Giving Back the Name (DPchallenge: power of names)

“I seem to have run in a great circle, and met myself again on the starting line.”
                                                                                                        ― Jeanette Winterson  

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. 


21 thoughts on “Giving Back the Name (DPchallenge: power of names)

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  3. Excellent post! I struggled with whether or not to change my name too. I did, and it’s okay, but now I have professional licenses in my maiden name but work under my married name. People are always shocked to see the license with my old name. They think it sounds weird when I think, even after 13 years of marriage, that my new name still sounds weird.

    A few weeks ago I actually signed my maiden name on a form by mistake. I was thinking, “Where did THAT come from!”

    I don’t know what I would do after a divorce. I understand why you struggle with it but love your attitude that someday you’ll just know.

    • Thank you! You know, I never even considering keeping my maiden name. I liked the idea of a new beginning as an “adult.” Or something like that.

      I think it’s interesting because so many twenty-something women are keeping their maiden names these days. In some ways I think it’s a good thing.

      Or maybe husbands can take their wive’s names?!?!

      Thank you for reading – I really love your blog and will be following!

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  6. This is something that I have struggled with and especially the potential loss of sharing the same name as my children (they are young adults). However, since someone told me he may remarry, my urge to change it has become stronger. I do not want to share anything with her. Also, as time marches on, I wish to discard everything about him and that includes his name. I thought about going back to my maiden name but feel I have grown and that would be going backwards. I thought about choosing a new one and have tried many out on paper. None of them seem to fit. They do not seem to mean “me” because they have no history connected to me. So I have been swimming about in a no man’s land of keeping his name yet with a growing lack of pride in its connection. About a year ago, I hated using it so much that I began to drop it in my correspondence. I started going by my first two names. I used this at the end of emails and letters to people. I have grown used to that now. The names have been with me all my life. They mean ‘me’. I share my second name with both my daughter and my grand-daughter. I am seriously contemplating making my second name as my surname officially by deed. My second name is Elizabeth and that seemed so strange as a surname / last name at first and yet over the past 12 months it has grown on me. I have explored this concept and there are a few people who have done this. Cher formally changed her name to ‘Cher’. There is also Nancy Ruth (Canadian politician) and a Margaret Sandra in England. If you google the latter, you will find a an interesting guardian article on her name change.

    • I will google Margaret Sandra. I feel the same way as you about my maiden name and feeling like I’m moving backwards if I take it back again. I’m really not that person anymore – I haven’t used the name for 18 years. But I love the idea of using Elizabeth for your last name! I really love it. Mine would be Anne, which just isn’t as good. I think you should do it!!!

      Are your children married yet? If so, your daughter keep her maiden name/your ex’s name?

      • Thanks for the encouragement. I think that I shall 🙂
        I have three sons and a daughter. My daughter is not married yet. I don’t know what her choice of name will be at that time. However, my friend who has two daughters (now both married) said she no longer shares her name with her children and so I should not keep my married name just to keep that connection with the children because it is not relevant.

      • Interesting, I never thought of that. Soon enough our name will not even be relevant for our children. (Or at least the girls!) I read Margaret Sandra’s story – she’s remarkable. It actually made think of my grandmother’s last name. I would love to take it back as mine someday. It’s also my daughter’s middle name, so that would be a nice connection.

        I love that women no longer have only one or two choices.

  7. I’ve struggled with the same thing since I left my ex-husband two years ago. I still have his last name, and I loathe the association. But my kids share the same last name, and I don’t know if I want to have a different name than my girls. I told my oldest why I kept his name, and told her I’m not sure if I’ll ever change it back, but that if I get married, I will probably change my last name to match my new husband.

    Her reply?

    “You could just never get married again.”

    Clearly, they are not ready for the change, so I guess I’m not either. One day, I’m sure I’ll know.

  8. I love how you used the word “loathe.” I feel it too.

    My children have said the same thing: no new name, no ever getting married again.

    I don’t think I would get married if my children were really opposed to it. I just don’t know. I wouldn’t want to hurt them more. They’re doing well, and I would be afraid to mess that up.

    I think you’re right though: one day, when the time is right, I’m sure we’ll know what to do. Fingers crossed. 😉

  9. Hi there,

    This post is so touching because it represents a major dilemma that so many women have to face.

    I was married for 24 years and although my children were teens when I divorced, I had that name for soooo long, it was, well, who I was.

    I kept that name until I married again, which was 13 years later.

    I wish you all the best!


    • Thank you so much, Cathy. It does affect so many women, sadly, and I don’t think it’s something that we think about too closely when we get married. Because of course we expect to be married forever.

      Thank you for sharing your story, too. I love the happy ending – sometimes it’s hard to imagine that when you’re in the middle of it all. So thank you!

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  12. Interesting and well written post. I was married almost 3 years ago and I was certain I would change my last name to his. I just haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. I think what it comes down to is that I actually love my last name. I’ve added his after mine on Facebook and I introduce myself either way depending what feels right in any given situation. We do have a daughter. I am not sure what I will do down the road.

  13. Annevivid, I admire that you’re doing this your own, unique way: keeping your maiden name and adding his name when it feels right to you. The older I get, the more I realize that life isn’t black and white: take his name/keep your own; SAHM or WM, etc. So often, the best personal choices fall somewhere between the extremes. Thank you so much for sharing your story!

    • I think if I had gotten married in my 20’s I would have changed my name immediately- no doubt about it. And if I didn’t despise dealing with bureaucracies the way I do I might have done it already too. Does changing my name mean I will have to wait in line at the DMV and what about my passport. Ugh! Not wanting to deal with that became an easy way to procrastinate on something that never occurred to me would be an issue for me- but apparently is.
      No one who gets married thinks it will end in divorce. I am sorry you had to go through this but cheers to a new beginning and a fresh start. And if you haven’t started dating again yet- don’t believe the hype. Dating is fun! And should make excellent fodder for new blog posts!


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