What’s In a Name, When You Don’t Change It? [FaN Favorites]


I’ve been thinking about this blogumn a lot lately just b/c not having the same last name as your husband always becomes a bit more hard to manage when you’re traveling. I know a ton of women who haven’t changed their last names, but apparently a lot of travel professionals don’t. This has come up daily on our trip. Still my original opinion on the matter stands.

From March 24, 2009

It’s funny, b/c though I’m a feminist, it would never occur to me to get on top of another woman for changing her name after she got married.

For one thing, I do realize that this is a choice, and if you give people a choice, I don’t necessarily see why you would chastise anyone for not making the exact same choice that you would’ve made.

Also, I have a few conditions that made not changing my name particularly attractive:

As a writer I place a lot more value on my name than a woman in a different profession might. Plus, I love my name. I mean really, really love it. My first name is unusual but not so much so that it’s embarrassing or particularly hard to explain. My middle initial fits in perfectly with my other two names, and because I loathe my middle name it comes with an air of mystery that it wouldn’t otherwise have if I didn’t often refuse to answer the question, “So what does the T stand for?” with anything but “Terrific!” And did I mention that my initials are “etc?” C’mon why would I ever want to change my name?

However, a few of my relatives have had a hard time understanding that. One of the few aunts who had dared to navigate the scary internets (with the help of her daughter of course) to access my shower registry confronted me about this at my St. Louis baby shower. “It still has Ernessa Carter in there? Is it so people who knew you before you got married can find you?”

I was blunt. “You know me, Aunt Ann. I kept my name.”

Aunt Ann looked truly mystified when she asked, “Why wouldn’t you take the name of the man you swore to love before God?”

Given my audience and the occasion, I decided not to crack open the subject of identity politics and my doubts about whether deities actually tracked whether or not you changed your name after marriage. Instead I said, “Because I really love my name and writers don’t change their name. We’re kind of like actresses that way.”

Aunt Ann gave the older black woman equivalent of a harrumph and we changed the subject to more agreeable topics.

She was actually the first relative to confront me about this. Many of my relatives have either assumed that I changed my name or aggressively ignored the fact that I told them I hadn’t. Either way, everyone in my family, save my sister, addresses all of their Christmas and birthday cards to Ernessa Hibbard. And my sister doesn’t send me birthday or Christmas cards.

Some members of the public aren’t much better.

Most hotels wave me through, when I tell them that I’m CH’s wife, even if there is a different name on my ID. But I had to wait in a San Diego lobby for CH to vouch for me when one male hotel clerk decided that he couldn’t let me up because I didn’t have the same last name as my husband. Also, there was the time when I went to St. Joseph’s to pick up CH’s X-rays for a broken shoulder and hand that he had suffered after a bike fall. The white-haired film clerk had the X-rays in her hand and was ready to hand them over to me, but then she saw that my ID said Carter as opposed to Hibbard, and she said that she couldn’t give them to me.

Mind you, my name was all over his hospital paperwork as his wife. CH wasn’t cleared to drive or write yet. And this was the last chance I had to get the X-rays before his big appointment with a hand specialist. I went to complain to the St. Joe’s officials, and they agreed that the woman wasn’t allowed to withhold films because our names were different. So she came back saying that this wasn’t the reason she had withheld the films. Now she couldn’t release them because there were laws that wouldn’t allow her to without the consent of CH, even if I was his wife and all over the admitting paperwork. So CH scribbled with his good right hand on a piece of white paper — he’s left-handed, so this literally looked like a child had written it — and he faxed in his permission.

Now, I knew this was basically bullshit, b/c if I was actually someone intent on stealing these films I could’ve gone to the nearest Kinko’s, pretended to be CH, and faxed in “my permission’ so that I could get his records — and I would’ve done a better job at it, too, since my handwriting wouldn’t have looked like a pre-schooler’s. This woman was just being ornery b/c I hadn’t changed my name and she felt that I should have. Of course I was fuming by the time I left the hospital with the hard-won X-rays in hand.

I love my name so much and these incidents are so few and far between that I usually don’t let them get to me. However, I am concerned that it’ll become an issue with Betty, since her last name will also be Hibbard. How about if some stupid film clerk, says I can’t get her X-rays because our last names aren’t the same, and so on and so on?

Though, as the population ages and more women decide to keep their names, I have to expect that these incidents will happen less often.

Also, in many more ways I’ve found it a lot more convenient NOT to change my name. No messy paperwork, no having to change my email, or risking old friends not being able to find me because of a new moniker. No new driver’s license, social security card or passport. I filed my marriage license and checked “Married” on my W-2 and that was about it. So you know, there are both upsides and downsides to not changing your name.

flickr.com photo credit: Dimitri dF