“Why don’t you change your name back?” I asked my mother. “You’re not married to him anymore.” I was six, I was eight, I was twelve. I asked this question often because I hated my last name. My father was out of the picture.
“I want our names to be the same,” she said. Later she would explain she once read that sometimes children felt separated from their mothers if the mothers had a different last name.
“I don’t care if you change it,” I said. “Why would you keep it? He’s a jerk. He’s not even around. Let’s change mine, too.”
“It’s not that simple.” Well, it probably was that simple, but I wasn’t going to win that battle. And thus, my surname stuck.
I remember once telling a friend, “If I ever get married, I’m taking the guy’s name. I can’t wait to get rid of ‘McDonald’.” Back then, I saw it as the ultimate freedom—changing my name to sever all ties to the past. (Changing it would have the added benefit of no more stupid jokes about farmers and clowns.)
As I entered my twenties, and my friends began getting married, I didn’t think of how that question would apply to me. I’d ask friends, “Why are you taking his name?” I was fascinated by people’s reasoning on why they did or didn’t adopt their soon-to-be husband’s last name. One would think I would have thought about my answer carefully, given my recent curiosity and past desperation.
We were at dinner with some friends a few weeks or so before our wedding. (It’s possible we may have already been married.) One of them asked, “Are you changing your name?”
“Um.” I put my fork down. John and I stared at each other. We hadn’t ever discussed it. Our friends immediately began backtracking, realizing this was possibly a touchy subject as it is for some people. We are not those people.
“Hadn’t thought about it.” I paused. “No.” I went back to eating before thinking I may have done something horribly wrong.
“Sorry. You want to talk about this later? We probably should….”
He shook his head. “It’s fine—Hadn’t thought about it either. I think I just assumed you weren’t going to,” he said. “Besides, ‘Heather K.’ sounds kinda weird.”
I wrinkled my nose. I thought briefly about bringing up the issues involved in why I would or wouldn’t change my name based on the socio-political issues inherent to doing so, or on the concept of one family/one name, or the history of cultures with matrilineal names. Instead, I nodded.
And that was that.
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