Long before Bruce and I talked about marriage, I knew I wanted to keep my last name. I mean, I’m definitely not so attached to my name that I’d stubbornly refuse to become Ms. Awesome, should the right man with the right name come along. But, for anything short of that, I was prepared to resist. The fact that Bruce’s last name is unpleasantly alliterative with my first name only sealed the deal. The decision was easier than pie, and I’m pretty good with pies.
I was also prepared, I thought, to let our children take his last name. We’d both agreed that we didn’t want to hyphenate, so, really, it was one or the other, and he has convention on his side. I’ll admit, I was a little miffed about the tacit assumption on his part that they would take his name, but whatever. He’s all for equality. He just hadn’t really given it any thought.
Then one day, for no particular reason, I freaked out. I was so sure I’d thought it through, and I was so sure that I was fine with my decision, but I suddenly became hyper-aware of the fact that my future family would be the Russells, and I wouldn’t be a Russell.
To some people, this wouldn’t be a problem. I know that, rationally, a name doesn’t define a family. Of course it doesn’t. Still, I couldn’t shake my discomfort. Maybe it’s because I study English Literature, but my mind is fine-tuned to notice how apparently superficial qualities can have enormous symbolic weight. If my life were a novel, then my name would represent my exclusion.
The decision went from impossibly easy to just impossible.
My frustration built. Why do I have to go through an identity crisis? Why has Bruce never had to seriously entertain the possibility of sacrificing his last name? Even worse: why does a part of me feel guilty for asking him to consider it? Why do men have any more right to their last names than women? Well, they don’t. But, sometimes, it sure feels like it.
I expressed my frustration to Bruce, and he began to understand. We took another look at our options. The more we thought about it, the more we felt like we needed one name. For all of us.
We considered name blending. It wasn’t what either of us really wanted, but at least it was a compromise. Otherwise, we’d be stuck having to choose between mine and his, and there’s really no fair way to do that. Except by flipping a coin, we joked.
But the blending didn’t work, unless you think McRuss and Russellay are good, solid names.
We sat in silence, as we both realized that we would have to choose. I thought that it was only a matter of time until I gave in, and the moment I thought it, I realized just how important it was to me that I don’t give in. Not after all this. If it came down to either of us saying, “Whatever. Fine. I’ll take yours,” it would totally and completely suck. We wouldn’t resent each other, but we would almost certainly resent the decision, and that’s not how I want to begin my married life.
“So, why don’t we flip a coin?”
I can’t even explain to you the freedom I felt after the words left my mouth. I started bouncing a little. I might have even squealed. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was so excited. It was perfect. The weight of the decision was lifted.
The beauty of the coin is that it does not discriminate by gender. The coin is not influenced by tradition. The coin does not assume that either of us has more right than the other. The coin is fair. If I lost, I would happily become a Russell; if I won, I would happily remain a McLay.
Bruce was underwhelmed. If he were to take my name, he explained, he’d rather do it because he’d decided to, not because a coin told him to. Understandable. Here, compromise came easily.
He needs time, so we’re giving him time. As a girl, regardless of my own decisions, I’ve certainly been exposed to the potential instability of a last name; as a guy, this is all new. He needs time to adjust. He needs to come to terms with the reality of taking my name. We both feel confident that, very soon, he will.
We will wait until both of us feel totally fine, no matter what.
Then we’ll flip a coin.