When I got married nearly two decades ago ago, I took his name because I thought he was amazing and I wanted to be associated with him.
Only much later did I learn the truth.
It’s an unusual name that sounds ordinary. With the exception of my soon-to-be-ex, his parents, and a dead poet, I have never met another person with this same name. One reason is because my father-in-law says he has no living relatives. Not one.
How is this possible, I’ve always wondered? He started out with many brothers. What happened to them?
“They all died,” he told me.
“Oh,” I replied.
“That seems sort of strange,” I thought. But I said nothing more.
And now that the divorce is nearly final, I waver about giving up this name. It’s not an easy decision because my children share it. Do I really want to have a different last name than my children? How would this make them feel? Would they feel like I was divorcing them too? Would things get confusing at airports and the Department of Motor Vehicles? If my soon-to-be-ex got remarried, what would happen? There would be two of us, and it’s pretty safe to say that we would be polar opposites of each other in every single possible way except for our name.
I don’t want to share a name with someone like that.
Then again, I have a divorced friend who says her children can’t change their name, so she has kept it too. She says she wants to help “class it up” for her kids.
I love that.
But I’m still on the fence. I went to a job interview with someone who had once worked with my soon-to-be-ex, and I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat wondering if he would make the connection. What would he think of me? My work ethic? My values?
It’s not fun to go through life so connected to someone whose actions make you feel ashamed.
When I google my ex, I find all sorts of things that embarrass me. Like a YouTube video. I won’t share the details, but it involves public speaking. He looks ridiculous, I think. When I google more, I see his overinflated bio. We used to argue about that. I always wanted him to tone it down. Of course he wanted to pump it up.
I suppose it could be worse. At least google doesn’t reveal “the events leading to the breakdown of the marriage.” If so, I would be at City Hall right now, lined up to change my name.
When I google myself using his name, I find little bits and pieces of a life. But when I google myself by my maiden name, I find only strangers with the same name.
Online, I exist only by his name.
In my twenties, I didn’t think too deeply about changing my name. Maybe there should be a movement out there to let young women know that this is sort of a Big Deal. Once you change it, it’s hard to go back and become yourself again. It’s more than just paperwork and social security bureaucracy. It’s just like when you have children with another person, you may never be able to move back home a few states away. Ever.
No one ever tells you these things. But you should know them before marrying someone and connecting yourself to them in a way that can never be broken neatly.
One day I’ll wake up and know what to do about this name. I’ve always loved new beginnings and fresh starts. The first day of school and new school supplies. A blank page in a journal. A new car, a spring garden. Visiting a new place and imagining myself moving there. Perhaps my old name would become my new name and give me a fresh start in life, without the googling and the baggage and my dark connections to a name that never fit right anyhow.
This post was written in response to the Daily Press Power of Names Challenge.