Dear Duana -
Three years ago as we were about to welcome our first daughter your voice was in my head. (She's a Veronica, by the way. Best name for our kiddo hands down.) Awkwardly, I'm writing for your input on a situation I've found myself in that has nothing to do with naming a child. I'm hoping you might indulge my letter for the fun of it:
I've decided to return to my maiden name ... and I'm still happily married. Yup, that's exactly as it sounds.
Seven years ago I took my husband's surname without batting an eye believing simply "that's what you do" when you get married. I got some friendly shade from girlfriends who didn't believe in the tradition but also got a lot of support for those who did. Either way, at the time, what was on my mind was how I thought a mutual surname would make us feel more like family and for any future children. It helped that he had a cool last name (Acadien French that rhymes with Toy) and, honestly, I wasn't inclined to double-barrel; I'm an all or nothing person.
Fast forward and it's almost a decade later and, well, it's simply not fitting with me. It's like I've had a stone in my shoe that never goes away: when I put my signature on a document, when I hear someone call my name, when I look at my business card. It's all ... wrong. I really miss being old me!
Right up front I'll say that this is no reflection of my love for my husband or the health of our marriage - we're all good there. Ditto to us being parents (our daughter has my maiden name as a middle name then my husband's surname.) Much of this is tied to sentimentality for my maiden name as I'm the last one in my family to have it (I have no brothers or uncles with kids) and how, after marriage, changing my name didn't give me any greater sense of family than had I not changed at all. My husband is one of those impossibly cool guys who supported my decision to have whatever name I wanted - mine or his - and, looking back, I think I wanted him to care more than he did. I recently told him about this being on my mind and he fully supports whatever would make me feel best.
I know this decision is one nobody but me cares about but I'm not sure how to get the news out there to friends/co-workers/family (especially my in-laws) without coming across like a disrespectful weirdo. i.e. "Yup, me and him are great but I'm going back to my maiden name."
Madly In Love With Maiden
Your bottom paragraph is true and not true. Nobody actually cares what you do. They do care if you do something different than what they do.
When you make binary decisions, like city or suburbs, vegetarian or carnivore, change your name or not, the decision you make seems like the only one that could be made. But then so many people you love and respect make a different decision that you have to acknowledge it’s not so simple, and realize that annoying phrase “It was the right choice for me” is not a cop-out, it’s just true.
I saw the potential benefits of changing my name when I got married. It would have made my (lovely) in-laws happy, nobody would wonder whether they had to hyphenate our kid’s surname, and I could be sure the pharmacy would release my prescriptions to my husband when I was too lazy to get them myself.
But I wanted to keep a name I’d grown up with and ‘done things’ under – especially since my last name is an indicator of my not-that-obvious Egyptian heritage, which is more important to me as I get older. Ergo? Keeping it was the right choice for me. Some people don’t care about the above issues, or have a surname from a parent they don’t love, or whatever else. Changing is right for them.
This is what you have to take on as your operating principle here. It was right for you, almost a decade ago, to take your husband’s surname based on what you knew then, and it’s right for you now to revert to the name you used first. No big deal. Plus you’ve now made both the choices every married woman has made (to change or to keep) so who’s going to comment derisively? Nobody.
But you’re not dumb, and your feeling that you might get side-eye is correct. We still mostly see ‘back to my maiden name’ as a fallout from a divorce. But that’s changing! I know of three happily-married women in the last year who changed back, for the same reason you did. They suddenly realized they loved their ‘old’ names and would feel better wearing them.
The bad news is, yes, some people will think you have bad news. But the good news is it may not be people you care about that much!
Your friends and family, who know and love you, are the people you get to tell in person, which is going to make this go down much more easily. You explain just what you said above - “I really miss my old name, I love our life together so much and realize I don’t need to have the same surname to feel like a family.” If you’re with your in-laws, or anyone who might need extra greasing here, you lean shamelessly on your kid, using *her last name (which is conveniently also your in-laws’) - “I also think it’s great because it will show her how important her own identity is, I want her to feel like “Veronica Smith” is a name she can carry and be proud of all her life.” Then you grin, and look adoringly at your adoring husband, who nods approvingly, and it’s over. No disrespect intended. And don’t brook any nonsense about ‘what happens if you travel’ – you just hit them with the many places women can't change their names, and seem to do just fine.
Work is a different story, because they don’t see you with your family. One woman’s HR department, upon receiving her request for a name change on her email, told her, “Just so you know, people will think you’re divorcing.” In this case, you just have to rehearse your statement. When people approach you, all, “I’m so sorry … I heard you were changing your name, and… I’m so sorry!”, you put your plan into action. Smile reassuringly, lovingly admire your wedding ring if that’s something you wear, and beam at the screen saver of your husband as you offhandedly say, “I’m still married, I just think it’s important to keep the Jones name alive, so I am! Anyway, how’s the Porter file?” They may look sceptical, but who cares?
Really, that’s what this is about. Who cares? The answer is, you do, and you matter. Your name is yours. It affects you, and you get to have it reflect you in whatever way you want. As you point out, you’re a member of your family no matter what it is, so nobody else gets to care. If some people want to believe it’s part of some long con to pretend you’re not married, let them figure out how to get around the plot holes in the story (like that you’re still married).
Similarly, since you don’t have to give a sh*t about anyone who may be judging your decision, you also don’t have to care about anyone who feels judged by yours. I know it seems impossible but I read the internet so I know this may be coming. You just stay firm. “For me, I missed my name, that’s all.” You don’t have to talk about how you’re the last one with the name or how you totally understand that your friend wanted to be one with all the Kennedys so she’s now a Kennedy.
What you are saying is that your feelings about your name are valid enough reason to change them, and that may be what’s hard to hear for people who didn’t know they were allowed to feel that way. But the more they see it being not a big deal, the more they’ll realize it’s the right choice for you.
Go get your name!