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The Middle (Name)

On May 14, 2011, my husband Ben and I were married in the little theatre where we’ve collaborated on performance-making over the years. Out of the deal I got a hilarious and creative life partner, an extension of family that vaguely resembles the United Nations, and a brand new middle name.

The middle name part was a bit of a surprise given the conclusiveness of our We’re Not Changing Names discussion. Ben and I like our respective last names—together and apart. We’ve made a lot of art and lived a lot of life with our names stamped on it. But, one day a couple months before the wedding, it struck me that I could write in whatever I wanted on the “name after marriage” line of our marriage license. And, mutually motivated by a desire to mark my marriage transition while keeping my last name and to get rid of a middle name I wasn’t particularly fond of, I changed it. To Ben’s last name. I gut-checked a solid dozen times as I contemplated the change, but it just felt inexplicably right.

As with most decisions, though, there’s always some kind of result, not necessarily explained with a label as simple as “positive” or “negative.” I’m here to report that it’s lonely in the partial name-change camp: you changed something, but didn’t come out with the typical post-wedding result. Everyone’s confused. And, if you get really excited about your new middle name and change it on Facebook, you’ve officially lost everyone. Now it’s not just your Gramma sending you incorrectly addressed mail (Mr. & Mrs. Ben & Laura ?). Facebook assumes you suffered from dyslexia and swapped your maiden name for your married name, or that perhaps you forgot your own name altogether. And, Facebook would also like you to know that it’s partially your own fault for confusing people in the first place. You can make new rules, but sometimes you have to hand out educational fliers when you play by them.

It’s a strange mystery navigating the nuanced path of feelings that accompany a decision. I have a lot of feelings about my name, and I didn’t anticipate how strong they’d be. And, as with many very personal decisions, the world hasn’t intuited the depth of these feelings. As with every decision, regardless of how right it feels, it marks the death of what I didn’t choose. We will never be a single-name family, marked by a succinct return address stamp. And I don’t have the same name I grew up with.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my married friends and their names—a fabulous collection of brand-newly invented last names, hyphenated last names, husband’s last names, maiden names, and even partner last names that they don’t always use. I love them all. I love that these names represent decisions—the simultaneous embracing of one thing and saying “no” to something else. Maybe we’re united by the strength of the gut-check.

Last week I was waiting tables, when a man who goes by the name of Mad Pierre (yes, really) walked in the door for Happy Hour. Mad Pierre is something of a local institution, and was wearing his usual uniform of a straw hat and Hawaiian shirt, his long fingernails painted blue. He was full of strange, mostly-incoherent advice and musings, most of which I tried to ignore as I darted around the restaurant, attempting to do my job. Mad Pierre called me over to his table again to spout more advice, which he tried to work into the letters of my name. “What’s your middle name?” he unexpectedly asked. “McGinley.” “Ahhhhhh!” he cried, as if he’d hit some kind of jackpot. “That’s a great name!” I grinned larger than ever before, amused that it had taken a half-crazy, high-as-a-kite man to remind me that I liked my decision.

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