Chicago mom: Why I kept my maiden name

I wouldn’t refer to myself as a maiden in any respect, save one: I kept my maiden name when I married.

It was 2005, not 1955, so I didn’t really think it was a big deal. But everybody had something to say about it. Interestingly, the people who had the most adverse reaction were not my close friends and family, but peripherals: co-workers, sixth degree acquaintances, the woman in the bridal registry department at Marshall Field’s. The strongest reaction I got from my inner circle was from my paternal grandmother, who called me “a stinker.” The elderly. So profane.

In the wider world, I heard a lot of things along the lines of “Oh, well aren’t you modern?” accompanied by eye-rolling. The subtext seemed to be “Who do you think you are?” By not changing my name on some paperwork, I was apparently symbolically burning my bra, donning combat boots and storming the Capitol. For the record, I firmly believe in bra support, but otherwise am in favor of Doc Martens and political marches.

No question that changing my name certainly came from my feminist ideology, but is this truly what passes for subversion? From the time I was in 8th grade, it was just something I knew I would (or rather, wouldn’t) do. And there were other practical reasons, too. I’m a freelance writer and my byline is my business. It would have hurt my career to change it. Less important, though not inconsequential, is the fact that my first name almost rhymes with my husband’s last name, and I didn’t want to sound like a nursery rhyme. Hyphenating was not an option because our names, when united, basically mean “small weiner.” No thanks.

My husband was initially a little bugged by it, but he realized it meant more to me than it did to him and he got over it quickly. I can honestly say that neither of us had given it much thought until we became parents and suddenly it was an issue again. For other people, not us. They ask things like, “What will you do when your son’s friends call you Mrs.?” Seriously. What do they expect me to say? “I’m going to drop-kick that toddler out of my house, ask him what kind of mongrel raised him, then tell him not to return until he can address me correctly.” Come on. Why would I get mad at a kid for being polite?

Another common question is, “Aren’t you sad that everyone in your family has a different last name than you?” Quite the opposite, actually. Now that I’m a mom, so much of my life and identity is consumed by my life with the kids. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but there is more to me than motherhood and my pre-baby name is a reminder of that time. I like that these two identities have unique names – a “Mrs.” at school functions and a “Ms.” in my professional life. The division is especially appealing on days spent covered in baby vomit, shuttling the kids and negotiating dinnertime. I remember the time in my life when I once got to go to the movie theater, brush my hair and, you know . . . pee alone.

My point, I guess, is that the decision whether or not to change your name is a very personal one that every woman needs to make for herself. I have friends who have changed in order to dump a cumbersome maiden name, and those that kept it because they simply didn’t feel like waiting in line at the county office. It’s not always a grandiose statement. But isn’t that the whole point of a post-feminist world? We get to choose what we want to do, for whatever reason we want, without being coerced into it. “Stinkers” all.

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