Monday, January 2, 2012

Thoughts About Last Names

Let me start out by saying this - I was never going to change my name. Never. Ever. I wasn't going to, and I didn't. So there's that spoiler out of the way. :-)

Of course, we all know that life is a little more complicated than 'I'll just make up my mind and stick to it no matter what.' Even though I may have known all of my adult life that I would never change my name, it certainly doesn't mean that I haven't had many, many thoughts and feelings about that decision. In fact, I often tell people that if I were writing a dissertation all over again I would want to do qualitative research on this topic. Not only am I fascinated by how and why people make this decision, but I'm also interested in whether there are ways to make this process easier and more equitable for all parties involved. Because, until the day comes when men get married and then are asked "So, what's your new name?" then I think we (all of us, regardless of gender) have more work to do on this issue.

Side note, and I hope this is obvious but I'm saying it anyway - I'm writing only about my own experience, thoughts, and feelings here. Of course I support, without judgment, whatever choice people want to make about their own name. That said, I do wish it were more common for men to change their names, women to keep their names, and any and all parties to create new names (hyphenated, made up, or otherwise). I have a hunch that would create so much more freedom and permission for everyone, to replace many of the judgments, assumptions and expectations that currently exist.

Certainly those gendered assumptions about names definitely affected how I felt about the name change issue in my relationship with Mr. FW. As you no doubt recall, Mr. FW was not always a mister and it's been interesting for me to notice how his gender transition has impacted the way I was navigating my own thoughts and feelings about our names and our future family. Even though I had strong feelings about not changing my name, Mr. FW did not (and does not) feel strongly about keeping his name so there has been the possibility of him making (another) name change.

When we were two women in a relationship with one another, Mr. FW said that he would be happy to take my name if and when we got married. Back then my feeling about this was that somehow one of us taking the other name's capitulated to a cultural assumption that a woman (or at least one woman) should change her name when she gets married. At the time, Mr. FW taking my name seemed inequitable and therefore not the right choice for us.

Interestingly, that really changed when Mr. FW was post-transition and officially a man. In fact, I kinda liked the role reversal of Mr. FW taking my name. In my eyes, one person taking another person's name is by its very nature an unequal act, but in this case it didn't feel inequitable or unfair. Neither of us was completely sold, though. We had just come off one name change process, and embarking on another felt really daunting (though Mr. FW was willing, which is simply amazing given how tedious the process was).

Also, I was considering how our shared name would be perceived by others. Although our personal reasoning felt good to me, in the eyes of the world it would be assumed that our family name was Mr. FW's name and not mine - because he's a man. I think the right thing to say here is that I don't care what other people think. Perhaps technically I don't, by which I mean that I would never make this decision solely because of how it would be seen by others. But it would be dishonest to say that I don't care at all about it. It's important to me to hang on to my name - not because of a sentimental attachment to the name or to my paternal lineage or anything like that. It's important to me on principle. My name is mine and I suppose I want people to know that this name is and always has been mine.

I think it says something about me that I'm a person who wants to keep my last name, so if Mr. FW and I share a last name then that principled choice will be less visible than if Mr. FW and I have different last names. That dilemma gave me enough pause that, at least for now, Mr. FW and I are both keeping our names.

When it comes to our eventual childrens' last names, we have had a solution to that problem worked out for a while. It didn't make much sense to us that we would both keep our names but then choose one or the other for our children, nor are either of us a fan of the hyphenated name. We thought about finding some combination of both our last names, but no matter what we tried they just don't combine very well. Also, combining our last names would give a nod to both of our paternal family names but would leave out the maternal side. So one day I sat down with four names - both of our father's last names (our last names) and both of our mother's last names before marriage - and I created what Mr. FW and I think is one rockin' last name for our kids.

Okay, in case I lost you, here's the recap: Mr. FW and I both kept our last names and we've created a "family" last name that our children will share.

There is, however, one little hiccup to this plan. Mr. FW is still deciding whether it's important to him that he share a last name with our children. If we have kids via me getting pregnant, then Mr. FW won't have a biological link to those children, which means he might then feel more strongly that he have a link in the form of a shared last name. So then he would consider taking the "family" name that we created. In that case, if Mr. FW and the kids all share the same name, then I'm guessing that might change how I feel about having a different last name than the rest of my immediate family. But until the day Mr. FW actually makes that decision, I'm not going to force myself to decide what I would do in that currently hypothetical situation. And if we end up having children through adoption, then that might result in a whole other set of considerations (legal, cultural, and emotional) that we haven't yet fully flushed out.

So that's where we stand. We are happy with our decisions because they work for us, for now. And we're both open to the idea that the future may bring new and exciting adventures that could cause us to re-think these decisions and/or make new ones.

Now, who will comment and tell me that their partner is considering taking their name?? I know you must be out there, and I want to hear your story!