I Reclaimed My Family Name Five Years Into Marriage

How I became Mrs. HerLastName-HisLastName

Mrs. Lantz. One of the students we mentored would call from across the room, now that we were engaged. They wanted to know if I’d gotten used to responding to it yet. It was a fun game to me, and I was set on not having them catch me off guard. I was twenty-one, in love for the first time, religious, and trying to make space from my chaotic family of origin. Of course I was taking my husband’s name. I knew I had the choice not to, but why would I want to keep my family name? My parents were two years post divorce, and I naively thought I wanted to cut ties with my old name and all of the drama that came with it.

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Flash-forward three years. I thought as I stayed married I would eventually get used to my new name. The reality is that it has never started to feel like “me.” I know at three years into marriage that I have more in common with my chaotic, wild, boisterous, loving family of origin than with my new quiet, polite, reserved in-laws or my husband. When my family name “Torres” shows up on Facebook next to my siblings’ names, I feel sad and left out, disconnected. I find myself avoiding using my full name and try to stick to just Amanda. I cherish the opportunities I get to tell the story of my grandpa’s grandpa who changed our name from “Del Toro” to “Torres” after he became a fugitive in Hawaii and fled to San Francisco. I think this is a wild funny story but definitely get “ohmigod” looks when I share it.

At the three year mark, I’m starting to think I want my name back, but there’s a problem. In the same way Lantz doesn’t fit three years after getting married, Torres no longer fits either. One name tells the story of my childhood, my adolescence, my family, but the other tells the story of my blossoming adulthood, my chosen family, my learning to become more balanced through the growth of my marriage. What does one do when neither name seems to fit anymore? I decide to explore the possibility of hyphenating. Because one of my biggest discomforts has been seeing my siblings’ names on Facebook, I decide to try going by Torres-Lantz socially to see how I felt about it. I change my Facebook name as a trial.

A year passes and nothing else changes with my name. But in the meantime, my husband and I leave our religious community and become non-believers. This kicks off a turbulent season as we lose our community and rebuild our relationship from the ground up, with not much patience for each other. We later refer to this as The Bad Year. With the help of counseling and anxiety and depression medication, we make it through The Bad Year and come out the other side with a fresh perspective on our marriage that we want to honor. Our old vows and our old wedding seem irrelevant, and we decide that for our fifth anniversary, we want to have a big party. We spend the year planning this party and the name thing keeps resurfacing. I ask my husband how he would feel about me changing my name. Would it be weird? What about when we decide to have kids, what name will we choose for them? What about if we travel and all of our names don’t match? Basically I ask all of the questions most of you would ask when getting married and deciding what to do with your name. I hem and haw for months trying to decide what I really want to do.

A few short months before our fifth anniversary and vow renewal, I make my decision to change officially to Torres-Lantz. I bring it up again to Dave (who has always said it was my decision and he would support me either way). He knows that once I start to make up my mind about something I rarely go back on it; he’s not surprised at all when I tell him I want to change my name officially to Torres-Lantz. My first reaction is to question again: “You don’t think it’ll be weird for us to have different names?” His immediate response is, “No it won’t be weird, because I’m going to change mine too. I decided that a long time ago; I just wanted you to make your decision on your own first. You’re my family, and I want to honor everything I’ve learned from you. I want to honor how I’ve learned to be so loving and open from your family, how they’ve become a part of my family, and mostly how deeply you’ve shaped me as a person and as a partner.”

All I can say is: “Oh…”. I don’t think I cry in this moment, but I have a lot of feelings to take in.

And then we get so excited! We decide to try to change it by common law, as every U.S. citizen has the right to do. We send out invites for the anniversary party with our new names on them as our announcement to our closest friends and family that we are changing. We find a bunch of bottles of wine with each of our family names on them to use as centerpieces at our anniversary party, and I get a beautiful five year anniversary ring to commemorate and replace my wedding ring. The party is one of the best nights of our marriage.

It turns out that changing a name by common law is not so easy anymore. A year and a half later, we’re pregnant with our first kid. It’s a week before I’m due to give birth, and we finally go down to the courthouse and officially, for real this time, get our names changed. It’s a two-day process and a couple hundred bucks. I’m worried when we leave the courthouse the first day that I’m going to go into labor before we have our court hearing because I am feeling every bit of thirty-nine weeks pregnant, but we make it! And nine days later, baby makes three Torres-Lantzes—a new generation who carries both of our families’ names and histories. And they can figure out what the f*ck to do with their hyphenated name themself when the time comes.

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