"Please don't call me Doctor Jones," said an extremely distinguished PhD speaker I met recently; "I'm just a teacher named Joe. I've been Joe all my life." His name has been changed to protect the innocent.
Having one name all your life is almost as interesting to some of us of a certain age as meeting a prominent multiple-degree lecturer who calls himself "just a teacher."
Not someone of many degrees, I am nevertheless someone of many names. Maiden name, married name, resumption of maiden name after divorce, brief and ill-fated second marriage (yes, changed my name again), eventual marriage to my Final Husband, whose name I took on moving across the U.S. nearly a quarter of a century ago. Because I've been writing since college (Fran Moreland) I often joke -- though this is not a source of pride, only comic relief -- that my literary resume reads like an anthology. Each name still bears its own notoriety, as well as its own burdens.
A fascinating look at what names and name changes have meant to women over the centuries is offered by my talented writer/scientist friend Jo Anne Simson in a recent article published in Persimmon Tree magazine titled, "What's in a Name."
Names, Simson writes, have been used against women in subtle -- and sometimes not-so-subtle -- ways to subjugate, control and deny their sense of personhood. Probably the most damning of these practices for women in America was the assigning to slaves the surname of their masters, which:
ruptured a connection to a past culture from which they had been torn most unwillingly. Moreover, the name change signified an identity conversion from personhood to property. A woman's name change upon marriage also carries, historically, these same (rarely articulated) implications: Leave your past behind. You are now property, not a person. Your identity is tied to that of your master.
This writer's past marital name changes in no way compare with the brutal reality of life endured by early African-Americans, but the ID was indeed subtly tied to the man of the house. My post graduate experience ended with an MFA in short fiction, University of San Francisco Class of 2000, which conferred a degree, but no title. I have, however, managed to keep my final literary name since 1992.
At about the same time I took on the final marital/literary name above, my first grandchild was born, bringing the other defining ID: Gran.
The favorites survive.