I agree with the general consensus that the world seems to have that a family should share a family name. It gives a sense of coherence and it sends a message to the rest of the world that the family is a unit. So, my family should have a family name, which we all share.
Within the context of our society and culture (being that I am not myself a famous person, or someone who has an established professional identity associated with a particular name) I also accept the premise that if my name is different then my husband’s, or my eventual children's, there might be assumptions about the status of our marriage, or whether the kids are 'my kids' (which is silly because actual maternity is such a small part of relationship with children that gives that sense of ownership and responsibility). It will be easier, in my life, if my last name is the same as my husband, I accept that.
This is where things get tough. I accept that I live in a largely paternal society that recognizes the 'man' as the 'leader', and for that reason, the woman in typical relationships gives up her old family name, and takes her husband's name, symbolizing her leaving the house of her father, and entering the house of her husband (yea, riiight).
In my particular state and county there are two 'default' name changes options when you get your marriage certificate. One is to simply remove the maiden name, and add the husband's last name. So, rather then be Ruth Elizabeth Ames, I would become Ruth Elizabeth Langstraat. The second option (we're so forward thinking here) is to hyphenate both names, so I would be Ruth Elizabeth Ames-Langstraat, or Langstraat-Ames.
I personally think hyphenated names are silly, cumbersome and confusing. I understand that some people like them, but what happens when Ms. Splonskowski-McDonald marries Mr. Milenowitch-Martinelli? Mr. & Mrs. Splonskowski-Martinelli-McDonald-Milenowitch? We break into choruses of bad children's songs the loop indefinitely.
I am also gratuitously, substantially and irrevocably attached to my maiden name. So what's a girl to do?
Because we were travelling internationally immediately after our nuptials, and didn't want to deal with it, we chose (with little advisement) to forgo my name change at the time, and deal with it later, when I could choose an option that better suited my needs. I finally settled on adding Ames as a middle name. This is a common and even old fashioned choice, as evidenced by my conservative friend's Catholic mother, who did the very same thing. So I would be Ruth Elizabeth Ames Langstraat. Simple, right?
There is trauma associated with the change of name. I don't know that I could have stomached giving Ames up completely, had Luke pressed the issue, I may have freaked out, called the whole thing off. Despite the fact that getting married doesn't change nearly enough as the Wedding Industrial Complex, or the romance films would have you thing, changing your name, and essentially deleting an aspect of your name (the ultimate symbol of our identity) is like deleting an aspect of that identity. And to be less philosophical about it, I've been Ruth Ames for 25 years and I rather like her! (My husband adds, he likes her too, but he also likes Ruth Langstraat).
It was with this social injustice (or perhaps that's too strong a word, social unfairness?), and anticipated trauma that I approached the Lane County Circuit Court on Wednesday with the purpose of changing my name.
Can I just say, I understand why lawyers and judges dress up so much? Short of wearing a power suit and heels, I don't think anything could have overcome the overwhelming feeling of sleazy-ness and criminal disapproval that I felt going into the courthouse, the security took longer then it does at our local airport, the direction was confusing, I had to take off my shoes, and despite the fact that everyone there was polite and respectful, I couldn't help but feel as if they suspected me of some crime. They wouldn't even let me take my knitting into the courthouse!
We approached the front desk, only to be informed that they didn't sell the forms here, I had to go to a stationary store a few blocks away and purchase them. A mere five minutes after the haranguing experience through security we were out and walking down the street. At this point the mere apprehension of the process had escalated to alternating fury, frustration, fear and grief. I was neither polite, nor calm, though the walk to the store helped, marginally.
A few minutes later, $12.50 poorer, we returned to the court house, went through the same security protocol (this time, since we were pro's we expected it to be quicker, but the line was longer so it took it's good sweet time). We headed to information again, which directed us to a series of windows with glass there, to protect the clerks. After the woman helped walk me through the forms and watched me sign them, and took $150 of our dollars, we were informed that the forms need to be posted for 15 days, in case anyone objected. Then I could return to attend my hearing at 8:30 in the morning on a Friday, yes missing potential work, to verify that all was well, and then after paying yet another fee, perhaps then I could have my new name.
Talk about making me feel like a criminal for bucking the trend. I mean I wasn't changing my name to Captain Awesome (yes, that was an actual posting on the board!), or Sunshine Starfish, or Pearly Gates or Adolf Hitler or something weird, offensive or outlandish, I just want to keep my identity as part of my name! And yet, here that process was as effectively criminalized as if they'd put me in handcuffs.
Ok, I may be exaggerating on that one, but an already traumatic experience of letting go of an aspect of my identity was exacerbated into panic, and anger by a difficult and expensive process (not helped by the fact that the clerk thought I was a divorcee for some reason! "No," I said, "I'm going the other direction!")
After we were finished, and headed off to run other errands, a bit of psychological reverie also revealed to me that my husband’s excitement over my name change had also made things worse. He was so excited for us to share a name that he didn't realize that some of his excitement was translated into pressure from my perspective.
When all is said in done, it really isn't a big deal. And really, it should be difficult to change your name, the government has valid reasons to keep track of those things, and valid reasons to have those things reviewed by a judge, but the trauma I experienced indicates to me that the attitude about women changing their name, and the options that they are given is outdated. If I simply want to hold on to my old identity, while adding my new family name, I should be able to do that without going through the same difficult (and expensive) process that Ms. Flowers Rainbow Patchouli does. And I don't know if it's a feminist issue, for sure the assumption that the woman changes her name, not the man is. But with the relative common-ness of non-traditional name change practices, perhaps the process in Lane County deserves an update.