The Joy (And Sorrow) Of The Choosing

by Anonymous

I lost something today. Something valuable to me.

I suppose that is not right, as I know where it went, and in fact it was I who gave it away. And willingly. But it feels like a loss. And it is my loss alone. For my friends remind me that this is what I wanted. And it was. And it is.

My husband does not see it as a loss. For him, it is gain. It is a symbol of all the gains we have made together, all the struggles we have overcome, and our brand new commitment to each other.

And I agree. For all those things are true. But when I look at that new piece of plastic, with those two words that separately are familiar and now, put together, look strange. I miss the old combination.

For in giving up my name, I did not expect to feel the girl attached to it drift away. The girl who, before him, lived and learned and loved. And with him, slowly added an “us” to a “me” when decisions had to be made.

And this was an “us” decision. Made with two loving hearts and two thoughtful heads in the joy and expectations of a burgeoning family. And that is how us decisions should be made. So I do not regret any of it.

I know that like my mother before me, my grandmother before her, and generations of strong, lovely, progressive women whose blood flows through my veins, I will adjust. And like my aunt, who chose two names, and my new sister-in-law, who chose to not change, I am making the right choice. And all those women before me with their brave, beautiful choosing, have allowed it to be not only a loss, but also a choice.

So tomorrow, when my students call me by the name that is new, I will smile. I will embrace this new combination that is me. The me that is with him. And when they forget, I will smile also. And remember that maybe the name may be changed. But the girl is not. Gaining does need to mean losing. And I am the addition of all that has happened. New experiences do not lead to subtractions.

But tonight I will go home. And eat some chocolate. And drink some wine. And shed some tears. Because when you lose something. Even when it is your choice. Even when it is right. It is okay to mourn.

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  • Shawna

    Perfect. And my sentiments on my name change Exactly!

  • jes

    I didn’t realize just how often I’d be called by my new name until school started. Now I’m reminded a hundred times every day. I’d be used to it, but there are still a handful of students who call me by my last year’s name. It’s a much more disorienting joy (and sorrow) than I expected.

    Good luck today.

    • I’ve been wondering if it would have been easier if I still had some students calling me by my former name. I got married just after moving and it’s strange to think that at my next school, everyone will only know me as my new name. Or my new initial anyway. Taking his challenging Indian name means likely spending my days being called Ms. S. I tell myself that this way at least I’m fine with them calling me Ms. or Mrs. When they called me Mrs. with my maiden name, it always felt like they were talking to my mother.

      • L

        I am not a teacher, but we are about to move and I definitely feel odd knowing that everyone new that I meet will only know me with my new last name and not have any connection with my old last name.

    • Moe

      I still feel weird introducing myself. As if I’m living under an alias.

  • Sarah

    I work in a school with my fiance, and have fielded the ‘What will we call you after you get married?’ question from the kids many times. It’s actually what helped me decide not to change my name- I don’t want to go through reasserting myself with the kids I counsel, or change the nameplate on my door. Half the time, the kids are calling me Mrs. Maidenname anyway, so it hardly makes any difference.

  • And I am the addition of all that has happened. New experiences do not lead to subtractions.

    So absolutely true. I need to write that on a Post-It, stick it to my computer and stare at it every day.

    After much consideration and a few panicky moments, I’ve decided I will legally change my last name . . . but am so torn about what to do professionally. As a columnist, I’m known for my unusual last name — and the thought of changing that at work (and thus precluding any high school nemesis from seeing I’ve “made it”) is scary. Plus, I like being me. I’ve been Megan Lastname for 27 years.

    But thank you for this lovely, timely reminder that I will always be me . . . and that I’m adding something, not taking something away. Whatever we decide to do on this very personal issue, it’s what’s right for us — and our true selves don’t disappear with the addition or subtraction of a few letters of the alphabet.

    • Abilene

      It’s a little scary for sure, but you can always do the famous:

      Megan (Lastname) Newname

      for the first six months or so until it catches on!

      • Chiara

        They’ve talked about it on here before, but my field of study is largely women, and most of the women who have written my textbooks go by “Megan Newname Lastname”, so that the name in the citation is the original, and both names (new and original) go on the first page. I’ve started to know them by both names in my head, even though the name on the spine is the original.

        I’ve often been struck by this and really feel like it’s the right choice for me, even though I’ve never been published (and don’t plan on being published).

  • Amanda L.

    I accutely feel the pain in this post. Up until the day I changed my name (two weeks after the wedding), all I felt was excitement and joy at the new adventure of being Mrs. Hislastname. Aftewards, I felt confused… who is Amanda Hislastname? I don’t know her.

    DH made a sweet gesture. At a race a month later, he got the man on the microphone to ‘announce’ me coming across the finish line. ‘Hey, Amanda Hislastname, great job!’ came from the speakers. It took everything I had not to cry. I didn’t know who Amanda Hislastname was, she didn’t feel like me, and I was so sad for Mylastname, even though it was so common I hated it at times, it was a loss I had to mourn.

    Now we’ve moved to a new city, where people have only known me as Amanda Hislastname. It is getting easier, I’ve mastered my new signature, and the joy at being his wife has not subsided. Like most things we grieve, time is healing this wound, and I would not go back and change my (our) decision.

    • Megan

      Glad you’ve got your signature figured out. I usually feel good about changing my name and then I’ll try to write my new signature and it just looks wrong. It just looks like ugly scribbles. It always sets me off – I like the sound of my new name, I like the actual last name (it’s unique), but that dang signature… it’s killing me.

      • Amanda L.

        Don’t get me wrong… it took me a while to get it down. My maiden named started with an M and I could whip out firstmiddleinitallast without lifting my pen. The new L refused to fit into that mold, so there was definitely an adjustment! I’ve been married for 14 months now and I’d say it took me a solid eight before I could just sign without thinking ‘which name do I use?’

        • I panicked the first few times I signed my new last name that I’d sign the wrong one. The funny part being that my signature is such an absolute scribble that I didn’t have to change it at all. The only part you can really make out is the L at the beginning.

      • Mo

        Part of my decision to make my maiden name my middle name was so I wouldn’t have to change my signature! My fiance and I have names that look very similar when written (but sound worlds apart), so I will go from Mo Lastname to Mo L. Astnam once we get hitched.

    • Rachel

      I think meeting new people who only know your new name definitely helps the transition! Sometimes when I feel weird about the changes that are happening in my life (I feel like changing my name is only one of the big social transitions that will happen when I get married!) or even with my job, I consider that I’m pretty young and that I have more life ahead of me than I do behind me. And so while these things feel really odd/painful now, I don’t believe that my best years are behind me or that my true self (if that makes sense) was necessarily who I was when I was, say, 24. I have this theory that we all sort of come into our own at different ages and that the way we think of people can definitely be who they were at 25 with their maiden names…but it could just as easily be who they are at 65 with a married name! I think there are a lot of people in our own families we think of as perpetually 21 (or perpetually 75!) no matter how old they actually are. So I try to remember that my identity is not baked in stone and maybe not even fully formed yet, and meeting new people who only know me as I am at this moment and going forward is helpful in terms of seeing my identity as part of a bigger picture.

      • Well-said, Rachel. The name question is only a layer of the larger identity question- after all, marriage certainly IS a new phase in our lives, just like other life stages.

        To me, my last name is wrapped up in my high-school self (thanks to being one of a million Sarahs), and I am so far away from that person now.

        As I explore what my “self” really means to me, especially the spiritual and intangible components, I’ve come to see my name more like my body- something I wear in this life, and take good care of, but it’s still just a human, imperfect vessel for this thing I call “me.” (That sounds super trippy as I write it out, but I guess it is a little trippy.)

  • Violet

    I just went to the Soc Sec office this morning to start the process. Even though it’s what I want to do, it’s still hard. So, thank you for this.

    • Paranoid Libra

      I will be trying to go to the social security office on Friday to continue my name change. All I have done so far is my driver’s license since getting into the SS office now is a pain with altered times. It’s been very difficult to get me into there. You don’t realize what an identity crisis it can be until you are doing it yourself.

      Off shoot question for anyone to answer: After I finally finish this up and also change my name at the bank, since I am hyphenating will I have to add his last name onto ALL of my checks?

      • YetAnotherMeg

        I work at a credit union, and I know our policy is that if a check is made out to your maiden name or his last name and you hyphenated your new name you will have to sign twice.
        You will sign the first time exactly how the check is made out
        Under that you will sign whatever last name found on the bank account.

        You might ask your bank about their policy. We also have a grace period for brides who choose to change their names to give them time to get the required documents in order to change their name on the bank account. For this grace period situation (think wedding checks) we also would have them sign twice, making sure which ever name is on the account is the name signed last.

        Hope it helps :)

      • MDBethann

        Sorry I’m a bit late to the discussion but I would ask your bank. I am doing double last names with no hyphen and for awhile I was just signing my checks like I always did until we got new ones with my correct last name on it. I didn’t have problems, but that may have just been my banks.

  • RS

    The author isn’t the only one who shed some tears here! Whoa, I changed my name almost a year ago and didn’t think I had much emotion about it, but this lovely piece seemed to bring something out for me.

  • deeanna

    Just because it was what I chose (happily, willingly) — does NOT mean that it was easy. Thanks for expressing this so elegantly.

  • My mom got so used to her name change that she completely forgot about it!

    She didn’t change right away, but waited until I was born before changing her name (five years into their marriage).

    A couple years ago she found a high school year book and was searching it for her picture. She couldn’t find it because she completely forgot to look under her maiden name!

    I hope that I grow that comfortable and content with my new name someday :)

    • One of my coworkers remarked that after a few years, someone said something about her maiden name and she though to herself “who is that person… I used to know someone with that name…?” and it took her a few seconds to realize it was HER.
      I have such a unique last name, I don’t think I’ll ever not recognize it as me. Or at least a relative of me. I’m kind of intrigued to what what happens.

      • I know I can edit the above but decided to leave it I realized I wrote “I HAVE such a unique last name” but of course, this should be “HAD such a unique last name.” It’s kind of funny that even on the exact topic, I haven’t been able to subconsciously own the new name,

  • Somehow, nine months later, even though I have every intention of changing my last name I still haven’t. I want to change it, and I have dozens of very personal reasons why it makes sense to me. Socially I’ve been using the new name, I answer to it.

    But my bills still come with my maiden name, my paycheque and bank account and drivers license still have that name. It’s not that big a deal here to do the name change I just waver.

    Of course that wishy washy not really committing to either for the moment has me stopping short every time I need to sign something. Neither signature is right.

    • MDBethann

      I’ve been married for nearly 14 months and did change my name legally a few months after the wedding, but changing your name with the utility company, airlines, etc. is a huge pain and there are some I just haven’t gotten around to yet – I double barreled my last name, so that may be why it isn’t such a big deal and no one has made a fuss. Either that or they’re getting paid so they really don’t care ;-)

  • I actually had this set of emotions after getting engaged. While I’m thrilled to have chosen my future, it was sad to realized that I had narrowed the possibilities. I couldn’t run to Australia for a year to be a yoga instructor, or bike across the country, or start an organic farm in West Virginia, because I was part of something larger. Those things were still possible, but weren’t solely my decision and that was hard.

    • Catherine

      Yes! This post can be applied to any part of getting married, not just the name change. It’s obviously a good thing, but whenever you say yes to one thing, you say no to a million others- and it is healthy to mourn!

    • I reacted the same way when I got engaged! And even now, two years into marriage, it still sneaks up on me sometime. I’m about to start a grad program that has summer internships anywhere in the world…and spending a summer in another country sounded super exciting until I thought through the reality of it.

      But! You’re right that things are still possible. And sometimes marriage makes them even more realistic. Grad school would have been very difficult for me to pull off without my husband’s support, financially and emotionally. In a way, there are even more possibilities now.

  • Zoe

    Thank you for this. When I express sadness about changing my name, my very sweet and supportive husband to be reminds me that he would be 100% okay with me making a different choice, and that he would support me either way. I know he’s being supportive the best way he can, but I really do feel sure about taking his name, and I want to do it, and I also feel sad about losing my name.

    This post summed up that feeling really well, and reminded me of why I’m happy to be changing my name as well.

  • Jeanne

    I grew up with Nickname Mylastname. My close family still calls me Nickname, but the world knows me as Realfirstname Hislastname. It has taken a long time to embrace the idea that these two completely different names are still me.

    • mimi

      I grew up as Nickname, but started calling myself Realfirstname when I went away to college. My family has mostly switched, but not completely. Even more complicated is that his sister-in-law goes by Nickname (even though we don’t share Realfirstname). We’re getting married in August and I’m still somewhat undecided about how to combine names. I already feel torn after changing my name once, but I guess I got through that, so I can get through this too.

  • Rachel M

    Thank you for reminding us that it’s okay to mourn even when you don’t regret your decision. It’s something that I’ve struggled with, and that has been difficult at times to explain to my fh. This is spot-on!

  • Heather

    I didn’t expect to feel a little sad when I changed my last name to my husband’s. But, I went through a short grieving process. Perhaps the hardest part was changing my last name from a common one that never had to be spelled out for people to one that constantly has to be spelled; in fact, I always spell it before I tell people how to say it. I don’t regret my decision to take my husband’s last name for one second, but I agree with the author; it is okay to mourn.

  • Briggs

    When my fiance proposed, after I accepted, and we cried and kissed, his next words were “And you can keep your last name if you want, I know it’s important to you, and it doesn’t matter to me if we have the same name.” I immediately responded “No, I want to take your name.”

    I did. And I do. I have very good, personal reasons for switching names. Mostly because I think getting married does change your role in life in a very big way: instead of being an individual we’ll be a duo, and we will face everything together. It’s kinda more like adopting the name of a team I’m joining. My future stepsons are thrilled that I will be on their team now too.

    But, this article is so, so on the mark for me because I’ve been Me Mylastname for 30 years now, and while I haven’t built a professional identity around it or anything, I have built a life and a person around it … and that person is changing now. And it’s a little overwhelming and sad to se the person I was and her name change so drastically and so suddenly.

    Thank you for this article. It was exactly what I needed today.

  • Mia Culpa

    I have struggled with names & identity since college. I picked up a nickname almost immediately in college, and it followed me into my professional life. It also happened that I was profoundly miserable in my relationships where they knew me only by my nickname, so when I started dating my now-husband I insisted he call me by my real first name. I needed that separation between what my family called me (Realfirstname) and what the world called me (Nickname) so my inner life could feel protected, and he fell into the “Family” category very quickly.

    Despite my insistence on this, it was a big deal for me to change my last name. My husband and I discussed it a lot, and I made the decision to change my name so I have Firstname Middlemaidenname Marriedlastname. It’s still a struggle – a shift in identity always is, and that signature thing is a bear. And I still have a separation between my family calling me by my Realfirstname and the rest of the world calling me by my Nickname.

  • Katie

    I always thought I’d change my last name because 1) My last name sounds pretty clunky and spelling it always starts with a very caustic sounding “F U”) I am more my mother’s daughter than I am my father’s. He wasn’t especially nice when we were growing up. I thought it would be a great “F U” to change my name, a great liberation from the past. Now, however, I’m beginning to see that the name is more associated with who I am and what I’ve accomplished. It’s no longer associated with pain, especially now that my dad and I are closer. I don’t know what I’ll do, but in reading the OP I feel a lot better about either choice. What is in a name is not the same as what is in the person.

  • Perfectly said! I waited one year + a few months after our wedding to change my last name, that’s when it finally felt right to take the leap. It’s been about one year now & I still mourn my maiden name sometimes, although I don’t regret changing it. Just a little tip for those who do change their last name: treat yourself to a monogrammed necklace or monogrammed something as a treat & in celebration!

  • Jill

    YES! I have been struggling with this, as I am getting married August 3. My last name is a huge part of my identity, but it’s also tied to my independence. I’ve been struggling this weekend as I am putting my house on the market.. MY house that I bought by myself. I love this post, as there is joy in it…there is the mutual decision of getting married and moving somewhere that works for both of us. But it doesn’t need I don’t need some chocolate and a margarita. Thanks for your words!

  • APWFan

    Everyone keeps asking if I’m changing my name. I prefer to think of it as adding a name. I plan to use my maiden name as my middle name on all correspondence, e-mail reply-to and signature, business cards, and maybe in verbal introductions. And professionally, I am guessing that some people will be too used to the “old” name. :)

  • Leila

    I’m not changing my name, but we filled out the marriage liscence form and I felt a bit of this. It was so odd putting our social security numbers side by side on a form and knowing that we are now legally linked. Good weird, but still weird. So I think all of these things we do that bind us together are exciting and great but still scary. I think the name change is just one of the ones that stares you in the face the most.

  • Great post! It’s hard to explain the complex feelings I feel for my name change… it was absolutely the right choice, my idea, a joint decision, and in many ways I’m excited to be “The HisLastName Family” but I just had my name change over in the work computer system (it took about 3 weeks after I started the name change process, and it didn’t really feel like anything changed because I still signed emails with my old name, etc) and I had some weird feelings…
    It wasn’t hard when my new license came, or my new social security card, or my credit cards… but something about it changing over at work made it seem more real. Nobody knows me by the name on my credit cards, but they do know me by my email address. And it was a little disconcerting.

  • Londonsarah

    This is such a beautiful post.

    I’ve been waiting to feel like I need to change my name for 8 months and am beginning to wonder if I ever will. I changed my passport a few months ago as it needed renewing and went double barrelled, being indecisive, but that feels a bit weird and I’ve not changed anything else. I do kind-of want to take his name for good reasons, but my name is mine and I’m not sure I can separate my self from my name.

  • Sarah

    I legally kept all 4 names: Firstname Originalmiddlename Maidenname Hislastname. On bank info, signature, etc. I sign as Firstname M. Hislastname. But it delights me to legally have all 4.

    • This is what I have been considering doing: Firstname Originalmiddlename Maidenname Hislastname. My brother grew up being Firstname Middlename1 Middlename2 Lastname, so I know that 2 middle names are workable.

      I’m not sure if I want to do the legal name change right away, or just use that socially for a while, to see how I like it. I do know that I have long hated the sound of my last name with my first name, but I also love the look of my signature and my initials.

      I also am working on the tiny bit of resentment from when he told me that he didn’t expect me to change my name, and then completely dismissed out of hand the idea of him *also* doing a name change, and taking my last name as a second middle name as well. It is something I am going to bring up in our premarital. I can see why he feels that way, but that hasn’t stopped me from being annoyed by it.

    • mimi

      I live in Michigan, and the only way they let you keep all 4 is if you hyphenate something (either Middle-Maiden or Maiden-HisLast). I don’t really want to use a hyphen, but I also don’t want to lose a name, so likely headed for a hyphen.

    • MDBethann

      I legally have all 4 names too (double last names, no hyphen), but I use the initials for my middle name and 1st last name. Otherwise, my signature would be way to long. It’s hard to fit it into those electronic signature boxes as it is!

  • Heather

    Thank you so much for posting this…I’m getting married in October and have, from the beginning of our engagement, been excited about changing my last name. Part of it was the experience of being able to make the choice freely, unfettered by a societal dictate one way or the other…part of it was a tenderness for tradition that surprised me…and part of me was psyched to get a name that felt more appropriate for the musician that I am in moments of my life. But just recently I started to fret about it in a way I had NOT expected.

    Reading this clarified why I was feeling the way that I was. I’ll admit, knowing it’s ok to mourn even when there is such joy? It’s liberating.

  • Eein

    Thank you for this amazing message… I’ll be in the same boat in a few months and feel exactly the same way! How kind of you to so honestly share your feelings with others, and to acknowledge that it is always okay to mourn a loss… Or to simply feel what you feel.

  • Erin

    This just gave me tears, hit the spot of how I’m feeling so much. I LOVE my name, and I am so sad to let it go. I do feel that it represents me and all I’ve done in life, and that a new name is a bit of a clean slate (and not in a good way). I reluctantly made the decision to change it, but it was a quick one and I knew I wouldn’t have it any other way. I just wish it didn’t feel so much like losing a name and felt more like gaining a fun new one. I know I’ll make my peace, it’s just slow-going.

    One thing I can say, though, is how appreciative I’ve been of all the people that approach it by saying ‘are you going to change your name?’ rather than just assuming that is what is going to happen. It’s a small nicety. I’m making an effort not to look too Eeyore-like when I reply yes.

  • Amanda

    The closer my boyfriend and I get to being married, the more I worry about this moment. When I was born, I was given a hyphenated last name, so I have always been Firstname Mother’slastname-Father’slastname, and the only person in the world with my name as far as I can google. I’m pretty opposed to my dad’s last name, and I’ve never met anyone in his family, but my mother’s family is very small and has a LOT of family pride. All 4 cousins in my generation are female, and I am the last one who carries the family name, so I hate to just walk away from it. That said, when people meet me/him/us, I want them to know we belong together, and for that reason I really want to share his name. My options are just moving completely to Hislastname, hyphenating Mother’slastname-Hislastname, or… making Mother’slastname my middle name? I am worried that so many people commenting had a harder time with this than they expected, because I am expecting to have a VERY hard time with it.

  • StillSmiling

    Oh, thank you. This. These are the words I’ve been searching for since I got that strange piece of paper with that new combination of names. I kept my last name as a middle name, and my husband added my last name as a middle name too. But I still have this new last name, and still smile when my students call me that something new. And I haven’t been able to explain how all that makes me feel. But here it is. Thank you!

  • Lauren

    yes! thank you so much for this. these words are what i needed.

  • michelle

    I just now found this site and I’m glad to be reading many of these articles. I was married before and took his last name. It never felt right to me, I always struggled signing it (it’s a common name, but it just never settled in my hands) even after almost 10 years. When I got divorced, went back to my name immediately, and it felt so good. Now, a few years later, I’m engaged and will be taking his name when we get married. We had a long discussion about it. I at first didn’t want to change my name because of the previous marriage (and didn’t think he would care, he’s very progressive and supportive), but after we talked I decided I would. My fiance´ doesn’t have much family, his parents are both deceased and what family he does have, he isn’t close with. So really we’d be it for his name around here. He was never married before, never even close to finding that person (until me!), and so in our late 30’s, what he does want is traditional. He wants us to be the “hislastname family”, he wants me to take his name, and I want to. I am struggling with explaining this in words on a comment, but just know that when we talked through it, his reasons, my reasons, I decided that this was right and it’s what I want. The name will be a mouthful but I know this will be my name for the rest of my life and I’m glad of it. I even practiced a new signature the other day and it was smooth as butter.

  • Carrie

    Thank you so much! So few people are willing to accept the hard feelings that come at big moments. They are so often seen as wrong, this site is so refreshing!

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