I’m a good little feminist. I could have told you that I would never take my husband’s last name when I was six years old. Unless maybe his last name was Disney…I guess.
At 32, little has changed. I still wouldn’t take a man’s name. But a woman’s…well, maybe.
My partner and I will be married next year and have begun discussing the more complex practical realities of our relationship. How will we procure our first kid? What are the special legal issues that we face as a same-sex couple? Who would get the dog in the event of a divorce? Oddly, the last is probably the most intense of them all and I am the one who loses custody.
Hard decisions aside, the most life-impacting decision thus far has been with regard to last names. If I were straight, I probably wouldn’t care so much about this. There is no way that I would take a man’s name, on principal. Even if I loved it. Even if he begged. I just would not be comfortable perpetuating that tradition. I would ask him to flip a coin on whose name the kid got or use both of our names in some sort of middle then last name compromise.
However, my partner, Caroline, and I have decided that our situation is a little different. Unlike many straight couples, our kid cannot have DNA from each of us. We are concerned about others recognizing that our children belong to both of us equally. We do not want our future kids to have different last names than each other. And, neither one of us wants to have a different last name than the rest of our family unit. We want “normalcy.” We want people to think of us as “The Xxxxx’s.”
Caroline first suggested hyphenation but I was quick to point out that my last name is eleven characters long and does not play well with others. The obvious next questions were whether one of us would adopt the other’s last name and whether we would use hers or mine. We both have published works and had to take a moment to think about the impact of disassociating with those pieces before mutually deciding that there was nothing out there that we couldn’t part with. (Yet.)
At this point in our conversation, I cautiously floated an idea that I’ve always loved:
Why not make up a new name?
Caroline usually errs on the side of doing things the conventional way and I thought that she might think I was talking crazy. I was nearly certain that she would balk at the idea of having to explain a choice like this to friends, family, and coworkers. Much to my surprise, she bought into it nearly instantaneously. She even suggested using parts of both of our last names to make a new one. That’s when we realized that neither one of us loves the other’s last name or our own.
We both think that there is something very appealing about creating a new family and capping it off with a shiny, new, mutually agreed upon last name. As much as we love our birth families, we are creating an independent entity that belongs to neither and has ties to both.
At the end of our first discussion on the matter, it was decided. This was our best idea and, unless something better came along, we would create a new name. Now the fun part: what name should we choose?
First, we needed to set some boundaries:
- Nothing too weird.
- Nothing too common.
- No obvious adoption of a new ethnicity (Huang, O’Malley)
- Something familiar, phonetic, and/or easy to spell.
- No names already taken by our friends, family, close acquaintances, etc.
- No names already taken by famous jerks we don’t like, or even amazing people that we do (the Bushes, the Roosevelts).
- Something meaningful for both of us.
Two hours later, we had tossed out dozens of names. We decided not to name ourselves after objects in nature, gods/goddesses, our street, or favorite literary characters. After brief discussion, we were also certain that we were not the Awesomes, even though we may want to be.
Finally, though, one name made sense. It’s not very exciting. Neither of us love it so much that we cried when it was first uttered. But, it meets our needs and it’s easily defensible.
Our fathers both have same first name and it fits all the criteria above. So, we refuse their last names in favor of their first.
Once the name had been floated, the decision was easy. Until another, better name is thought of, this is the only one on the table. In retrospect, this process was the fun part. Now, I am faced with the reality that my identity, arguably the most permanent and public part of my identity, is about to change.
When one Googles my current last name, I am the 8th result. If you search for my first and last name together, I am the first result. My first name is quite common (Laura) but my last name is much less so. My new name will be much more generic and I am certain to be lost in The Etherwebs unless I make it famous. Side note: Caroline does not struggle with this because she is not actually known as Caroline and her first name is very unique.
I like my new name but, who is this person? What does her name mean to others? Does “normalcy” cancel out my relevancy?
Despite my lifelong disdain of those women who choose to shed this piece of their identity in order to adopt that of their husband’s, I find myself essentially doing the same thing. I will give up some of my sense of self in order to be more integrated into my family unit. Luckily, my partner is taking this step with me.
Though I pushed for this option, still firmly want to make this change, I am slightly frightened by the prospect. In thinking about this post, however, it dawned on me that this fear is about much more than a name. The name is just a wrapper. What I really am having butterflies about is the reality that I am no longer an individual in many respects and that I will lose more of my individuality in stages over the next few years.
Last year, I stopped being a “me” and became half of a “we.” Next year, I will be a wife. And, hopefully, soon after that I’ll be Mom. Does this make me nervous? Hell, yes. Do I want to be all of those things? HELL, YES. Scared or not, sign me up!
The reality is that marriage is a big deal and the name change feels like a bigger deal than lots of other life changes that one makes along the way. However, it’s not really that different from dozens of other decisions I’ve made. I lost my hometown when I went to college, my independence when I got cats, my spare time when I purchased a house. Each of those choices have had positive effects on my life that I would never give back.
And, who said being a Brittingham was so great? Certainly not me. Here’s hoping that being a Roberts will be the best thing that ever happens to me.
Would you ever consider making up a name? Have you done so? What did you choose and what was your process for getting there?