I’ve been asking myself that very question for several months now, as I debate whether to keep my ‘married’ name or return to my ‘maiden’ name. I feel at a loss, because the connection to either is bittersweet at best, and disgruntled at worst. My maiden name, Wyble (why-bl) was handed to me via my birth certificate, my father laying claim to me as his seed. I’ve never loved it, suffering through years of elementary and middle school where it was mispronounced on accident and on purpose, or where it was skewed into a form of teasing torment. My relationship with my father is just as complicated, including an almost ten year stretch where we didn’t speak, and very little (once yearly) communication now. There is not much we see eye to eye on: him, a born-again conservative that shuns evolution, and me, the-progressive-as you-can-get, socialist agnostic. The thought of the weight of his name, and our relationship, feels too heavy to return to that appellation.
When I met my second husband, and we decided to get married, I was delighted to take his name, mostly to escape the former. Baldwin. Simple and easy to pronounce, and it flowed with my first name. It’s the name of my younger children, and connects me to them. But it is also a permanent, invisible tie to my now ex-husband, and the thought of sharing anything with him, including his name, is highly unappetizing. It makes me feel like a part of myself still belongs to him, while I am working to reestablish myself as my own person. As if, as I evolve, he hangs precariously above, reminding me how little I gave to myself during our marriage. It is a constant symbol of broken promises, heartache, and disappointment that leaves a lingering, bitter taste in my mouth when I say it out loud, as if I gargled lemons and vinegar.
Women seem to get the short end of the stick when it comes to names, and the expectations of legacy. Many of us are indoctrinated with our father’s names, only to surrender it in the future for marriage, with another man laying claim through his moniker. I admire women who consider that possibility when pondering their nuptials, and say no. But it still doesn’t diminish the rights many of our fathers lay on our heads by extending us their names, and the baggage that comes with them.
Names inform who we are, who we are meant to be. We develop kinship with our names, attachments to what they represent and how we self-identify. I find it repulsive that the practice of women taking their husband’s last name was originated with the concept of erasing the wife: only the husband was recognized, so women melted into the background by taking a given name, marking them as property. It wasn’t until 1972 that women could even legally use their ‘maiden’ names.
So for us women who have been marked by our fathers, and then excised through marriage: if we prefer neither, where does that leave us? A special name purgatory where we can neither our chosen selves, nor wish to be what others have projected onto to us?
I am contemplating choosing my own last name, something I love, that resonates with me, and me alone, despite the headache the paperwork would bring. A word that defines who I feel I am, and who I hope to become. For me, that would be something bold, and risqué, and larger than life. Or perhaps I could follow in the footsteps of Prince, and just delete the surname, going only by my forename. At the least it would be clear who I put first. It would be clear to whom, exactly, I belong, and whom I answer to: no one except my dynamic, warrior self.
Reflections of a woman spawned in a cement cocoon...