What matters is what something is, not what it is called.
From Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, 1594:
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot, Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part Belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What’s in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, Retain that dear perfection which he owes Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name, And for that name which is no part of thee Take all myself.
I grew up with two distinct feelings about marriage. One I was going to be married by the time I was twenty- one and have two children, a boy and a girl and live happily ever after, and two I was never going to get married. The second view was the stronger of the two after I turned twenty-five.
I was engaged the first time the Christmas of my senior year in college. We were going to have a June wedding. I sat in class practicing writing my new name. Anne Doe, Mrs. Anne Doe, but more often, Mrs. John Doe. Mr. and Mrs. John Doe. I was thrilled to soon be Mrs. Him.
I was in class one afternoon filling out papers needed for our new state teacher’s license. The thought crossed my mind that I would just put Anne Doe on the line. My instructor at that instant said, “For those of you planning to marry soon, do NOT put your husband’s name on this application. We’ve seen too many things happen too many times. Wait until you are married.
“That’s silly,” I thought. “It’s March. The wedding is in June. What a waste of time!” But I obeyed and put my birth name on the line. Less than three weeks later the engagement was off. That’s neither here nor there as far as today’s blog goes. I want to talk about women and names…specifically my name.
By the time I married, I had decided to retain my “maiden” name. I’m not to this day entirely sure of why. I just did. It seemed important. I didn’t even know it was legal to do so until I met a young married woman in Chicago who still used her name and found out it is only traditional and not of legal concern.
By this time my father had been dead for eight years. I had very little emotional attachment to his name. My decision had nothing to do with honoring him. I was a member of the National Organization for Women in the 1970s and felt a need to address several issues of equality, but I did not keep my name as a political statement. I never considered myself an ardent feminist…just a middle of the road one. Bras were too expensive to burn.
At first my fiance was hesitant about my decision. He wanted time to think about it. He was not exactly ecstatic about my desire although I did pose it to him as a “I would like to” as opposed to “I am going to”. I never had to know what I would have done if he had given me an ultimatum…change or forget it. It would have been a very difficult decision.
There were several things going on in my life. I was successfully teaching with a master’s degree, granted to me under my maiden name. I had been teaching less than six years, but I was doing a lot in my field. I liked that sense of identity.
I was in a therapy group trying to put to rest issues of my childhood that I’ve already discussed in earlier blogs. On a personal level, I felt I was just beginning to get in touch with the “me” that I had lost so many years ago as a very young child.
I had a good credit rating in my own name. A few months after we were married and moved, my billfold was stolen. Out of three cards, Sears was the only one who said I would have to reapply and get a credit card in my ex’s name. I didn’t. I refused. I still don’t shop at Sears unless it is something I desperately need, and I will NEVER take out a Sears credit card again.
When I married, I would be moving to a new state, half a continent away from anybody I knew. I was giving up my job in a field where the earliest chance I had of another one was in nine months. I felt like the “me” I was now was disappearing. I think I chose my name as a lifeline to clutch to keep from sinking into oblivian. It was the last thing I could grasp that wasn’t changing.
As far as having children, I had been told since puberty that it was highly unlikely that I would ever be able to conceive or carry to full term. However, we decided should I ever have a child, the baby would have a first name with my last name in the middle and his father’s last name. I didn’t have any problems with that. I wanted his/her father to claim any offspring. If John Fitzgerald Kennedy could be elected to office, so could my child.
The last item on my list was that fact that I didn’t want to be a Mrs. Him. There already was a Mrs. Him. I considered the fact that if it had to be, then maybe the first wife could be Mrs. Him but any more could have their choice. I considered it branding. I never did even like to wear brand name clothes.
I knew too many women by this time who had married and I had no clue as to what their names were now. They simply fell out of my life. Some were even on their second husbands by then. I couldn’t think of that many people who still would want to keep in touch with me but in case they did, I felt I wanted to be found. Of course this was years away from everyone having access to the internet, if they knew the husband’s name.
We sent out invitations with an additional note that said I was keeping my name upon marriage. My family (what was left of it) really didn’t say anything about my decision to me, nor did his family…at least not to my face. Some of them did not understand I could do that and addressed cards to Mr. and Mrs. Him anyway. My ex’s grandmother said it was my business what I did, not theirs.
All went well at first. There was one wife in the Newcomer’s Club who was really pretty funny. We attended a wine and cheese party at their home. When she came to the door she said, “I know the two of you are married and I understand you kept your name, but how do I introduce you to my children?” It was an adult party, the children were not present, and since we were only there for a year, we never ran into that couple again, so problem solved.
We moved to Illinois where my son was born. The announcement appeared in the newspaper, son born to me and to my husband Mr.Ex. No problem.
We moved down to Texas. What I thought was a dead matter raised its ugly head. As I’ve said before, my ex hung out in bars quite frequently. He came home one night after a few. For some reason, the topic of wives’ names had come up in the bar. One good ol’ boy said, “I’d never let MY wife do anything like that.” That stuck in my ex’s craw. I honestly don’t know how he felt about his ‘manhood” but I’m sure comments like that took him down a peg or two. He lost face. I think that might have been one of the big nails in our marriage coffin right there. My ex was an excellent cameleon and something like that meant he wasn’t blending into the environment as well as he had thought.
Like I said, that was a big nail, one of many. Seven years later we put our marriage to rest. Oh, yeah, he already had his third wife to be, the second Mrs. Him waiting in the wings. He probably told her at first there wasn’t a Mrs. Him waiting at home with a child. I can see him saying to himself that he wasn’t even lying.