June 02, 2004

My Name Is...

This post is simply from my perspective. Before angry trackbacks and hysterical witch-hunts start, lemme' just say...this is just how I feel.

I had to change over the phone service from Lloyd's flat to the new house in Whitney Houston (and for those that missed it, the town is not honestly called Whitney Houston), since it was in my name. So I got to spend forever on the phone trying to do this, when I finally got patched to a nice lady in an Irish call center.

"And would you like the current service plan and tariff that you have on your phone line?" she asked, burr in my ear.

"I guess so, I don't really mind it." I reply, flicking through web pages.

"I can get you a new tariff, one that includes the ability to call Malaysia for a pound a minute from 2:01 am to 2:03 am, if yo're interested. It costs a bit more, though, so maybe you want to ask your husband about it?" she asked.

Something made me stop clicking the keys. I think it was the fact that I realized I was stuck in a horrible vortex of the past, a time when women didn't have the say of the household. I was transported magically back to the 50's, all the while wondering how that would be possible, as I'd never even left Kansas.

Ask my husband about it?

What the fuck was that about?

Even if I was married, I don't see why I need to consult my husband before I change the tariff on the phone bill, unless we're talking a major increase in spending (in which case I think these kinds of things should be discussed.) But there is no way in a freezing-cold-mother-fucking-hell that I will EVER accept that kind of statement. Ask my husband?

Which brings me to this whole business of last names. In my life, I have had 4 last names. That's right. Four. So I think I am qualified to talk about this one.

The first was the name I was given at birth, my father's name. Only it isn't really my father's name, it's his step-father's name, which he took when he immigrated to the US when he was 16. It's an OK name-extremely common in English-speaking countries, and nothing too dramatic. It was just a name. I don't have an especially strong allegiance to my father and I definitely didn't have a strong allegiance to that name, so when I got married at 18 I took my first husband's name.

Now, I didn't really like that last name-my ex was Italian, and the name quite seriously Italian. It was so wildly disorienting and I absolutely never got the hang of it. People would shout at me down the hallway with the name.

"Hey Giuseppe!" they'd holler, but I wouldn't cotton onto the fact that they were talking to me, until they ran up to me.
"Hey Gepetto!" they'd say, panting. "Didn't you hear me?"
"No, I'm a dumbass." I would reply. "I simply cannot remember that my new name is Guido. I'm working on it."

I was never so glad to have back my short simple maiden name as I was when my marriage ended. In fact, I debated taking a whole new name. I wanted to be my own person and rid myself of the names of my father and ex. I wanted to be Just Helen, with Just Helen's Last Name. But the courts cost too much and I can be a lazy cow, so I simply never got around to it.

When I married X Partner Unit 4 years ago I took his name. I took his name as it was important to him that we were a unified family. In truth? I absolutely hated his last name. It was a short, very ugly German last name (before you get the impression that I am anti-German, let me assure you, I am not. But this was an ugly German last name, a taken family name with a dirty history from the war that he and I never could get to the bottom of.)

I didn't like that name. I didn't like having it, as it sounded ridiculous with my first name. It was a real mouthful of consonants and people were always getting it wrong. I took the name as it was important to my Partner that I do so, but I honestly never, ever liked the name. It was even worse when I travelled to Germany on business, as I often did. My real-life first name is either male or female, and it was without fail that I would check into a hotel in Germany, get addressed only in German, and sign in under: Herr ______.

So a little over a year ago I found out that in Sweden you can change your name. You can take an all new name for a small administrative fee, provided that no one else has this name already and the name sounds or is Swedish.

So I did it. I took a name. Actually, I took a very common English name and made a Swedish version of the spelling-it is perfect and I love it. It is a real Swedish name and actually has a Swedish meaning, but it is also relatively well-known in English, and although I spell it differently, I love the name.

It's my name.

And I am keeping it.

So here is the crux of the issue: I have always hated being called Mrs. _____. I hate being called Mrs. _____ for the singular reason that it is not who I want to be identified as. Yes, ok-I was married and I never hid that fact. But that doesn't mean that because I want to be part of a partnership, it suddenly has to change my identity. You can be a family without having a common last name, it's done all the time. And after spending so much time in Europe and seeing that non-married couples have the same rights as married couples, I can see the pros and cons for getting married are slightly less obvious.

This does not mean that I didn't love my husbands (well, ok. I didn't love the first one, but I definitely did love the second one, so I will just address him.) It doesn't mean I wasn't proud of him, or proud to be with him. It had no reflection on him at all, it's a personal preference. I don't like being called Mrs. ____. Please don't call me that. It makes me feel like I am the lesser of the two parties involved in the partnership. It makes me feel like I am "owned" and while I want to be owned, it's only in terms of emotions and orgasms.

I have noticed that in England the banks and financial institutions include the maritial status on their accounts, for their female clientele. However, they don't do this for the men. Check out Mr. Y's credit card, and it says "Y. ________". Check out mine, and it says "Ms. Helen Adelaide". In fact, it had said Mrs. orginally, but I kicked up a ruckus and had them fix it. I don't even understand why it has to say "Ms." What's wrong with Helen Adelaide?

Let me make this clear: people are free to be called whatever they want. You can be called Mrs. John Jones, Bob the Builder, or go by a symbol and be called The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. I don't really care what you go by, call yourself whatever makes you happy. I use the name Helen on this blog, it's not my real name, but I chose it here because it has a history for me and makes me happy. If I am going to be "demanded" to use the last name of my man, then to me it's the same principle as when you get married and are declared "Man and Wife." How archaic. Shouldn't we be "Husband and Wife"? Or "Man and Woman who decided to give this relationship a strong foundation and so are spotting the bill for a crate of champagne for the lot of you"?

For me, I feel second to a man when I am called Mrs. ______. This is for me, for myself, and remember I am a little bit weird. I feel like I am subjugated, like I am inferior. I am not talking about all of womankind here. I don't look at a group of married women and say: "You're inferior. You? You're subjugated? And you, Mrs. Murphy? Oh yeah. You are so second-class." I just personally feel like it makes me second. You see a sign on a law-firm that says "Jones and Jones, Ltd." and you think-Huh. Jones the First is the dad, the elder and more experienced, whereas Jones the second is the son/little brother/wife. I just don't like it.

But if I ever marry again, I can promise you this: I will not be called (for example) Mrs. John Jones. John is his own man. I am my own woman. Maybe I will become Helen Jones, but to be honest I would prefer to keep my last name (my own last name). It doesn't mean I am not proud of my man and not proud of being married to him. It just doesn't suit me to be called Mrs., I personally feel like property from that aspect, and I want to always be sure that he knows who I am-his partner, his lover, his confidante, and his best friend. His equal, in other words. That's what a partnership is about.


PS-Again, this is just my persepctive. I would prefer if this mail didn't get pinged to THOSE PEOPLE, this is just me explaining to those who witnessed the carnage, and to those who supported me, then I say this: thank you.

PPS-It's happening. One of my beloveds, a lovely Australian blogger named Simon, is finally in my time zone. In fact, he's finally in my city. And believe it or not-he will be in the same Lebanese restaurant as I am tonight, when he and I and Mr. Y meet up. That's right. I am meeting my first blogger, after only just missing Rob (hey Rob-how's that bear, by the way?). Simon sent me a pic of himself so that I would know him when I saw him, and I just have to say: Damn. . So I will verify that Simon is not just a robot that is able to churn out many posts a day. And Simon will be able to verify that I am not a 40-year-old overweight man who wears carpet slippers.

Let the blogging begin :)

Posted by Everydaystranger at June 2, 2004 06:57 AM | TrackBack

On eof my friends took his wife's last name when they were married.

But then, if you're from a small town, with a name like Weisenhuegel, and get to change it for something with 4 letters and anonymity...why not?

Posted by: Wind Rider at June 4, 2004 06:20 PM

I took my husband's last name and I love it. Simple, english and 8 letters. I love my maiden name also and I would've hypenated it if it wasn't 12 letters long.

My husband always jokes that that is the reason I married him, to ditch the 12 letters. Sometimes the joke is funny and sometimes not so funny. The maiden name is where I come from and the married name is where I'm going. That's what I figure.

Posted by: Kandy at June 3, 2004 05:02 PM

Gah, stupid html tags! This should have been "the Mr and Mrs [his first name] [last name] thing".

Posted by: Gudy at June 3, 2004 02:08 PM

OK, I just have to ask: in this day and age, is anyone really still impolite enough (no, it's not old fashioned, it's impolite) to do the Mr and Mrs thing?! I'd have thought that this went out of fashion roughly around the time that mankind first discovered bronze to be a better material for some tools than stone or copper...

I am, for mostly practical reasons, generally in favor of the one family, one name setup, whether that name is hers, his, a mix, or something else entirely. I admit though that I wanted my wife to take my name instead of the other way round, because hers is a rather common German name while mine is exceedingly rare: about 50 families worldwide, last I checked.

Posted by: Gudy at June 3, 2004 02:05 PM

I had a post here, but it got long enough that I'm going to use it on my own blog.

Call me anything but "Late for dinner"!

Posted by: Easy at June 3, 2004 01:06 PM

Hmmm, I wonder if this is a secret strategy the sales person uses on women to get them to change to a more expensive plan. (Tariff?! has she been spending too much time reading WTO documents?!) E.g. "What?! I don't need my husband's permission!!! Go ahead and sign me up for the Malaysia midnight chat special immediately!!!"

Mind you Ireland is not the most progressive or feminist minded place. All of the pregnant teenage girls in Ireland still have to take a ferry across to England if they want an abortion. There was a case a few years ago where they were holding some girl prisoner after she'd been impregnated against her will because they were worried she'd flee the country to have an abortion.

Posted by: Steve P at June 3, 2004 06:00 AM

My credit card says, "Emily G. Idontthink". No Ms. or Miss or anything.

Any btw, how long do I get to crash at your place? I never really checked with you, but is September cool?

Posted by: emily at June 3, 2004 03:40 AM

I took my husband's name when I got married... or rather I went from "Koh" to "Koh Potts" (no hyphen). Of course the absence of a hyphen is so confusing to people the ridiculously dumb people at the DMV "Koh/Potts" on my driver's license. It looks like a choice - circle one. I do have to get that fixed when I get back to the US. Here in Japan people are completely flummoxed by my last name. I don't think they're familiar with the idea of combining two names.

I'm thinking about changing my name again when I return to the US, even though I'd have to pay this time (you get a free name change when you get married, actually either or both of you can change your name for free w/in a certain amount of time). I understand not wanting to be known exclusively as "Mrs..." but for me I can still be Ms. Michelle Koh Potts professionally while getting rid of the administrative headaches of not sharing his last name (or just the general headaches...)

Posted by: Michelle at June 3, 2004 01:47 AM

I don't get what all the fuss is about. Why is this still an issue in this day & age?? If a man is always "Mr", why am I not always "Ms"? How does marital status even factor into this?? I hated being "Miss" when single, and hate "Mrs" even more now that I'm married. However, I did take his name, mainly because I didn't like my maiden name, plus I liked the simplicity of being "the Smiths" without requiring explanation. But it was my choice.

Posted by: loribo at June 2, 2004 10:04 PM

When I married, I took my husband's last name - Hughes. (Hey, I worked really HARD to get him, the name was a definite bonus. Instant respectability status.)

At the time I was working as a CPT at a post in Belgium and I promptly changed all my nametags. When I got my first call as CPT Hughes, the Belgian lady at the desk (did I mention I lived in the French speaking part of Belgium?) said "CPT Ooze! You have a phone call!"

I carefully worked with the staff and helped them with pronouncing the 'H' in my name. Next phone call? "CPT - - HUGE, you have a phone call." For office purposes, I went back to my maiden name. The Germans pronounce it Hug - His, which is a slight improvement, I guess.

When my husband visits and we go to get our new ID cards, ration cars, whatever, the rep looks at him and says "Last four in your social, sir?" and I take great delight in saying "I'm the sponsor, not my husband. He's the family member." The Army - always improving but still a bit paternalistic. I'm with you on this one.

Posted by: Oda Mae at June 2, 2004 09:00 PM

I don't mind so much havning dh's last name, but i can't stand the Mrs. part, and I absolutly hate, just hate, when mail comes to Mr. and Mrs. His first name last name.

I do wish we changed it to something of our very own, but dh's dad would not have been happy.

Posted by: Rachel Ann at June 2, 2004 08:59 PM

(1st paragraph intended to be tongue-in-cheek) Please give me 1 more thing to remember! I'm horrible with names, and now I have to try to remember 2 last names rather than 1!! If you really want to make it tough on those who can't remember names, get an alternating first name too: on Mon, Wed, & Fri I'm Becky, but on Tues, Thur, and the weekends I'm Roxanne. That would be super.

Marriage generally signifies a union (a union of: dwelling, time, interests, goals, and money to name a few). I don't care whose last name a couple takes, whether they hyphenate or make up a new name altogether; but I like 1 name per couple. They can both be called Mr, Mrs, or Ms; but one last name makes things so much clearer and simple.

(Back to tongue-in-cheek) Plus 2 names makes it more difficult with children. Do we alternate last names with every other child? Do we give all the boys dad's last name and all the girls mom's? Do we let the children decide at age 16? It's so confusing:)

Posted by: Solomon at June 2, 2004 07:24 PM

Stories for you.

My mom didn't change her name when she married my father. I got questions from the teachers, such as: "Is that woman your mother?" "Are your parents married?" "Is that your housekeeper?" "Are you foster children?" "Is that your babysitter?" "Are you adopted?" At first, my brother and I were so young that we didn't understand the import of the questions, but as we got older, it got rather annoying.

My brother and I have my father's last name, and I'm fine with it. It's more unique that my mom's, and that's cool by me.

From the other side of the fence, I was shopping with a Mrs. once (at the time, she was my future mother-in-law). The salesclerk in the department store questioned her use of the department store credit card because her husband's name was on it, not hers (although her name was on the account). Mrs. went ballistic. "My name is on the account! How dare you question my integrity! Who the hell do you think you are! I am married to this man! He gave me this card to use to pay for his children's clothes. I don't have to work all day here in a store because my husband is a doctor, makes a lot of money, and can certainly afford to pay for a few hundred dollars worth of clothing at this miserable store, thank you very much. You'll never have the privilege of using a card that your name isn't on." And so forth. They eventually called the manager, who gave her a discount on the clothes to calm her down.

Takes all kinds, I suppose. Me, I'll probably keep my name. Takes money to change it. ;)

Posted by: Courtney at June 2, 2004 05:42 PM

I've never been able to decide how to feel about this. On the one hand, I'm the last person with my last name in the family, and feel that responsibility. On the other hand, I don't want children, so the name would stop with me anyway. And it's a decently common last name - it was one of the ones on MASH, for god's sake - so what's the point? Then I think about trying to sign someone else's name on my checks and get all shaky. Noooo!

We'll see what happens. I say that if you were willing to go through picking a new name in Sweden, keep it.

Posted by: Kaetchen at June 2, 2004 05:37 PM

What's in a name? Would a rose by any other name, still be a rose? Or as sweet?

Or however that went.

I have only this to say about names. There IS meaning behind a name. It isn't "just a name, get over it", there is meaning. And apparently, names ARE a big deal for a lot of people.

I happen to have a name, (you know what it is Helen), that can be shortened or left long and every, single time I meet someone new, whether it be professional or casual, I get asked this question:

"Nice to meet you _____. Can I call you ______(shortened version) or do you prefer _______ (full name)."

Here's an idea, how was I introduced to you? Use that!

After awhile, since so many were making such a production out of my name within seconds of meeting me, I decided that no one would get to call me by the shortened version unless I really knew them.

"It's just a name." Really. Then why do so many strangers get so hung up on it?

What someone chooses to call themselves is no body else's business. That's really all there is to it. I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with either side on this issue except to say, it's none of my DAMN business what you choose to call yourself.

I look at the person, not their name, not their marital status, them. I don't care if your original last name is fricken Rockefeller...I will STILL not look at your name, I will look at you as a person.

And for anyone who proposes to call me a liar on that one, knock yourself out...I simply do not care if you can't understand how someone could not give two shits about a person's last name.

Posted by: Serenity at June 2, 2004 05:36 PM

You Go, Mrs...

Posted by: Kyle at June 2, 2004 04:21 PM

Guess I am old fashioned but I beleive I would like my future wife to take my name. I also think if you marry someone of another religion they should be brought up with both religions (I actually talked to a girl once that said marrying another religion would be okay but kids would have to brought up in her religion.

Posted by: drew at June 2, 2004 04:03 PM

Just remember, there is one way to keep your last name and take his. Don't forget the oh-so-popular hyphen. Then you could be Ms. Helen Adelaide-Jones. Sorry. I couldn't resist.

Posted by: amy t. at June 2, 2004 03:42 PM

lucky, lucky simon! i'm so jealous! i can't wait to hear about it. ;-)

Posted by: kat at June 2, 2004 03:22 PM

Good for you Helen! Whatever you want to be called is what I will call you. I recently asked my family and friends to call me Amelia instead of Amy. Only a very few are willing to do this for me.

Posted by: amelia at June 2, 2004 02:56 PM

Jiminy-Whatever, I still don't want THOSE PEOPLE to get this mail simply because I don't want the hassle of their goons trying to support them and getting the fucking point wrong. Frankly, I COULD CARE LESS if THOSE PEOPLE approved or not, the brouhaha would've happened anyway since, I believe, we have a bit of an issue of hit whoring going on from their side. I didn't write it for them. I wrote it for those that supported me.

Posted by: Helen at June 2, 2004 02:48 PM

Ok, Jiminy, 35 years ago or whatever- I'd have told Bloomies to shove that card. Then I'd have gone to Nordstrom and bought the place out. Then left through Bloomies and waved cheerfully. But, that's just me.

Posted by: Allison at June 2, 2004 02:39 PM


I don't think it would matter if this got pinged to "THOSE PEOPLE" because this is the perfectly valid position that they, being libertarians, would support...for you. I think the whole brouhaha wouldn't have happened had this been your original post.

And, as for names on credit cards...if you think being asked whether you should ask your husband about tariffs is bad...when my mother (this is 35 years ago, mind you) once applied for a charge card at Bloomingdale's, they wouldn't give her one until she CALLED MY DAD FOR PERMISSION! And even then, they would only put "Mrs. Elliott Sklar" on the card, not Naomi.

Change is a slow process. Who knows, in another 35 years, you might be able to get a credit card with no "Ms." in front of Helen Adelaide.

Posted by: Jiminy at June 2, 2004 02:24 PM

I'm down with plumpernickel. It's what's inside that counts. People on the outside never get it right and to let it upset you is just a waste of emotions. Screw them. Be who you are.

GF was hoping for a simpler and shorter last name. She won't get either. She extremely independent (extremely) but she doesn't have any issue with taking my name. (Not that I would particluarly mind one way or the other.)

Posted by: Clancy at June 2, 2004 01:54 PM

I don't see what the issue is all about. I've seen women who haven't taken their husband's name and are total doormats but apparently liberated and I've seen women who have and are persons in their own right. As for ownership, its in the mind, with or without a prefix.

Posted by: plumpernickel at June 2, 2004 01:04 PM

I totally understand. I am married to a Norwegian. In Norway, marriage isn't even that common anymore, so forget changing your name. It has confused our daughter a little bit as she has my name and has wondered why Mamma "isn't one of us". But, not a big deal. No, actually, the only place my wife goes by Mrs. ___ is at my very old fashioned club! And there, she says she doesn't mind it!

Posted by: Random Penseur at June 2, 2004 10:46 AM

oh.. don't call me Mrs Cook though. My name is Melanie.
If I have to be more than that, I'll be Melanie Cook. And I really don't want a title. At all. But if I have to have one, I'm happy with Mrs. Only because when I was with my ex, we couldn't legally be each others Mrs's.

Posted by: melanie at June 2, 2004 10:32 AM

I have his last name, and I really like it. I hated my maiden name. my first husbands name seemed worn out, so I was glad to take this one.
and hey... now I'm Mrs Cook, with the same name as my step-children, and she's not! She's now Mrs NewHusband!! :)

Posted by: melanie at June 2, 2004 10:30 AM

Helen, it only becomes important when you have kids. I had to keep my last name (the same as the childrens) so that when I went to the school, they realized that I was the kid's mom, and the step mother was just that, the step mother. They have a horrible one that was always trying to run the show.
This also kicks in if they are in the hospital, you will get questioned every five seconds if you have a different last name.
It's just easier.
When they call me Mrs. Smith, I still look around for my mom in law!

Posted by: Donna at June 2, 2004 08:33 AM
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