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.