Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On Becoming a Mrs.

I've debated a great deal over whether or not to change my last name when I get married. 

You see, there are so many couples these days with different names like "Mr. Mike Thomas and Mrs. Jamie Fields" or "Mr. and Mrs. Fields-Thomas." And then there's the decision over what to do when you have kids. Do they get the dad's name only? Is it hyphenated? What about when they get married? At what point does a name lose its relevance? Does it ever?

It all seemed so complicated. 

But then, I considered all of the women who have literally been lost to marriage and to their husbands. It's like they get a ring and suddenly live for one purpose and that is to please their husbands. They lose that spark that makes them special and I'm convinced that a great deal of the antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications prescribed today are for women who struggle with that loss of selfhood and the internal conflict that results. After all, shouldn't I define who I am? God calls us to be partners with our spouses, not for one to lord over the other. If I change my name, am I submitting myself, even in a small way, to patriarchal oppression and ownership of women?

As I discussed it with other married women, I, repeatedly, heard two things:
1. "You're already giving up everything else, why not keep your name?"
2.  "It's tradition to change your name! It would dishonor your husband if you didn't!"

I strongly believe that our names are a huge part of who we are. Naming has a great deal to do with how see ourselves and, in many cases, who we are and who we want to be. (Don't believe me? Email me and I'll suggest some really interesting books on the subject.) Our names say so much about us, and yet, it's been a tradition for hundreds of years for women to be forced to change their names when they get married.

So, this begs the question, if I am to take my husband's name, does that mean I'm giving up a piece of my own identity.

Well, I won't keep you in suspense any longer. 
After tossing all of this around for months, I've made the decision to change my name. After September 22nd, I'll be Mrs. Nicole Jeannette Phillips.

And here's why:

Ultimately, I decided that changing my name, much like getting married, is not going to change my identity as though to lose a part of it, but, rather, to add to it.  I don't really care about tradition and yet I don't feel that changing my name makes me any less of the independent woman I am today. I was born and will always be Nicole White. That said, in making up my mind, J.L. has been very supportive and it has always been my decision to take or leave his last name. In fact, it was that gentleness and respect for me as a woman to have the agency to choose my name, my identity, that made me feel confident that I was ready to not only marry him, but to take on a his name.

That said, I don't know that there are very many "right" answers in life, and this is certainly no exception. For, what's right for me, isn't necessarily right for someone else. 

So how about you?

Are you getting married? Are you changing your name?
Are you married now? What do you think? 
Wanna get married someday? What would influence your decision one way or another?


Nicole Jeannette

P. S. If I ever become a professor, I'd love to teach an English course on "naming and the self" and have students compare texts like The Crucible, Romeo and Juliet, and others relative to identity through naming. Wouldn't that be cool?


Anonymous said...

Nicole, thanks for this honest post about the name change struggle. I always knew I wanted to take my husband's name even before I knew him (partly due to a lifetime of spelling and pronouncing Rabalais). I also always knew that I wanted to make Rabalais my middle name when I got married. I had been Nicole Rabalais for 27 years and did want to let it go. That did mean dropping my great grandmother Josephine's name (who was a very special part of my mom's life but whom I had never met) as my middle name, but I really wanted Rabalais as part of my name. In my mind, I wasn't born Nicole Josephine Hubbs...there was 27 years of Rabalais there I wanted to keep with me. I work with wonderful women who also kept their maiden names as their middle names, so I was supported in my decision.

Thank you again for honestly sharing! Congrats on your upcoming wedding!

Nicole Rabalais Hubbs

Jenny Rose said...

So happy for you :) Not sure if you know this or not but Joseph and I both changed our names when we got married. We picked a new last name together and it just so happened to be his mother's maiden name. We are happy with what we decided though many people thought it was weird. We both kept our former middle and last names so we both have four names. Anyway, I'm glad you are happy with the decision you made and I wish you the best!

Laura said...

Interesting post!

I think taking your husband's name is something special because it also symbolizes the unity of your marriage and submitting to your husband's leadership. Of course, there is a whole gaggle of things people think "submission" means, which it doesn't, but I do think changing your name, while not a requirement, is a special way to show your love and respect to your husband and honor his leadership in your life.

In no way am I saying that you do whatever your husband says and the things women often confuse with submission, and I'm not saying that if you don't change your name you can't do those things, but I think it's a special way to unify your marriage and become your own family...to leave your family and cling to your husband. (He does this as well of course)

Either way, you have your father's name or your husband's name, so I think changing to your husband's name is a meaningful thing to do. :)

I don't think "just because it's tradition" is a good enough reason to change your name, but I think there's more to it than that.

Anyway, just my two cents. Also I didn't like how "Fagan" sounds so I wasn't very torn. ;)

thanks for sharing!

Nicole Jeannette said...

Thanks for commenting, ladies! I appreciate it! I always think everyone has such an interesting perspective on this!

Nicole, I think that is such a lovely name! I think that was a really cool way to blend your heritage with your new family :)

Jenny, I remembered that! I think that's so interesting and I guess that's option number 3 that I left out! Very few men are willing to change their names and I love that it's a name that is special to both of you!

Laura, haha Fagan isn't so bad! :) I probably over simplified with the "tradition" comment, but I guess what I kept hearing is that you're not a good wife if you don't change it and I thought that was just silly. I don't think changing, or not changing, your name makes you any more or less of a partner or love or respect him any more or less. (not saying you do.) I agree though that I like having the same name if for nothing else simplicity's sake. :) I just don't feel that it's an anti-feminist move not to change your name and I don't feel that it's an anti-marriage move to change it. To me there's nothing "wrong" either way. I felt like I was hearing both things from both sides. But, yes, I agree that it's nice to have a unified name and it is a cool symbol. :)

Thanks for posting! :)

Shandus said...

It was incredibly difficult for me to imagine changing my last name when I married Ryan. I agree with you on how much a name is wrapped up in one's identity. I ended up adding his name to my own first middle and last name. No hyphen though...honestly just because it looked weird. So I have two last names, and it confuses the heck out of people. Haha. But now, 4 years later, I have completely adjusted to it and almost always write only Parish as my last name. There's really no point to my comment. I just wanted to share. :-D

Nicole Jeannette said...

Thanks for sharing, Shandus! I've seen the two name thing a lot too!

Unknown said...

I would change my name, for many of the same reasons. It's a tough decision but I think it would make us feel more like a team. Lovely post friend.

Eliz. K said...

Congrats on your marriage this past weekend! So happy for you!! :-)

<3 Becka's sister

Carlin said...

First off, congratulations!! So excited for you guys:)

I just saw this, and I honestly fell into the "because it's tradition" camp. I never knew anyone who hadn't taken their husband's name. Maybe I just always thought I'd get an easier last name than "Klepper," but I guess not because now I'm "Whittington."

However, the more I think of it, when I took Jordan's name, I was even more formally saying that now I am a part of his family. I'm sure this could apply to couples who take on a new last name or combine their last names, too. I agree with you, though, I'll always be Carlin Elizabeth Klepper, although that's not what my I.D. says:)