Six years ago, I married the man I chose to be my life partner and made a decision that seemed at the time to make perfect sense: I would keep my own last name.

From that day forward, I wanted to be known as I had before, as Lisa Frazier. And why not? I was 30 years old and quite independent. After working hard many years as a journalist, I also considered my byline--the name that appeared above my stories and columns in the newspaper--a sort of trademark.

But mostly, I was comfortable with Lisa Frazier, and it seemed more than a bit unfair that once I was married, society suddenly expected me to answer to a different name.

I wouldn't dream of asking my husband to change his name. So, I reasoned, why should I be expected to change mine?

I expressed those feelings to Kevin when he was still my fiance. I wanted him to understand that I was not rejecting his name or his family, that I was instead refusing to abide by a tradition that seemed to infer that I was a less-than-equal partner in the marital relationship.

Kevin said he understood and never asked me to take his name. So I never seriously considered it again--until now.

Despite all my lofty reasons for wanting to keep my name--or, more appropriately, the family name of my father--I realize that I have changed. Like it or not, our society is patriarchal, and a woman's last name is defined by the most important man in her life--her father, her grandfather, her husband.

These days, I am more my husband's wife than my father's daughter. My father helped shape me and always made me proud to carry his name. But my husband is the one who most influences my daily decisions. He is the one who listens to and cajoles me, supports and argues with me. Our lives have become intricately intertwined.

I have become Lisa Page, or Lisa Frazier Page.

That is who I am at home, at church and in my southern Prince George's neighborhood. Frankly, all that's left to do is the legal paperwork: the trip to the Maryland Department of Motor Vehicles and the bank, notices to credit card companies and the mortgage holder.

Of course, I am hardly alone in contemplating what's in a name.

To Sandy Pearlman, who married my colleague Eugene L. Meyer 12 years ago, just the thought of having to undo more than a decade of documents is enough to prevent her from seriously reconsidering her decision to keep her surname.

But it has crossed her mind.

At first, Pearlman, 43, was adamant about keeping her name.

"I didn't even consider changing my name at the time," said Pearlman, a field representative for the Prince George's County Education Association.

"I just told Gene I wasn't changing my name. He said he understood. We were still married. That didn't change anything."

But time has softened her, too, to the idea of adding her husband's surname to her own. She and Gene have two sons, David and Aaron, ages 8 and 4, who both carry their father's last name. Once, when Pearlman was volunteering as a math tutor in David's class, the teacher told the students that "Ms. Pearlman is going to help you."

One little girl stood and asked, "Who's that?" In the child's mind, David's mom was Mrs. Meyer.

"I'm Sandy Pearlman, and I love being Sandy Pearlman," she said. "But I'm also Eugene Meyer's wife and David and Aaron Meyer's mom."

Often, women who keep their surname are making a feminist statement that they can share their lives with a man without giving up--albeit symbolically--their own identity. For others, the reasons are more practical or professional than philosophical. Many of my female writer colleagues refuse to change their bylines because they don't want to confuse readers who recognize the names. But some of the women use their husbands' surnames outside the office.

As a teenager and young woman in my twenties, I always dreamed of becoming a Mrs. to a wonderful man. When I really liked a guy, I even rehearsed the sound and look of my first name with his surname. I had never known any women who kept their own names.

In fact, no matter how many times I reminded my mother that I was still Lisa Frazier, she addressed every letter or note to me as Lisa Page, Lisa Frazier Page, or Mrs. Kevin Page.

She was having none of what she thought of as feminist garbage.

I didn't make a big deal of it because to me, it wasn't a big deal--as long as Kevin and I understood our reasons.

As a couple, my husband and I have grown together spiritually and talked much about how marriage can force even the most self-reliant men and women to learn flexibility, to accept more than they ever thought they could and change more than they ever thought possible, all for the good of the relationship.

I am still me, but I am also my husband's wife.

And as much as I dread having to undo six years' worth of paperwork that still identify me as Lisa Frazier, I'm ready to start with a trip to the DMV.

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