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 poring 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 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 midyear, particularly when I’d 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.
This post originally ran on APW in January 2011.