Monday, March 24, 2008

What's in a name?

Several weeks ago, I saw my friend Amanda at a wine club party. I've known Amanda for several years - we both interned at the same non-profit (though a year apart) and we both continued to volunteer at that organization after we'd gone. I have a whole network of friends I met though that particular organization, and we try to get together on a regular basis.

Since last seeing Amanda, she'd gotten married. We were chatting about that and she confessed to me "I'm changing my name. And I hate it." Shocking news! In this particular group of friends, we all address each other by our last names. In truth, probably the first time I've ever called Amanda "Amanda" is right here in this blog and I've know her for more than six years. So a name change, which is always a huge deal in my opinion, is an even bigger deal in this instance.

"I'm changing my name. And I hate it," she said. "Then why are you doing it?" was my response. She explained that it was important to her husband that they share the same name, and that he really didn't understand that it was going to be a big deal, to her and her friends. But, ultimately, it was her decision and she's going through with it. And I really don't get it, but I accept it and support her decision.

When Nelson and I got married, there was never a discussion about me changing my name. Okay, there was. It went like this:

J: "You know I'm not changing my, right?"

N: "Of course! I wouldn't want you to. It would be weird if you did."

Seriously, this was his EXACT response. It was so perfect, it is emblazoned in my memory. That, and the fact that he said, "Now that we're getting married I have to tell you something. (PAUSE) I hate whole wheat pasta and brown rice. I never want to eat them again." Hilarious, I know.

Anyway, so there it is. My husband hates whole grains, but respects and supports my decision not to change my name.

Then, I got pregnant. When we were deciding on Oscar's name, Nelson suggested that we hyphenate his last name, so that he's share both of our last names. I immediately vetoed this idea. There's no way I could saddle my kid with a hyphenated name, even though our names sound really cool together. Oscar would have Nelson's last name; I'd have my own.

I've had some people question my decision to keep my name - Don't I wish I had the same last name as my son, that my whole family shared one name? I don't, not at all. Part of the reason is that having my own last name gives me a sense of identity outside of "wife" and "mother." I like having that. There is also that I grew up in a family where we did not all have the same last name (my older sister was from my mom's first marriage and had her father's last name), and that didn't make us any less of a family.

My parents made sure we knew growing up my sister was no less my sister because she had a different dad and a different name, and I love them for making that decision. In fact, when I was about six years old, the nasty older girl across the street told me that Nikole wasn't my "real" sister, only my "half" sister, and I was inconsolable. I thought that meant we couldn't love each other as much. My mom said to me, "Do you love her like she's your sister?" I sniffled, "Yes." "That's because she IS your sister," my mom said. To this day, that conversation with my mother taught me more about the meaning of family than any other moment in my life.

So, what's in a name? What am I trying to say here?

Whenever one of my girlfriends tells me she's going to change her name, I think back to that conversation with my mom more than 20 years ago, and how she said exactly the right thing and made me understand a concept that is pretty lofty for a six-year-old. I guess I'm trying to say sharing a name is not what makes you family. LOVE is what makes you family. And I've got plenty of that.

Above, Oscar with his very first visitor, my sister, about 15 hours after his birth.


Susanica said...

Good points Jenni. I can totally see Nelson saying that too. This sounds like a fun conversation to continue over brunch this weekend. You guys game?

Big Mama Cass said...

Interesting view. I didn't change my name the first time I was married and always missed it. I don't know why but it was always something that I wanted. So I changed it this time and I am thrilled. I love carrying my husbands last name. I remember the first time I wrote it and the feeling I had. I love it. I totally support your decision and I do understand it. But for me it was the opposite. Different strokes and all that :)