why I changed my name
Two weeks ago, I married the love of my life, my best friend, one of the kindest, big-hearted generous people I know. There is a part of me still surprised by this, by having a wedding, wearing rings and mostly, changing my name.
Typically, I buck tradition and social norms. I have trouble with authority, with people's expectations of me and I rarely just go with the flow. I've been this way since I was born, according to my mother. It should come as no surprise that I never considered marriage as part of my future. I coasted through many of my early relationships on the surface of things, resisting commitment at every turn, never really trusting or believing I would not get hurt. During only one relationship did I thumb through a copy of Bride's magazine and imagined what a wedding dress might look like. I think this was because I knew marriage was not really an option for him and he made sure I knew it any chance he could. So I dared myself to imagine it and when our relationship ended, I felt confident that marriage... commitment of any kind was probably not in the cards for me.
Meeting M changed my life. One of her greatest traits is how steadfastly she believes in the good of the world, that amazing things are possible. She makes those around her want to believe those things, too. With her in my life, I began to see a life I never imagined possible for me. And when we finally got around to talking about making a public, legal commitment, being married suddenly made sense for me.
What I've learned about norms and traditions and fulfilling expectations is that participating in them has to make sense for each person. We all have to work out what these big ideas and concepts mean to us. Commitment, marriage, weddings, relationships, in general, we all see them differently based on our experiences. These concepts are large enough to hold any number of variations and definitions. However, when you talk about marriage and having a wedding, you open yourself up for a world of questions. The question I was asked most often was: Are you going to change your last name?
This question is relatively common for modern women. In the past, it was expected that women would take their husband's name; when married a woman became Mrs. Joe So and So. Not only did they have a new last name, their own identity was subsumed by her role as Joe So and So's wife, mother to his children, etc. Today, as women get married later and later in life, they have often established a professional identity based on their name and do not want to change it. I can understand this reasoning. In the mid '90's 23% of married women kept their last name, according to a 2009 study from Social Behavior and Personality. But more recently, women are changing their name. In a poll on TheKnot.com only about 8% of women kept their name when they married. In the world of academia, it's pretty typical that women do not change their names, certainly not professionally. Many of my friends who married recently, have not changed their names.
There are a lot of choices when making this decision: hyphenating, taking one name legally, another professionally, designing a new name for both of you, combining names, changing your birth name to your middle name and taking the new name as your last name and it goes on. It is amazing to have these choices.
I went back and forth in my own mind about this. When M first broached the subject and teased me about it, I said, "absolutely not; I'm not changing my name." End of discussion. But the more I thought about it, the more I warmed up to the idea.
It was important to me for a few reasons to change my name. Because we are a gay couple, there are not a lot of states that will recognize our civil union. Because Illinois does, I can change my name here and have it reflected on a Federal level, making it harder to delegitimize our relationship. It's also easier to change your name right after you're married than it is to wait around 6 weeks, and pay a number of fees. Of course, many gay couples in areas where neither civil unions nor marriage is legal, do so anyway in order to display in the one recognizable way that they are committed to one another. It helps to "prove" our relationship, which can sometimes feel like it's in a constant state of requiring explanation. Sure, we could have created a new name and thought about it several times, but Michelle's father and grandmother died a few years ago and it seemed important for her to hang on to her name. I am close to Michelle's family and wanted to reflect that.
So, why did I change it professionally? Well, it seemed weird to me to change my name in one area of my life but not in others, kind of half-assed. Additionally, there's a domino effect to paperwork, to reflect the name change for insurance, my name had to be changed in the system as a whole and so it just made sense to go with it.
Wasn't I attached to my last name. Yes and no. I like my name, don't get me wrong. But the entirety of who I am isn't wrapped up in one last name. It's a part of me and will always be; I've taken it as my middle name. For me, this reflects who I was and who I'm becoming.
Yes, I worried about gender stereotypes with me the "girlier" of us changing my name but ultimately, I could not think of a reason that felt legitimate enough to not change it. It was not a decision I came to lightly, nor is it one I expect everyone to understand, particularly with how my family is taking this whole deal.
I wanted to have a public, legal ceremony in order to get public, legal recognition for our commitment. I want a public identity as M's wife, as a family, together. Most people in our lives have seen us that way since they've known us, calling us The Fupi's (M's nickname) or me Mrs. Fupi. Changing my name felt right, and ultimately, that's why I did it. It made sense on a personal, emotional and political level for me.