My name is O’Connell.

The holiday cards are a-rollin’ in, and there is no better reminder of the confusion surrounding my name than the various addressees on the envelopes.

So far, this season, I’ve been Ann O’Connell, Mrs. My-Husband’s-Name, Ann O’Connell-Husband, Mrs. Ann Husband. If our vet sends us a card, I will be Ann O’Connell, but my husband will become Mr. O’Connell, because my relationship with the vet’s office predates my relationship with my husband.

The envelopes at Christmas are a jumble of familiar names sewn together in Frankenstein-esque ways, and makes me think that maybe I should have done a better job of notifying my family and friends about the state of my legal name.

This is how I wrote my full name before I got married: Miss Ann J. O’Connell

This is how I write my full name now: Ms. Ann J. O’Connell

Not a big change, but it’s caused some confusion, not least because at the time of the wedding, I had planned to hyphenate my name, and become Ann O’Connell-Husband. I filled out all the paperwork. I was ready to submit it. Then several things happened.

– The idea of no longer being a full O’Connell bothered me. I got married at 31, so I’d been an O’Connell for a long time.

– I’ve never liked the idea of the changeable female surname. It all seems – like wedding veils and white dresses –  like a throwback to the days when women were property, handed over from a father to a husband for the price of livestock and a hope chest.

– When questioned, my husband told me that he did not care whether I kept my last name or took his own.

– Some of my friends got divorced and a couple of them went through the name dilemma all over again; do they change their names back? Do they keep their married names? What about their kids?

– After witnessing all that, I started really thinking about my name. What name will feel right to me, no matter what happens? Do I want the hassle of being one name at work and another name at home? Is that too much of a Batman/Bruce Wayne dual existence for me? What name do I want on the foot of my hospital bed when I’m 98 and in the rest home?

– After a lot of thought, the name-changing paperwork seemed like too much work for something I didn’t really want, and for something that my husband didn’t care about. I shredded the forms and went on being Ann O’Connell.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not expecting members of the oldest generation in our family to understand why I didn’t take my husband’s name. And it’s easier for members of my husband’s family who don’t know me very well to simply write “Mr. & Mrs. My-Husband’s-Name.” But after a while, it’s come to be grating to see how many people – including the ones who know better – assign my husband’s name to me. I once got a birthday card addressed to Mrs. My-Husband’s-Name from someone. I glanced at it, thought it was was actually addressed to my husband, and gave it to him. He opened it, saw what it was, and handed the card back to me. I had this strange flashback to being a small child, seeing that there was mail for me, but dutifully handing it to an adult first.

Getting cards addressed to Mrs. My-Husband’s-Name is  a little odd to me, because we were married in 2009, and women have been not changing their names for a very long time. Some forward-thinking women in the ’50s and ’60s kept their names. Many feminists in the ’70s kept their names. It’s not new. It’s not even new in my family. One of my aunts who married in the ’80s didn’t change her name and I don’t remember any fallout from that.

But there has been some resistance. I’ve been told that  if we have children, I will probably change my name so that we can all be one united family. It’s also been insinuated that I’ve been disrespectful to my husband because I did not take his name.

I’d like to suggest that neither is true. I don’t think any person should feel as if he or she has to sacrifice his or her name in order to be a member of a cohesive, healthy and loving family. And I am no less of a wife than I would be if I went by Mrs.-My-Husband’s-Name.

And also, this is not to criticize the women who choose to take their husband’s names. Every person has the right to choose the name that seems best for them. For me, the right choice was to keep O’Connell.

18 thoughts on “My name is O’Connell.

  1. I find this blog post sooooo very interesting, because I was thinking of you and this topic (somewhat) YESTERDAY!!!! I figured I would just chat with you about it on the island, so I didn’t give it much thought (until right this second as I realize that you have graduated, whomp, whomp, whomp WTF). Anway. I was wondering about how this process worked for you. Ideally, I would like to take my husband’s name when I get married, but where does that leave me in my writing? I’ve published little under my current last name, but as there is no wedding in my future, I obviously hope to publish a lot more under my family name. So do I keep it? Change it to my future husband’s? This is a tough one for me, because I feel really sad losing my family name. I think ideally, I would like to publish under my current last name, yet legally change my name to my husbands. Althoughjust like you said, that is a bit too Batman/Bruce Wayne for me. Like, what would they call me if I taught in a writing program? By my legal name or by my married name. So damn complicated for no reason at all.

    Anyway, that was a whole long explanation just to say I was thinking about you (and your name!) yesterday!!! Miss you. Will you be there for alumni day?

    • Hi Erin. The best advice I can give you is to do what seems right for you. I dropped the idea of hyphenating when I caught myself thinking, (in the past tense, weirdly, as if I were already an old woman reflecting on her life), “Oh, I wish I’d just kept O’Connell.” So that was that. I did what my inner old lady wished she could have done. I know that decision-making process sounds a little cracked out, but I’ve made a few life decisions this way.
      Anyhow, for you it will probably be different, but you have to go with whatever seems right to you. Also, I can tell you that using a pen name and teaching can be a pain in the arse. I’m listed as Ann O’Connell on all college documents and my school’s email, but I’m operating as A.J.
      I will be on Enders at some point. That point might be alumni day or it might be graduation, but I’m not sure yet!

  2. I never wanted to change my name, so many reasons: I am the last Hutchinson. I don’t like the way Kate Curtis sounds. Since people have sometimes mistaken my name for “Kate Hudson” I was worried that if I became “Kate Curtis” this would be confused with “Katie Couric” and people would try to call me Katie (which I hate). It seemed like a lot of trouble and expense to change my name.

    I do get irked that most of my family tries to call me Mrs. Curtis. However, I am consoled by the fact that there are plenty of people who think Nate is Mr. Hutchinson. I have asked him if he’d like to change his name, but so far, he has declined the honor.

    • I’m glad you brought up the issue of being the last Hutchinson. I used to wonder as a little girl if my brother was more of an O’Connell than I was, since he’s male and his name would never change and his kids will be O’Connells.

      I think “Nate Hutchinson” has a nice ring to it, by the way.

  3. Ann, I love the way you’ve made the whole situation – and the various opinions that others have about what they think your name should be – so unemotionally clear. You’re not fighting with anyone and you’ve explained your rationale very well.

    When anyone used the ‘wrong’ last name with me I never reacted because it wasn’t mine. I never associated it with me. But I go into spasms of irrational rage if anyone has the nerve to use the term Mrs. It’s complicated why this sparks such fury. I have been known to be rather rude to the person using such a term.

    Jane Sherman – one who’s been Sherman her whole life and doesn’t intend any change. And certainly never uses the title Mrs.

  4. I think it’s silly that other people have an opinion about what name you should use. It’s your name, you should do whatever you want. I was planning on either keeping my name or hyphenating, but my husband was really adamant that I take his name. Something to do with a strong connection to his family and about the symbol of our union. (Funny, he was completely against hyphenating his name to mine.) I gave in because it honestly wasn’t a big deal for me. But now he’s had a falling out with his extended family and he says now that he’s ashamed to share a name with them, which makes me think, so why did I change my name?

    A whole bunch of hoopla over nothing, I say. But I still use Ms. (never Mrs. because my marital status is no one’s business but my own), which I used before I married as well.

    • Ms. is one of the best feminist inventions out of the sixties and seventies, I think. I was playing around with using it before I got married, but I really started using it after we married. I too like having an honorific that has nothing to do with whether I’m married or single.

  5. Hi Ann,
    I had my name for 65 years,I did think of keeping it after I said ” I do “. Talked about it
    with my future husband, at first he wanted me to change it. Then after thinking about it
    he said do what I wanted to & he understood my feelings. I gave it much thought & I now go by Mrs
    Husband Name with my maiden name as my middle name. My name is what it is because, I felt
    it was important to him & he is important to me & more important ” I am because he is”. I do agree with you, everyone do what is right for them.
    Happy New Year, Ann O’Connell

    • Hello Auntie! It’s important, I think for each woman -and for each couple – to do what works for them. I didn’t know you kept Spagnolo as a middle name. I knew your changed your middle name once before, however. Was it strange getting used to using Murrman as a last name?

  6. I got married at 28; twenty years ago! My husband and I legally combined our surnames which we passed on to our three children as I wanted us to share a family name and it makes me feel proud that I’m ‘important’ enough for my children to bear my name as well as his . The majority of people we know seemed to think this was an incredibly emasculating action on my part and seem to be perplexed that my husband ( ex- army officer/ rugby player etc) has understood and supported me and never ‘ put me in my place’ as one male friend voiced it privately to him. I think perhaps this issue can make people feel uncomfortable because although it seems superficially trivial it unmasks a lot of underlying prejudice about how people really view the relative importance of men and women. My title is ‘ Dr ‘ but most folk write our holiday cards to ‘ Mr & Mrs His First name- Our last name’ .. Don’t give a hoot about the Dr thing but think people wouldn’t ‘ forget’ to use it were it his title and I do so love it when people put my first name on the envelope as well as his..Sigh..!

    • Combining both partners name to make a new name is a wonderful idea. I think it’s interesting that people who might have accepted the combined last name still address to “his first name” “family name.”
      And I agree – if he were the doctor, I’m sure that people wouldn’t “forget” to use his title. I think people’s tendency to “forget” to write “Dr. and Mr.” proves that people are still uncomfortable with people who break out of traditional gender roles.

      Thank you so much for commenting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s