Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What's in a name?

Apparently there's a media uproar about the fact that Mrs. George Clooney is Mrs. Clooney. She took her husband's last name.

People, if this type of information is what creates national headlines, we have some serious issues.

Who gives a flying fart what name someone takes (or doesn't take) when she gets married? Why can't people just be all, "Eh, live and let live." Your choices for taking your husband's name might be different from mine so it really doesn't matter. You may have worked hard to create a professional career under your maiden name and your peers would be hard-pressed to recognize your new work under a new name. I really don't give a shit. Change it, keep it, whatever.

I took M's name when we married, for several reasons. The first and foremost being that I like his name better than my maiden name. This, I think, stems from hearing every Polack joke in the book while I was growing up. (That being in the 70s and 80s before everyone got all PC and decided that hey, offending the shit out of people is probably not cool.) My maiden name means green in its native language. My married names means gold. So, you know, obvious upgrade there. (Hyphenation wasn't an option…both ethnic names together sounded crazy and there was the whole double-Z thing. One Z is usually enough to throw people off…two of them would send folks running.)

During our engagement I worked with a woman who, a dozen years after she walked down the aisle, was changing her name and taking her husband's. She told me that she originally chose to keep her maiden name for professional reasons, but now that she had children she was really tired of having a different last name than them (they had been given Dad's name). She said it began to bother her every time she had to fill out a form, and it made her wonder if people reading the form thought she was her children's step-mother or something. So now, 12 years later, when it was even harder to change her professional name, she was going ahead with it. She lamented that she had waited so long. Her story stuck with me, and since I had virtually no professional reputation to speak of when I married, it was much less of a deal to change it.

When my hairdresser got married, her husband took her name. They had talked about which name to take, or whether to make up a new one. His last name was "boring and common," she said, and he wasn't attached to it. Hers is ethnic (Jewish), and they weren't sure it would fit for him. Ultimately, they couldn't decide on a new name for both of them, and they do both like hers, so that's what they went with.

I read a story a couple months ago about a husband and wife who each kept their own last names, and then smashed them together to make up a new name for their children. They had their reasons, and that was fine, although I can't help but wonder what kind of hassle they're creating down the road. It just seems so inefficient.

When I was a kid, my last name was different than the family with whom I spent most of my time. My mother had remarried and from that union came my sister, so part of me always felt a little like the odd girl out. We were the family Smith, Smith, Smith…and Jones. It wasn't anything to really complain about, and most of the time it wasn't even on my radar, but it did lurk there under the surface, a very subtle reminder that I came from something that was no longer in existence, a unit that ended. I was the lone survivor. In this regard, I like that my little family now all shares the same name. Because I never had that (or rather, because it ended earlier than my earliest memories), it's valuable to me.

But, again, this is my own personal history, with my own historic filters and biases and my own baggage. I couldn't care less what other people decide to do. Everyone has his or her own history, suitcases stuffed full of childhood trauma (Polack jokes!) and dreams of creating a different life out of a different name (remember all the kids who experimented with different first name spellings in school: Amy to Amie or Aimee or Aymee or whatever). Names are important, so it's important that yours feels comfortable, that it reflects who you are. I love my married name and wouldn't trade it for anything. It means way more than gold to me, for now it symbolizes this family structure that encompasses my best friend and this little person we created together, and it holds the loving traditions of his greater family that has so warmly welcomed me. This shared history is now what I cherish more than just the opportunity to finally ditch the name that attracted so many jokes over the years.

I told M about my first foray into fiction the other night, and hinted that there's a dark side to it. His immediate response was interesting: "You need a pen name." Ummmm, no. I do not. There is no dark side to M, therefore, he gets a bit squeamish when I show mine. (It's a good thing we did not meet in high school during my alt/goth phase, when all I wore was black.) I don't want to use a pen name because that is not who I am. I am this person, with this name, and I like it. I'm pretty sure he'll get over it once the publishing checks start rolling in.

What I'm saying is rock on, Mrs. Clooney. And congratulations on your marriage. May your life be filled with many shared blessings, whatever they be named.


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