Brenna sent me a thank you email last week… except, when I opened it up, it was actually one of the most mind-blowingly empowering and brave stories I’d ever read. You see, Brenna changed her name. And then she changed it back. And Team Practical, and your amazing comments on the APW name change posts are part of what gave her the strength to make the choice she did. So here we go, proving that there are no right choices, only choices that are right for us, and we always have the right to change our minds.
I didn’t know that it wasn’t right for me to change my name. Until I changed my name.
I suppose there’s more to it than that. I waffled back and forth during our whole engagement, but eventually decided to add Hisname to the end of my name, giving myself two middle names.
Last June, we got married.
At first, I loved signing my husband’s name. Two “t”s at the end was really fun to write. It was novel and thrilling.
Then school started (I teach eighth grade), and every day I heard a name that wasn’t mine. I made decisions; I introduced myself to parents. I tried using both names together, but it only worked in writing. We talked about the importance of Ms. I inwardly grinned when catalogs would show up with my old name on them or when former students or colleagues would slip up and forget my new name. I tried waiting. I waited three months, then four, for my students calling me Ms. Hisname to seem like it was right. I hoped the time I spent pouring over women’s last names online and comparing my choice to theirs would diminish over time. I gave into the idea that it was just something I had to get used to. I had convinced myself that once the decision was made, I had to stick to it. I recalled some of the reasons I wanted to take his name: he and I having a team name, not liking the aesthetics of the hyphen, sharing a name with my future children.
I remembered how I had briefly considered using my name professionally and his name socially. This was what I really wanted, but I had thrown it out as impractical. I thought other people would be confused. I live in a small community, and even if/when we leave this place, I really like teaching and living in the same district. If/when we have children, I feared it would cause confusion if I taught at one school under one name and attended parent-teacher conferences with another.
There’s more, though. I think I had convinced myself that being an eighth grade English teacher wasn’t a worthy-enough profession for which to keep my name professionally. That was something doctors or lawyers or published writers did. Admitting and reading that now makes me more than a little sick. What I do on a daily basis matters. I’m still not sure why I couldn’t see it as enough of a reason.
Something clicked last Friday on our teacher workday.I could do whatever I wanted. People would figure it out. Perhaps it was better to confuse a few other people along the way than to spend the days of my life confused about the choices I made.
Sure, it’s strange to change a name mid-year, particularly when I just started the year with a new name, particularly in my small town where few students have had a teacher that isn’t Mrs. ______. But it sure provides a great opportunity to discuss identity and choices and changing your mind when you have given something a fair shake and you know deep down it isn’t right.
I talked to my principal and human resources (who were amazingly supportive) and students today (The best response: “This will come in really handy on your next crime spree”). After school I sent an email to the staff. Everything connected to my work at school is in the process of being changed. I haven’t smiled so much in one day for a long time. It finally felt right.
Why am I telling you guys this? Because I believe the sense that it was okay to change my mind–even if I get talked about at lunch by other teachers, even if this is the only thing my students from this year remember about me, even if it gets a little messy–came (in part–but a big part) from APW and the community created here. When I was making my decision before the wedding, I poured over the name change posts and read all the comments (probably without commenting myself–I’m kind of creepy like that).
Before I went into school Tuesday to see what my options (legally and logistically) were, I reread those posts and comments and it reinforced that I had to do what felt right for me.
Thank you, thank you for your support and constant reminders that we DO have choices, even if we made the wrong one for me the first time. I feel like I can embrace using Hisname when I WANT to use it, and leave it out when I don’t.
Thanks. All of you.