Friday, April 3, 2009

What's In A Name?

A lot.

My maiden name labeled who I was for 24.5 years (yes, half years are worth mentioning and celebrating!). It wasn’t necessarily an easy name, though it was not a particularly difficult name either, and it did cause me some grief from time to time.

For starters, my last name was often mispronounced and misspelled, to the point of almost being comical how badly it could be mutilated. My mother and father divorced when I was little, so I’ve had a different last name from the parent I lived with (my mother) for as long as I can remember, which was strange at times. Probably the worst I ever felt about my name was on a trip abroad with family (mother, step-father, and step-siblings – who are all “step” in definition only). We went up to the customs desk all together, only for me to be separated out and sent back in line. I wasn’t “family” since my last name was different, so I had to go up alone. Of course in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that big of a deal, but it was still a really sad moment for me. I was isolated from my family by the power of a name.

But in the end, it was my name. I still loved it. It was me.

So when I got married, taking my husband’s last name wasn’t a decision I took lightly. He certainly wanted me to, but he is incredibly understanding and open-minded in all things, and I am sure he would have been disappointed but okay had I chosen not to. In the end I did take his last name, because whether you are a child or an adult, I like the cohesiveness of a shared family name. I certainly don’t think that has to be the only way to go about it though for people who want to share a common last name. The husband could take the wife’s last name or both names could be hyphenated. Heck, why not create a new name out of all the letters in both partners’ names? One of the arguments to some of these suggestions seems to be that all h$#% will break loose in trying to track family genealogies. We’re a pretty technologically advanced society. I bet we can handle it.

At any rate, I did not want to drop my maiden name, so I chose to keep my entire name and add my husband’s last name, which has resulted in a mouthful of a full name. However, in deciding to take his last name, I did not at any point agree to have my identity erased. We have received so much mail in the past few weeks to Mr. & Mrs. John Smith that I decided that it was time to address the reluctance of people to reject potentially outdated traditions and practices. (Have you read “The Lottery,” a short story by Shirley Jackson? If not, then pick it up.)

There are so many options for how to address an envelope to partners who choose to have the same last name:
• The Smiths
• John & Jane Smith
• Mr. & Ms. Smith*
• Mr. & Ms. John and Jane Smith*
• Mr. John & Ms. Jane Smith*
*or Mr. & Mr., or Ms. & Ms., etc – I’m just using the examples that fit my own situation.

So why do so many people still chose to use Mr. & Mrs. John Smith, with the only explanation being that it follows “traditional formal etiquette”? I just don’t think that’s a good enough reason to continue doing something. I realize that some women enjoy being referred to as Mrs. John Smith, and by all means, if they refer to themselves that way, then feel free to use that name. But if they don’t, or if you aren’t sure how they refer to themselves, can we please stop minimizing one half of a partnership.

I don’t know who Mrs. John Smith is, but please consider if you do before you send mail to her. All I know for sure is that she doesn’t live here.

No comments: