feminism, name change, and me

It was a difficult decision for me to change my last name. I debated it for months. I talked the decision over with at least 20 different people. My husband and I had many conversations about whether I should change my name. I made pros and cons lists, multiple times.

And I think I made the wrong decision.

Today I finally went down to the social security office and changed my last name. Legally, it was changed once I married. Now, I am just working out the details. Still, it was unusually hard for me to nail down a time and do it. I kept finding excuses, “forgetting”, or letting other things get in the way.

Sometimes I think I over think the issue.

Most people I talked with did not feel strongly one way or the other. Well, that’s not exactly true. Most people had an opinion and could not understand why I could not make up my mind. I love my husband. Every day, I am more glad than the day before that I married him. I would not change my decision to marry young. I love that we are a family, that he has my back, that we have a life together, and so much more. Yet, I struggle over something as seemingly simple as a last name.

Maybe it is because I am affiliated as Matt’s wife when I meet people.

At phonathon, I am known as Mrs. Trueblood. This is probably the first time I’ve met new people with my new name. They do not know me as a Novak or have any idea how much pride I take in my family and my heritage. It is hard for me; my last name, up until now, has always identified me with my family, but now, it identifies me with Matt which is awesome, don’t get me wrong, but it is a new feeling.

Last names are part of first impressions

Not only does it identify me with Matt, but it identifies me with Matt’s family; again, not a negative, just an interesting point. How is Matt identified with my family? If at a first meeting I am immediately identified with Matt’s family, then why is he not immediately identified with my family?

Now I went through all the arguments.

Matt and I talked about hyphenating our name. Novak-Trueblood. It is just too long. Not only in actual amount of letters, but also in sylabuls. We talked about each keeping our own last name, but I made us think it all the way through: what about when we have kids. I want my kids named after me. Let’s face it: I will be the one bearing them, and, more than likely, I will be the main care provider. So of course I want my kids to have my last name. Matt also wanted his kids to have his last name which is not unreasonable. We joked about giving every-other kid my last name, but that just doesn’t make sense. In the United States, if you have a family with different last names, people assume it is a blended family (and that is usually seen in a negative light, which it shouldn’t be, but that’s a whole different issue). We also talked about the possibility of Matt changing his last name to Novak, but that also had several problems. The first was Matt initially just said No and was not open to the idea, and really, for our society, it is outside the norm for a man to change his last name. Another problem was that I have a brother named Matt Novak and the world truly does not need two Matt Novaks. Additionally, Matt is the last Trueblood male, or so I’ve been told, which means he is responsible for carrying on his last name. This is super important to his dad (understandably) and put pressure on Matt to keep his last name. But ultimately it came down to the fact that Matt was just as attached to his name as I am to mine.

And Feminism is not about taking away from men or tearing them apart.

I am a feminist which made this decision more difficult and complex for me. Knowing that Matt was as attached to his name as I was to mine really affected me. Ultimately my goal is to make him happy. His happiness is always more important than mine. If he is not happy, I cannot be. So how could I ask him to give up his last name? I know what readers are probably thinking: didn’t he ask you to give up yours?

Matt never said I had to change my name.

Matt was very supportive of me keeping my last name. We could have had two last names and still been a perfectly happy family. The problem goes back to the kids argument. If I kept my last name that issue would have been unresolved. We would have pushed it aside until we had kids and then we would have had problems. The issue would become a serious problem in our marriage and create a bitterness between us that was easily avoided.

It was a really hard decision for me.

But, eventually, I decided to take his name. I decided that my future family was more important to me than my last name. I decided I could live with being a Trueblood, and I can, let’s not be dramatic here. Still, I thought once we were married I would grow into my last name; my sisters seemed to make the adjustment well and I do not remember a single one of them even struggling with the issue. When we applied for a marriage certificate, I accidentally wrote “Novak” as my name after marriage: talk about your Freudian slip. And now… well now I am one of “those” women.

I go by Novak Trueblood.

While it is not legal, I use Novak on most documents: school papers, work forms, internship information, everything really. This is for two reasons: one: people are still adjusting to a new last name and two, I cannot give up my name. I never thought I would be a hyphenator, even though technically I am not hyphenating. I considered myself a much more decisive person than this in the past: once I made a decision, I followed it through. This is the hardest decision I have had to follow through on yet (which shows you how easy and blessed my life is).

Sometimes I think I gave into peer pressure.

When I was discerning whether or not to change my name, I faced a very negative reaction from our friends and both our families. People balked when I told them I was considering keeping my last name. I got weird looks and rude remarks. One person told me I had to change my name because that is what people do (very forward thinking, I know). Another person told me that a family should be united in it’s last name and the tone and inflection told me that person meant a family could not be united with different last names. Even off handed comments by people asking why it was so difficult and to just make a decision, pushed me into a decision I was not comfortable with.

Don’t worry, I am going to give it a chance.

I have decided to stick with my decision, and see how I feel about it after a year. If I still feel so strongly, I will probably change it back. I know it is expensive, but if it is that important to me, it is worth it. what about kids in the future? Well, I do not mind if they have Matt’s last name. I would be so proud if they had their father’s name. It is not like people won’t know I am their mom and that they won’t know. But, we will cross that bridge when we get there. On the other side of the wedding vows, compromise looks different and there is a different sense of self and family than I anticipated.

I think one of the most difficult parts was the lack of support.

People I counted on for support thought I was crazy for questioning the “way things are done”. There was no thought to why it is weird that I automatically take Matt’s name. I work with populations right now, where every member of the family has a different set of names and in other families, they take the mother’s last name. None of these families seem confused about what it means to be a family or put any emphasis on their last name. That’s all us. It is all created by our society and yet it is a big deal. It is a big deal when a woman chooses to keep her last name or hyphenated and it is a HUGE deal when a man changes his last name to his wives. Yet, it is not a big deal when a woman takes a man’s last name (okay the actual marriage is, but the practice of taking a last name is not). It drove and drives me crazy that the system is unquestioned, that the way we do things is blindly accepted, and that I am seen as “liberal” for feeling the way I do. It is a societal construction, entirely made up and passed down through traditions, and yet it defines reality so much.

I just really miss my last name.

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9 thoughts on “feminism, name change, and me

  1. Maria, you are crazy insightful! My experience with my name change is very similar to yours. I did not want to change my name, but yet at the same time I did. My mom kept her last name because it was a part of her as a person. And I remember people, mostly adult women, asking how I was related to her because of her different name. Eventually on any permission slips or notes she would sign her name and add “Heather’s Mom”. She doesn’t regret it at all, despite the hassle. She was very against me changing my name (even though it is different from hers), she doesn’t understand why I would want to go through the hassle. While according to Neal’s family, keeping my last name wasn’t an option, because I wouldn’t match. It was really awkward while I was trying to decide.

    Eventually, (while we were filling out the marriage license) I realized I wanted to be identified with my husband. I love him and am going to spend the rest of my life with him. As a compromise to my Stocker identity, it became my middle name. And I plan to use Stocker at school. It sucks that our society is so ingrained into the women taking her husbands name.

  2. My $-0.002:
    Names are an essential part of our identities, they are what we call ourselves and not only a word people use to signify a particular person, but one that is ingrained from the earliest age as an essential element of who we are.
    Consequently, while I cannot speak for anybody else due to the depth of meaning that a name holds to a person, I am determined to change my name to bring resolution to an identity issue I’ve faced for many years.

    1. Oh, and a follow-up, would I be a rude anomaly by finding nothing wrong with keeping your name and thinking that the comments other people made were rather rude, conformist, poorly-thought, and lacking insight. I, for one would approve of a man who allows his wife to maintain her identity and a woman who feels a strong enough sense of self to keep her name.

      Maybe its part of my background (as alluded to above) that I cannot stand the idea of a name being an extrinsic thing that one is encouraged to give up at a certain point simply because of a (fairly arbitrary) societal dictum.

      Yes, there are some hard, complicated, thoughts behind this, I’m not surprised if bits don’t make sense to someone else reading.

  3. I’m flattered if you thought I accepted my new last name well, because I actually struggled with this whole topic from the moment Eric and I were back together. Everything you typed here, and more, I wrestled with, and frankly, if I could do it all over, I would have made us both come up with a hybrid last name. (Eric Novak would be too weird cause of our cousin, God rest his soul, and I hate how “Theresa Famoso” sounds, yuck).

    Additionally, and I may be wrong about this, if you are legally hyphenated as Novak-Trueblood, I believe you can choose to use either name as you want, i.e. Novak for school stuff, Trueblood on medical forms, your kids stuff, etc. Wouldn’t that be a win-win??

  4. Sigrid, one of my friends from St. Kate’s, had her husband change his name to her last name, and it was actually his idea. I thought that was cool, so did most other people. Eric and I talked (half-jokingly, half-realistically) about both changing our names to a made up combo name, and actually he knows someone who did that (he just found out a few months ago). I think that’s cool too. We wanted to have the same last name, and same as with Matt, he is the only Peterson male in his family so it was super important to him to pass on that name. I was attached to Novak, but not as much as you were I think, which is why it was fairly easy for me to make the transition. I understand the issue, and I hope I wasn’t one of the people who was unsupportive about it because I get both sides, not wanting to give up your name and wanting to share your spouses name. It does kindof suck that it is such a huge issue and that there aren’t a ton of options for combining families and family names, or if there are they are mostly frowned at except for the wife changing her name.

  5. When people ask me what my maiden name is, I say, “It’s Guetter…I married my cousin.” hehe

    Maria, I am surprised that you felt such little support from your family about your name-change decision. Especially considering that you have a sister-I-L and at least two aunts that kept their last names. I feel bad that – half a decade later – your experience seems to have been much more negative than mine. I felt support, even encouragement, from your family. Is it that we internalize comments, perceive situations differently? Have family members’ opinions really changed in the last 5 years? Or were people being supportive to my face and then making nasty comments behind my back?

    Laura

    1. i think a lot probably was how i internalized comments. i over think everything (matt hates it, and I think this blog reflects that) and i don’t take negative comments well. I think I probably should have talked with you more before I made my decision. i did not really pay attention when you went through the decision. ps i don’t think anyone said nasty comments behind your back

  6. Maria,
    you have 3 aunts on your mother’s side that did not change their last names; me, Gail and Margaret. Two of us have children (and…BTW you may not wind up actually bearing your children if you go the same route that I did!). It’s not a problem at all! I dont know if anyone questioned or disapproved of my decision. I didn’t ask anyone and I didn’t care….it was my decision. Make a decision and go with it. There are much bigger things to worry about in life!
    vickie

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