Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sticks and stones may break my bones...

I have begun to struggle with my name. Well, not MY name, but my name as it might become. If you have been reading up to this point, you are aware that I pride myself on my independence. Part of that independence came with my name. I was not one of four girls in my twenty-four-person second grade class named Jennifer. I am not one of the many Sarahs with whom I graduated. I have been and still am the only Helen in each of my social circles. I am named for my mom, so at our house, I am "Helen A" or "Little Helen" for the sake of differentiation, but mine is not a common name. My last name, too, is perfect for me.  I am not a Smith or Jones, certainly, but I have a last name that everyone can pronounce and spell correctly, and that suits me just fine. I recognize that my given name will not change, but my last name is part of my name, part of who I am. Some of my friends use my first and last name together--something like a nickname. The idea of becoming someone else freaks me out. A lot.

I know, you will argue that I don't BECOME someone else by virtue of having a different name, but I think that names speak volumes about personality. Our name is the first thing someone knows about us. Before you are asked to a job interview, a potential employer looks over your resume, which has your name in bold print right at the top. If you join a book group, the first thing you do is put your name on the list a the front of the room. Your name identifies you. Changing it is a big deal. A massive deal. I would argue that the name question is the biggest decision that has to be made between now and the day I get hitched.

I thought I had made a decision. If I change my name to his, I loose part of myself, my initals become HAG, and my name sounds like a shrivelled old lady name. If I keep my maiden name alone, I would feel like I didn't enter into this thing for real. But, if I tack on my future husband's family name with a hyphen, then badabing, I have honored him, and kept myself intact. Being a creature of immediate gratification, I was satisfied, and didn't think about it further until I went to mark a new book.

I have a monogram that I use on all my personal property: Books and CDs, dishware that gets loaned out, even all my hand tools are monogrammed with my special little mark. It probably seems trivial, but I love that little mark. When I discovered it in high school, it delighted me, and I wrote it and reworked it til I had it just right.

When I realized that my simple little monogram would have to change if I add to my name, I called my sister, who is an excellent artist, and really good at visual puzzles. I asked her to try to find a way to incorporate the "G" that would be my new initial into the monogram in a way that didn't mess with its simplicity. This led to a conversation about the impression given by a hyphenated name.

I hadn't thought of the initial impression given by a hyphenated name, partly because I have a niece and nephew whose names have been hyphenated from birth, and partly because I don't know many women who chose to hyphenate. I know several women who kept their maiden names, many who took their husbands' names, and even one who reverted back to her maiden name after her second marriage (which seemed to me to be a really cool work-around). I can't remember having been presented with a hyphenated name before meeting the person to whom it is attached.

However, when my sister and I began to discuss it, she told me that the minute she sees a hyphenated name on a woman's paperwork, she assumes that woman is a bitch who was unwilling to immerse herself completely in her marriage. I tried to argue, but if that's the impression she gets, then that's the impression she gets, and surely she's not the only one who thinks that. So, I called another sister to get an opposing view. I just asked "What do you think when you see a married woman's hyphenated name?" Her first impression is "that woman is a feminist" (it shifted to femi-nazi later in the conversation). This was NOT the way I had hoped the conversation would go. We talked about it further, and she admitted that her impression of other women's hyphenated names is part of the reason that she didn't hyphenate hers. She also has a friend who initially opted to hyphenate, but for the sake of simplicity, has since dropped her maiden name entirely. CRAP. Of course I turned to other friends to ask, each with his or her own opinions about name changes. And I read articles on wedding websites and blogs; some of which added the entirely new choice of changing both our names entirely to something that doesn't belong to either of us. HA! All this did was get me even more fired up.

I would like to state here that I am not a feminist. I am a confident, selfish woman, who wants everything to be the way I want it. The more I read, and the more I talked, the more irritated I got that I have to be the one to make this choice while my husband-to-be just gets to stay who he is, and noone questions why HE didn't decide to change his identity, why HE isn't having babies, why isn't HE wearing white, why HE isn't ordering flowers, why HE... I digress, but you catch my drift. I feel like Favourite Person has virtually no decisions put on him, while I have the motherload. I'm the one who didn't care to get married in the first place, remember?

It all comes to this: I know the choice of name is a decision only I can make. I know that everyone is going to have an opinion one way or another, and that I have to take into account or disregard those opinions as I see fit. I don't know what I'm going to do. I have a year to decide, and it will probably take all of that year, and I'm sure that whatever I decide it will be the right choice for me. I hope.

...but names will never hurt me.

1 comment:

  1. What about using Raymond as a second middle name? Then you get to keep that part of you but not have to deal with the hyphenation issue.