Changing My Last Name: Or, how I totally screwed over feminism

When I got married this past October, I remember the happy times:

I also remember the not-so-happy times: changing my last name (did I mention, by the way, that I HATE being called Mrs.?)

mrs_x_tshirt

I had this debate in my head for a long time, ever since we got engaged.  Do I change my last name and achieve family unity with my husband, making everything from insurance to office parties easier?  Or do I keep my last name and remain unique and feel like I’m an individual instead of a “Buy One Get One Free” set?

I had many conversations about this: on message boards, on blogs, with my family, with friends, and most importantly, with myself.  My husband didn’t care either way.  Although at first he wanted me to take his last name, he talked with a coworker who told him how much hassle it would be to change my name and he recanted, leaving the decision completely up to me. In the end, I took his last name, Boykis, forsaking Korchagin forever (relegating it to my middle initial, K. in my Social Security card.)

Although now it’s getting close to feeling natural (much like wearing a mitten feels natural), I still feel a little resentful, even though my husband didn’t have much to do with my decision, like I was pressured into it by society.  Because I know that if I kept my name, I would have many of the same issues that the woman in the following Wall Street Journal article does:

Mike ultimately supported my decision. Some of my relatives reacted with outright hostility, however. My mother repeatedly scolded me for childishly using my “little girl’s name.” Ignoring my wishes, she ordered wedding thank-you notes emblazoned “Joann and Mike Pollock.” Those unused cards sat untouched atop her refrigerator for years.

Nevertheless, I was surprised at the slow acceptance of married couples with different last names in business dealings and social settings. The Chicago Motor Club, for instance, rejected my enrollment as an associate member through Mike’s full membership unless I shared his surname.

For years, perplexed party hostesses couldn’t figure out how to introduce my husband and me as a couple. We finally started dubbing ourselves “the Lublin-Pollocks.”

Women have always had this dilemma.  Even for those that choose to keep their last name, they are often alienated, if not by their family, then by society, who expects them to have one name or another.  No matter which decision they make, they end up feeling guilty:

My best friend and her husband hoped that hyphenating their daughter Nomi’s last name would prevent such sticky situations. Instead, she encountered a different set of problems. When she reached her early twenties, new acquaintances “always assumed I was married because of my hyphenated name,” Nomi remembers. “People would say, ‘Oh, you’re so young to be married!'”

Married last year at age 27, Nomi now faces a fresh conundrum. She strongly believes that when she and her husband have children, everyone in their family should share his surname. Yet “it doesn’t feel completely right to give up my name,” she frets. The hyphenated moniker “incorporates my Mom’s and my Dad’s.” Nomi may solve her dilemma by triple hyphenating her name when she has children. However, doing that “becomes a little complicated,” she admits. Her well-meaning parents “put me in a complicated position.”

In the end, it’s really women that lose out.  Even though we say we are past feminism and all that, the last name conundrum indicates that we clearly are not.  Although the name we are given at birth is our father’s, we make it our own and accomplish things with it and make it our own brand name, often times through college and into our first career.  I feel lots of twinges of regret when I Google my old name (oh yes, I’m narcissistic.) and see everything that I accomplished under it.  Now, if I do anything significant, it feels like my husband has something to do with it, even though he is clearly innocent.  The other part that I think is really unfair is all of the document changes to make your name permanent. On the other hand, if you don’t take it,

But changing my name full stop felt dishonest, while keeping my own name felt weirdly disrespectful to both my husband and any of our future offspring.

It’s almost cliche now to say that your name is part of your brand and image, but it is.  And when you change it, everything associated with it changes as well.  This is more acute for me as a writer who constantly deals with words and their meanings, but true for everyone, I think.  One of the most significant downsides to changing my last name is that Korchagin is distinctively Russian, at least to those familiar with Russian last names, constantly leading to conversation starters, even through mispronouncement, whereas with Boykis I simply blend in.  While this is somewhat welcome, I am used to standing out and so can be a little disconcerting at times.

I am still getting used to my new last name and still going through a bajillion document changes, I think as of now that I made the right decision because ultimately my children will take my husband’s name anyway, and I think people that hyphenate, while not pretentious, give out an air of pretention on first impression.  And my old last name is still a part of my name, as my new middle name (I didn’t have one before.)  When I am feeling especially defiant, I will write out my full name on checks.  Then watch as people struggle. I am a bad, bad person.  Forget you know me.

Vicki

16 thoughts on “Changing My Last Name: Or, how I totally screwed over feminism

  1. My wife happily dumped Weinrieb; she was tired of people miss-spelling it. I do have a lot of friends that were less enthusiastic about giving up a piece of their identify but like you ultimately decided they would prefer to have the same name as their spouse and children… I agree hyphenating often sounds pretentious, and how many generations can you hyphenate without sounding ridiculous. It really isn’t fair that society puts so much pressure on a woman to change their name. I am not sure how I would feel if I was expected to give up such a large part of my identify.

  2. Corey-agreed that it’s much easier to change if you already don’t have much of an attachment to your name. As far as hyphenating goes, I was thinking about what to do if you have two people who are already hyphenated. I would say to just give up and go by “Cher’ or “Madonna”

  3. 1. Your link was relegated to my spam, I think because of the subject line, “Ladies, what do you think?”

    2. This is a topic I think about on a daily basis. I don’t know what I’m going to do. Obviously, my last name sounds like it’s hypenated anyway, so that’s not going to work. I’ve heard of people doing it the old-fashioned Scandinavian way, with the daughters taking the mother’s name and the sons taking the father’s name, but of course that ends up looking like you have some dysfunctional family. I’m trying to stand my ground, but I don’t know. I’m all about my ugly-ass maiden name though.

    3. I’ve been trying to scrape up the motivation to blog again, but I have been collecting notes to write a tell-all about my first year of teaching instead.

  4. Jillian:

    1. Haha sorry about that. Next time I will do better not to send Viagra-like emails.
    2. I LOVE your last name, but Steve’s is pretty cool too. I would struggle with it too. Especially with a whole book about your last name.
    3. I can’t wait to read it!

  5. Yeah, hopefully it won’t be an abandoned project similar to the grandiose musings of everyone else we knew in the Honors College that never reached fruition.

    I’ve been trolling the depths of the Internet for some freelance gigs lately…is it me, or do the choices suck and not offer enough pay?

  6. As you will see, this is a topic I’ve thought a great deal about for a great deal of time. As you said in your piece, this is a subject women face and seldom, if ever, men. That alone defines it as sexist and patriarchal, in my opinion.

    What really distresses me when reading threads on this subject is the flawed thinking people have when giving reasons for their various opinions. If you care to follow the link below, where I’ve expanded on my thought processes, I’d be glad of your comments. As you will see, there’s rather too much to simply paste here.

    http://keepyoursurname.livejournal.com/

    1. @headey Thanks so much for your thoughts on the topic and for the link to your site. It’s clear that you have also given a lot of thought to this issue, which, unfortunately, still exists as an issue of contention and conflict and is not so easy to solve.

  7. I got married & changed my name somewhere in the middle of my senior year of college. I forgot to tell my professors it was changing & got incompletes in a couple classes, because they graded papers for Alison OldLastName all semester long but were asked by the University to provide final grades for Alison NewLastName. When I called my profs to explain what happened, the most feminist of the bunch said, “See. That’s why you shouldn’t change your name.” I thought it was a pretty harsh & judgey comment to make considering she had no idea what kind of thought or consideration I put into the decision.

    1. That sounds horrible, and typical of some of the responses I’ve encountered, but college must be especially hard.

  8. I want to change my last name from from my husbands, which I took 10 years ago. I also hate my maiden name. Should I just invent a new one for my self. Is that crazy?

    1. As a Russian, I think it’s ridiculous and you have nothing better to do with your time. As a Liberated Woman, I say go for it. Why not? As long as you’re comfortable with adapting to your new name. name changers are hard, no matter if it’s your idea or not.

  9. I thought about changing mine for about three seconds when Max and I first got married. But then I learned about all the hoops I would have to jump through to get a new social security card, driver’s license, updates for my diplomas, transcripts, etc. and I just didn’t want to deal with it. You also bring up another point that tilted the decision into the not-changing territory: I’m a writer, and by the time we got married, I had already had a portfolio of work (of some of which I was very proud) under my own name, so my professional career was tied to a specific name, and I didn’t want to have to proove that indeed I am the same person who wrote these, just with a different last name.

    We aren’t to the point where the “what do we do when we have kids” question comes up, but I suspect we’ll compromise and use my last name as a middle name. Although, then the whole Russian tradition of having a patronymic (or, in its American incarnation, a middle name that starts with the same letter as the father’s first name) would have to go by the wayside. Or maybe we’ll just go for two middle names. Oy! Not going to think about it until I have actual children to consider.

    P.S. I got here through your best of 2009 roundup.

  10. I think we need a new convention. Like, taking the name of whoever is oldest or something. I like the Spanish convention of having both parents names hyphenated, and then when you get married you drop your mother’s for your husband’s (I think that’s right?). It’s still patriarchal but it’s a little better. In England, it’s actually really posh to have a hyphenated last name (which happens usually when many generations ago two very important households converged) and doesn’t always signal that you’ve meshed your maiden name with your married name– although I suppose this is more modern and getting more common. My boyfriend, if we were to get married, actually wants us both to take a hyphenated version of both our last names. And when he said that I knew I absolutely wanted to keep my name, as it is, being that dead set against such a good compromise (and one many guys would refuse). But there we go. Such a conundrum. Perhaps if his name was something exotic, or French?

  11. Also, I hate the idea of being “Mrs” too, and already use “Ms” instead of Miss and will continue to do so forever. My boyfriend thinks that’s a sign of a woman who doesn’t really love her husband. I think he’s an idiot.*

    *Ok, not really, but I do think that he hasn’t grown up around many feminist women. Most of the women in his family have changed their names hundreds of times, because they’re supposed to and never questioned it. I grew up around a lot of women who never even got married and or had kids, and I don’t think anyone in my family would bat an eyelid if I didn’t change my name or go by Mrs if I got married.

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