…What Year is This?

Yesterday, Dylan and I spent almost the whole day in the Loop at various state and county offices. He needed a new birth certificate since his was long ago misplaced, and I needed a new driver’s license and social security card. We set out around 11 and finished around 3, which I guess isn’t the worst since we were dealing in government timelines, after all.

I knew from the time I was old enough to spell and say my own last name that I wanted to change it. I thought all the time about how nice it would be to have an easy, obvious last name. Ours you see, is Hungarian in origin and while it’s now spelled kind of phonetically compared to the original, there are still enough confusing vowels and a “y” a the end to result in some pretty hilarious interpretations. Not to mention that more than a few times throughout my life someone has substituted it for “cicada” since it kind of sounds the same but not really. It’s been annoying and I’ve been ready to see it go for well over 35 years.

Dylan’s last name is a common noun, lucky me (funny enough, the change results in my having two nouns for a name now). Two days ago, I was talking to a casual friend who is married to a woman who kept her last name. I mentioned that I planned to take the following day off to take care of all the name changing stuff, and was looking forward to a day off even if it meant spending it in the arms of the feds. He paused and said, “You’re changing your name? I find it so funny that women still do that”. Another person jumped in and changed the topic before I could ask why he said so, but he’s not the first person I’ve heard say it. By a landslide, I know more women (mostly younger than me) who have kept their maiden names than I do those who have changed them to their husbands’. It never occurred to me not to, even if it is an antiquated and archaic way to be.

Name changing historically meant the transfer of property, status, and lineage, and since single women had little to speak of in that arena, it made the most sense that last names changed to the patriarchal side. Those days are over so why would we follow that tradition? I never thought about it, I’ll be honest. Or I should say, the idea didn’t offend me. I definitely thought about it.

In college when I first learned the origins of carrying brides over thresholds, I lost my mind over it. I WILL NEVER BE CARRIED OVER A THRESHOLD! NEVVVAAAAR! I am sure if someone would have tried to marry me at 23 years old (God help him) I would have dug my heels in about every outdated gender role there was. Courthouse, elopement, anything to take the spotlight off the man-woman ocean of tradition that follows weddings and worse, marriage. But I grew up and I learned to pick my battles, and eventually (maybe more importantly) I learned that not everything has to be a moral fight.

Yesterday in line at the DMV, a man overheard us talking about what we were doing that day and why, and offered his congrats. He chimed in that his best friend married a woman who kept her name and now they have kids, so having different last names has completely confused the situation and people either assume the kids are adopted or they aren’t naturally the mother’s. Ah hah. Ok so what if you don’t have kids? It’s a lot easier on you then I suppose, but you probably do have to go around explaining to people that you are in fact married and probably have to answer why the different last names, then?

For me, always, it’s been about unity. I love being married. I love being married to Dylan, especially. In our case though, we took a last name that isn’t ours. His stepfather adopted him when he was young, his biological father is not in the picture nor is he an option to be. Dylan’s last name isn’t his own by birth, therefore my married last name isn’t even really my husband’s by nationality or origin. So we have this chance to make it ours, to define it. We can create our own story with it. We haven’t had the opportunity to say that to anyone yet, but I look forward to it.

Dylan is more of a (rational) feminist than many most men. He champions equality among men and women, gay and straight, American and not. The last thing he’s going to do is get upset at anyone for these kinds of choices. He takes great delight in the rants of overblown third wave of feminists, who appear to carry a banner of staunch and irrational misandry. At one point, he suggested we make our own last name up then we realized we’re basically in that exact position.

For the record, I kept my maiden name and made it part of my middle name. I am the youngest in my family of all girls, my father was the only boy in his family and he has passed, there are no more of us left. My sisters each dropped their middle names in favor of our maiden name, but I didn’t want to lose a part of myself in that way so I added it. Yes, my driver’s license has two lines of name instead of just the one and my social security card will probably have to squish the type a little but so what? On paper I will simply be Penny (last name). No one needs to know about the two middle names. That is, unless they ask and try to accuse me of setting the women’s movement back several generations.


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