Friday, September 2, 2005

What's In A Name?

I never really gave much thought to my name until I got married. Well, that's not quite true: I just never gave thought to the meaning of my name. As a former actress (my husband and son would say that former is not quite accurate), I had a slew of stage names and always loved calling myself something different. I have been Kimberly King, Adrienne Maxwell King (I had a thing for royalty), Quincy Stone, and a mononame ala Madonna named Guess. That last one was great during my club days... a man would ask my name, and I'd answer, "Guess." He'd start guessing, and I'd say, "No. It's just 'Guess' ". Then he would tell me how completely cool my name was, and I would tell him I still didn't want to dance with him. Good times.

As soon as I became engaged, however, my name took on an entirely different meaning. I realized that there were three groups of women in the world: those who take their husband's last name when marrying, those who keep their own name when marrying (or hyphenate, etc.), and those who think that everyone else should be DOING IT MY WAY. DIMW's for short.

I have friends who have joined one or the other of the first two groups, and I certainly have encountered people who are card carrying, life long members of the DIMW group. They are annoying.

For the record, I chose my husband's last name. This was not a political statement: I simply like his last name aesthetically more than I liked my own. It was all about fashion, you see. My new last name is five tidy letters and quite common, and also produces a pleasant alliteration of sound when paired with my first name. My old last name was a three syllable, seventeen pound slab of granite which was always misspelled, frequently mispronounced, and subject to all sorts of poorly delivered puns. The decision was not difficult.

The tradition of changing a woman's name after marriage is not prevalent in every culture, nor does it always symbolize a lack of respect for a woman's existence, although in some cultures, yeah...it does. There are tribes in Kenya which do not witness name changes for either party during marriage, and in fact, they don't assign either parent's last name to a newborn child. Everyone simply gets their own. Contrast that to the United States, where the more last names you have in a household, the more you have probably collected way too many baby's daddies.

In Europe long ago, changing your name to your husband's last name was a matter of geography, not gender. If Anne of Green Gables had married Tom of Red Roses, it would have been fairly stupid of her to insist on still being called Anne of Green Gables, given that anyone actually going to Green Gables to look for her would have been told, "No...she lives at Red Roses now." So she became Anne of Red Roses.

In the end, I've noticed that my friends who kept last names after marriage also tended to have kick ass last names. Not one of them was named Dimwitty (that's a real last name) or something squishy like Weems. Nevertheless, I doubt it was a fashion choice for them. We still live in a society which gives more grief to women who don't change their names than those who do, and it's making some people, namely the DIMW's, crazy.

There are the tottering aunts who insist on addressing married nieces by their husband's last name, regardless of the choice to keep their own.

There is the woman who said she was upset at her high school friends who changed their names, because now, twenty years later, she could not locate them to catch up, entirely dismissing the fact that she went twenty years without attempting to do so before.

There are the women who stopped into my office to give me lectures on why I should or should not change my name, tempting me to dispense with a last name altogether and just start calling myself Beyonce.

It is a lot to absorb. Particularly when you consider the name I answer to most often, because he's the person who calls for me the most: "Mom."

1 comment:

Beth Danae said...

Unfortunately my maiden name sounds better than my married name, Nordberg. But my hubby would not be happy to say the least if I hadn't taken it. Though legally I am a hyphenater.