I always felt lucky to be a girl because when girls get married they have the option of taking a new name. New name, new identity. New story. It has never been a question for me whether or not I would take my husband's name when I got married. Taking the name, I thought, went along with taking the rock. I know that it's outdated; I know it's not for every woman. But for me it was an easy choice. New husband, new life, new start, new name. That's the way I always thought it would go.
So why was it so hard for me to drag myself to the social security office and change my name officially this afternoon? At first I thought it was the depressing, jail-like waiting room that was bringing me down. But as I sat there waiting for my number to be called I felt myself holding my old social security card, looking at the loopy fourth grade signature on the bottom and thinking, 'this is it. You're officially a part of your husband now'. It felt like I was readying my left arm to be cut off.
This rush of emotion at changing my name confused me. My name is long and complicated, often mispronounced and almost always misspelled. I used to hate my name as a kid, wishing for something short like Jem (after Jem and the Rockers, my favorite show). I married someone whose last name is short and to the point-- just what I'd been looking for. It wasn't the 'ethnicness' of the name either, because let's face it I've earned the right to say Wo she ban ge Zhong Guo ren, ni yo wen ti ma?
It was something else-- something more acute. It was a combination of holding on and letting go at the same time that tugged at my chest and made me think of all the ways we women in particular give up, change, and re-discover ourselves for the ones we love.
By the time I left the office I was on the phone joking with my friends about the experience. 'You'll get used to it', K said, and I know she's right. I've gotten used to every re-invention of myself over the last thirty years, and this will be no different.
I do, however, think there should be an addendum at the bottom of that form you have to sign when you hand over your marriage certificate and make the new name official. It should be legally binding and signed by our spouses. The wording should read something like this:
I, the undersigned, understand that the person I've married has just made a symbolic commitment to our family. She has given up her last name, something that identified her for a long time, in order to show her devotion to me and our future. I will not take this gesture lightly, and promise to make sure she knows how much I appreciate this though means such as jewelry, foreplay, and putting the toilet seat down.
In signing this document, I am stating for the record that I am the luckiest person on the planet that this amazing woman chose me for her spouse.
Of course if I thought L didn't know all these things already, I wouldn''t have married him. But that's not the point. A woman in her thirties knows that not all sacrifices belong unnoticed.