my last name. He said, “What’s the big deal, it’s just a name.” I replied, “Then you can change your name.” To which he — hilariously — responded with, “But I can’t change my name. It’s my NAME!”

Mr.Pear and I have very similar last names, but I still couldn’t change mine. Hyphenation was out of the question too (it would be McSomething-McSomebody… just weird). He didn’t love the idea of me not taking his name, but he got over it… and so has his family, so it’s aallll good.

I love the old standby “it’s just a name” argument. Yeah, it’s just a name, since you’re a girl. I don’t know why this issue pisses me off so much. Well, yeah I do. When someone calls you something else, against your wishes, it’s like they’re not respecting your identity. If someone were to accidentally call me by my husband’s last name (or even Mrs. Hisfirstname Hislastname, which personally makes me want to throw up), I can write it off as an accident. But if someone were to keep doing that, well, that’s diminishing and disrespectful, and we are going to have words about it.

(Disclosure: I am the “anonymous” above)
While I’m not a huge fan of it either, saying that — while I would remain Ms. Myfirstname Mylastname — I would also be Mrs. Hisfirstname Hislastname, is what made Mr.Pear calm down and accept the fact that I wasn’t changing my name.

Also, I have to say again, this really is a great post!

Thank you for this. I have had the exact same problem since getting married this summer. I have an awesome last name and have no intention of changing it. When we opened a joint checking account to cash the checks we received from our wedding, many written out to Mr. and Mrs. husband’s last name, the bank had an extremely difficult time figuring it out. They wanted me to endorse the checks by signing with my husband’s last name, even though it wasn’t my name. I realize it isn’t totally commonplace for people not to change their last name, but surely they had run into the situation before? I guess not.

I am impressed at your (presumed) restraint. I would have reached through the phone and committed an act of gratuitous violence if I discovered a company, insurance, bank, or even the fucking grocery store, had done that.

I have no intention of taking AtomicBoy’s last name, if we ever get there. Not only are names part of identity (I believe this is a significant point in why we’re completely allowed to change them, too), but my name is like a million times cooler than his.

I kind of enjoy my friend’s perspective on name-changing – she thinks if there’s going to be name-changing, whoever has the cooler last name is the one both people should take. I think she’s half-serious, too – her name flows really nicely all together and her boyfriend’s last name is impossible to pronounce correctly without guidance.

I took my husband’s last name, but honestly, it was because of my family intensely pressured me to do so. There was never even really a discussion about it until shortly before the wedding when I mentioned I’d been considering hyphenating my name, and all hell broke loose. Sadly, it was just easier to go along to get along, but now, a year later, I’d like to change it back but I almost feel like that would be harder to explain/justify than not changing it in the first place. Plus, the benefit of being a Williams is extreme internet anonymity, haha. I think something like 1,000 people on Facebook share my first and last name.

While I did take my husband’s name when I got married, I’ve found that many times I just don’t exist in the minds of businesses and corporations. Recently, our zoo membership, that had been in both of our names, had been changed to show only his name. They changed their packages, and only one name could be on the account, but they didn’t ask which name we wanted, they just assumed.

I liked this post a lot. This is something I’m anticipating having to confront in one way or another within the next year or two – we haven’t made up our minds 100% yet but my fiance and I are planning on either each of us keeping our names or each of us hyphenating our names, and I anticipate there will be some difficulty and confusion for whichever option we choose. My friends who are married and who kept their names have encountered the same things you have, and even though I know why it happens it still just really baffles me that so many people and companies have such trouble wrapping their heads around different choices with regard to marriage and last names.

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