My Beautiful Wickedness


The hyphen
May 1, 2008, 8:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m behind in reading Feministe. That’s why I missed the discussion about the guy who takes his wife’s last name and the pissed-off mother-in-law.

Been there, done that. Actually, it’s both my father- and mother-in-law, I think. Anyhow, I thought that might be a story worth telling.

Why did we make a new and longer name from the fusion of our names? Well, because we’re partners for life. Because we are a new thing. Because our marriage is a union. It wasn’t something either of us gave a lot of thought to doing, I guess, because it just seemed like the obvious thing to do. We have a number of grad school colleagues who did it as well and it just didn’t seem like a big deal. My parents thought it was weird, maybe, but they went with it. His parents felt hurt about it, but other than a few passive rumblings once in a while, we haven’t had any familial blowback about it. Mostly, my extended family just doesn’t know what name to put on the Christmas cards so we get mail everywhichaway.

It was initially a lot easier for me than for my husband. No one cares what a woman does with her last name. I changed all my documents easily. He, however, was treated like a criminal — men don’t change their last name unless they are trying to commit some fraud or something. He couldn’t get a new Social Security card until he got a new driver’s license and he couldn’t get a new driver’s license until he got a new Social Security card. Finally, a sympathetic lesbian in the Registrar’s office at the University we attended rewrote some system software to get him a new grad student photo ID and that’s what allowed him to get the rest of his paperwork put in his new name without paying an ungodly sum to a lawyer. People still hassle him about it. They assume he’s British and then when he opens his mouth and is clearly from Rochester, NY, they are confused. I have taken to telling students (we teach at the same college) “oh yes, he’s my brother…we’re very close.” (The rumors, how they fly when we walk holding hands around campus.)

Our paperwork is constantly misplaced. Administrative assistants can’t get it through their heads that our big long hyphenated name is “my husband’s name” (which is where they always want to file the family paperwork…not that there’s any sexism in our country). They file it under both letters. One enterprising secretary filed it under H (for Hyphen, duh!). We’ve learned the things to say to smoothe the path, the common errors.

We’ve also had to put up with our fair share of dumbass. The most common challenge — which the challenger always acts like is the most original riposte ever –“What’s your daughter going to do when she marries?” (She has our big long hyphenated name too.) “Whatever she wants.” isn’t the answer they want to hear — we’re supposed to be somehow invested in the majesty of passing our name down through the ages. To me, as a historian, I think just the opposite is the case. I want to be the only one of me — makes me easy to find and easy to keep track of should anyone ever feel so inclined, unlike that long string of John Smiths who name their kids for themselves.

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4 Comments so far
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Bridgett:

Since I have no children I don’t know what I would really do, if someone asked me that question. However I think I would start telling them a really, long convoluted tale about how it all depended on whether it was a good, wholesome christian wedding to a nice man of the same race and on the same rung of the socio-economic ladder or if it was a “civil commitment” ceremony to someone of the same sex and a different religion or maybe if they were irreligious. I think at some point they would say, “Sorry for taking up so much of your time…” and I would say, “Not at all. Do you know how difficult it is to have a reception featuring fried chicken when half the guests are practicing Santariaistas?”

If I was younger, I’d be considered mischeivous instead of curmudgeonly! It’s none of their frikking business.

Comment by democommie

You know, neither of us changed our name, and I think my father was the most perplexed by it all.

Comment by Rachel

I thought you guys did a great job expressing your attitude toward marriage at your wedding. Your handling of the “garter tradition” was a thing of true beauty – and very funny.

Comment by Gerald

We thought so. The rescript confused the hell out of my relatives, though…

Comment by bridgett




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