"Oh, so you sold out," she declared flatly.
"You sold out."
Well, I did think about it before I decided to take my husband's name. I've had mine for 33 years. It's the name of my father and mother and brother. Our family is important to me, but so is my new family. I'm pleased to think that my husband and children and I will share a name.
I thought about my career. I'm an editor; my name appears in books. And I'm sort of sentimental about that old name -- a few days after I was born a friend of my mother's repeated it and declared I'd be a writer some day.
*"God," I thought, "maybe if I change it I'll lose what meager talent I have."
But what about those awkward introductions? This is George Johnson; this is Nancy Higginbotham. Uh, they're married. And what about their daughter, Sue Ellen? Well, there's always the dread hyphen. But Sue Ellen Johnson-Higginbotham will never see her name spelled out in full by any computer.
Still, convenience is no good reason to change a name. Neither is convention. But there's nothing wrong with convention either . . . is there?
Another friend grinned at me good-naturedly and announced, "There's a traditional streak in you. It's buried deep, but it's there."
What does that mean? I took it as a compliment, but I don't think it was meant as one. This man thinks married couples should choose a new surname together. Their kids can use it until they marry, and then they should choose new names with their spouses.
Imagine trying to dig up your roots after a few generations of that!
Based on somewhat limited data (a sampling of my friends), I came to a tentative conclusion about motivations. Younger women (under 30) tend to keep their maiden names because they feel a stronger need to assert their individuality. And perhaps older women are more secure, more established personally and professionally, so that a change of name seems less like a loss of identity.
Nope. One 36-year-old admitted that she would have changed her name but for the pressure of under-30 peers at work.
Pressure. That must be it. Whoever or whatever exerts the most. It makes a 36-year-old woman bow to the dogma of women 10 years younger. And I've noticed it also makes women who stood firm at 24 or 27 take their husbands' names on the sly a few years down the line. Maybe they start feeling silly correcting small, well-mannered children who make mistakes. "No dear, Sue Ellen's father is Mr. Johnson. I'm Ms. Higginbotham."
I was surprised to receive a formal note last month from Mr. and Mrs. George Johnson.
"What happened to Higginbotham?" I asked.
"Oh, I still use it at work. But I've been dabbling in Johnson lately."
I don't think I'm insensitive to the issue of equal rights. And I do my part to raise male consciousness. I hold doors for men and I scold them when, trying to be gentlemen, they cause traffic jams in elevators.
I always avoid the use of male pronouns when plural ones will do as well, and I change collective "man" to collective "people." (I don't see any reason to change Adam and Eve to Eve and Adam, as a colleague recently suggested. "Eve and Adam who?" was one response. "Do we know them?")
I have a solution. Unless, like Adam and Eve, you prefer to drop the last name entirely, use both (without the hyphen). Turn your former last name into your middle name -- you never liked "Louise" anyway (or if you do, save it for those what's-your-middle-name conversations). This way your old friends and comrades-in-arms won't feel you've sold out -- they may join you. Maybe even your husband will join you (who needs "Ralph" for a middle name?).
Your mother-in-law won't be offended; kids won't be confused. Use all three names on bank checks and business cards; drop the middle one for introductions (or the last one if you don't want to let on you're married). No one will laugh at you. Everyone will recognize you.
And what's more, you can share a name with the one you love.