On Taking My Husband's Name

I don't remember questioning whether or not I would take my husband's last name when we got married. I didn't question it as I didn't question whether or not I would go to college -- it was just what you did. And I think I also romanticized the idea of sharing a name with my husband, like that act alone would somehow make us closer than living together and sharing our lives would.

But then, a few days after we got married ... I balked.  I obviously changed my name, but my signature felt foreign, weird. Was I still me? Who is this Rita Arens person and where was the me who was me up until a few days before?  Somehow the new name seemed to cancel out MY family, and I didn't like it.  I had a little identity crisis that I rectified to myself by continuing to write under my maiden name and published many articles and a few poems and short stories that way.

Then I started writing for BlogHer.  And then Cool Mom Picks, and Savvy Source for a while (you may hae noticed I no longer write for SS, and there is no reason for that other than time management -- it's a great site). And then I got the book deal.  And I had to choose:  keep writing under my maiden name and live my life under my married name or just throw in the towel and be Rita Arens all the time?

You know what I did.  I embraced the Arens.

I'm glad I did, because I've added a little piece of me to that name. It's a beautiful name, pronounced "ah-renz" as opposed to "aire-ens," though we usually don't hurt people too bad for mispronouncing it -- I get it, it looks like a hard "a."  It's the family name of a rollicking group of people I love.  It's my name, now.

Yesterday I went to happy hour with a group of fellow writers and friends. One of my friends recently lost her father and got to know family she hadn't known well before.  Connecting with that family made her decide to hyphenate her last name and bring back her maiden name.  That conversation led to another friend, whose name is different from her son's, mentioning that her son had asked if he was a "P---."  Then my third friend said her sister's children had their mother's maiden name as a second middle name.

And wow, that stuck with me.  I remember feeling like my father's last name was somehow more important than my mother's maiden name, that it was given more weight, that I was somehow more a part of his family than hers.  It wasn't a fair thought, but it was the thought of a young child. I can see why I thought that. I loved her family as much as I loved my father's family, but her maiden name felt less familiar on my lips, foreign, something she was before as opposed to now.

So I came home and told all of this to my husband. He reminded me that he never asked me to change my name, that it had been something that I wanted to do.  We talked about it for a little while, and then I forgot about it and went to bed.

This morning he e-mailed me and encouraged me to not only add my maiden name back into my legal name, but to offer that option to our daughter when she is old enough. Not to replace her last name Arens with my maiden name, but to put my name back in, to give it equal weight in our family, the little family we have created. In the eyes of the world, we will all be Arens, but maybe my daughter will know more than I did that she belongs at the table of both families equally.

It's a new time in this country, a time to recognize everyone's contribution. Maybe it's okay to break with tradition a little and remember where I came from.

 

Cross-posted from Surrender, Dorothy.

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