When Ed Housewright wrote his piece on reclaiming his last name from his ex-wife titled, Can I Please Have My Name Back?, I actually spoke out loud to the computer, saying, yes, yes, you can. But then I stopped; who would I give my name back to? And which name?
I've never really had my own name, least not for very long. At birth, the paperwork read Brandi Megan Squire, a perfectly respectable name for a girl born in a sea of 1974 Jennifers. It wasn't because of the song. My mom says it just popped into her head when they announced it's a girl; she expected a boy, someone to be named Chad.
This name suited me just fine, until my mom remarried. This was the 80s -- yes, divorce happened; yes, people remarried, but not like today. Once, after a girl banged my head into a paper towel dispenser, the principal told my mother that bullying happens to children from single parent families, even though at that point my mom had been remarried to my awesome step-dad for six years. Our different last names served as a notice to the world. A world that for some reason held onto bias like a drowning person clings to a life raft. Luckily, later that year, with the help of some paperwork and a bit of cash, I officially joined my family in name, becoming Brandi Megan Tarnowski.
At 19, I found myself in a somewhat fool-hearted marriage. At first, I resisted changing my name. I held out for a year. Then in an act of solidarity or maybe a whim of the heart, I drove down to the Division of Motor Vehicles and started the process. My first publications and my Bachelor's degree bore this newly minted name, Brandi Megan Scollins. Six months later, we divorced.
When I married the second time, I waited a full eleven years before changing my name. When I floated the idea of changing it, my daughter cast the deciding vote. Apparently our lack of a common last name bothered her. So again, I filed the mountain of paperwork, figuring at eleven years strong, the worst was over, and this one was a keeper. My driver's license and the back of my USA Archery shirts now read Mantha.
But apparently I guessed wrong about the worst being over. Once again, I am left with a name that isn't really mine to keep.
The debate about women changing their names upon marriage lingers throughout the ages and continues today, even in this very publication. People try to skirt the convention with hyphenation, using one name personally and another professionally, and now some couples even seek to create a new last name to mark their new status as a family or the man may even take his wife's last name. But what happens when it goes south?
After Demi & Ashton split, magazines ran polls about Demi changing her Twitter handle @mrskutcher (which she smartly replied isn't really a priority for her right now). So just as there is as much pressure to change your name in the first place, there is just as much pressure to change back. Not even beautiful and famous Demi Moore is immune to it.
When people heard of my divorce, one of the first questions after "are you okay," was "what are you going to do with your name?" But why? Is it as Housewright says -- his name, his property? Does that rule apply when you have children or you were married longer than ten years? Or is it like the wedding ring, something you don't have to give back?
And somehow technology -- instead of making it easier, makes it worse -- just think about your email address and Facebook and Twitter and your usernames for all of your accounts online -- imagine what it would take to change all of that? Not to mention the rigors of post-9/11 identification verifications procedures for government paperwork. Before you could quietly slip back to your maiden name, order new checks, throw out the old stationary, but now your name change becomes a status update and email alerting people to update their in-boxes. Can we say adding insult to injury?
As I write this, I might caution new brides to keep their own names, but I don't fully agree with that. Despite everything, I still believe in marriage and family and tradition. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I like the idea of monogrammed towels and stationary and being able to RSVP that yes, Mr. & Mrs. Smith will be in attendance at Suzy's bat mitzvah.
More importantly than the entire name debate would be this -- instead of debating the name change issue, think carefully about your choices in marriage and who you are when you choose to marry. Really check in with yourself before you even consider the name-changing, marriage game.
Know your own name first.
I know I wish I did.