Q. I was a member of two fine old families, both of which have withered on the vine in recent generations. Nevertheless, I was known in my home area as a respectable, very competent person in my field. I married a man I believed to be a gentleman, and had several children and gave up my profession to rear these children.
In the ensuing years, I discovered that my spouse was everything except what I thought him to be: In short, he is a drunken wife-beater of secretly vile temperament who refuses to support his children should I try to leave him. I kept my mouth shut and served my time until now, when my children are old enough for me to leave.
I intend to return to my home area, because my family is there and my best hopes for finding work in my field are there, but I do not intend to return using even the last name of this man I have come to despise. I must have some alternative to suggest to the courts when I file for divorce.
Because of the depths to which some members of my original family have fallen, I should be reluctant to use that name when it is not necessary. Both my husband's and my original family name are easily recognized in that area, and both are corruptions of standard spellings of common names.
What is your opinion of my continuing to use my present surname, except to have it legally changed to the more usual spelling? I feel that this would give me connection with my minor children, while displaying my disgust with their father.
Or should I choose yet another name, with no connections with my present life? I should like to emphasize that I earnestly feel that I have suffered enough by remaining married to this man: I certainly should not have to bear his name for the rest of my life.
A. Name-changing and name-inventing are rampant these days, and Miss Manners has nothing much against them except the indignation that self-named people display when others fail to keep up with their innovations. You are in for a great deal of explaining if your surname is a spelling variation of your children's, and Miss Manners only asks that you do it patiently. She suggests that historical accuracy is a more socially acceptable motive for you to cite than marital disgust (for which deliberately misspelling someone's name should be sufficient expression).
Miss Manners keeps hearing, as an undertone to your complaint, the fine, old-fashioned phrase "A disgrace to the name!" You have certainly chosen a novel way to disassociate yourself from this, but allow Miss Manners to remind you that any fine old family that has not had its name disgraced in several generations may be considered still in the nouveau stage. If it were Miss Manners, she would return to the maiden name and make an effort to shed some needed glory on it.
Q. My dining room seats eight people, and has two arm chairs. Should they be used at the ends of the table by the host and gentleman of honor, or by the host and hostess?
A. The principle of offering the best to guests is so firmly established among civilized people that it hardly seems right to reserve the most comfortable chairs for the host and hostess.
Nevertheless, that is the custom. You may think of it as having originated in the thrones of the castle hall that served as a dining room for the entire retinue of dependents of varying degrees, or you may think of it as an adaptation for guests of the family pattern, where the parents are naturally entitled to more ease and comfort than the children. Lean back in your own armchair, and use whichever excuse makes you feel more comfortable.