“The name is the thing, and the true name is the true thing. To speak the name is to control the thing.”
— Ursula K. Le Guin, The Rule of Names
I always said when I got married I’d change my last name, as long as my husband wasn’t named Piggbottom or Beeva or something like that.
And as it turns out, my fiancé has a good last name. If I take his, I’ll be Eva Patrone, which sounds sort of awesome, like I’m a passionate Latin American activist.
But when I brought up the name-change question to Paul, his initial response surprised me. “Don’t change your name!” he said. “You have a great name. You should keep it.”
And it’s true. I do have a great name. I didn’t always feel that way, but over the past thirty-three years, I’ve grown to love my name. Eva Langston. It’s unique without being bizarre or hard to pronounce. It sounds both beautiful and strong. Random people (once a gas station attendant) have told me it sounds like a writer’s name. I even love signing my name: the swirling elegance of the capital “L” and the strong slash when I cross the “t.”
Plus, I’m finally building up a web presence with my name, which will be helpful when I start to publish books. When you google “Eva Langston,” the very first result is my Twitter account and the second is this blog site.
So I started to think, hmm… Maybe I shouldn’t change my name after all…
But what about when Paul and I have a baby? Will I feel strange or sad if I don’t have the same last name as my child?
Paul’s mother didn’t change her last name, and he said it never bothered him to have a different name from her (although I wonder if it bothered her sometimes). His mother instilled in him strong feminist values that I’m very glad he has: Paul believes that marriage is an equal partnership and that I will always have my own identity. To Paul, me keeping my name is a statement of our equal standing.
But a part of me was slightly offended when he was so adamant that I keep my name. Does he not want to share his name with me? Does he not want us (and our future family) to be united under a common name?
Because although the idea of keeping my name is really tempting, it also feels like I’d be holding back from the marriage. Paul and I are becoming one family, and changing my name not only symbolizes that, it feels like an important commitment to make. If I don’t change my name, is it because a part of me is afraid of committing fully to the marriage? Is it selfish of me to want to keep my name?
On the other hand, Paul is committing to the marriage, too, but that doesn’t entail him changing his name. In fact, I asked him jokingly if he’d change his name to Langston, and he very seriously said no. And unless we do hyphenated last names for the kids (which would be bulky and ridiculous), our children will probably end up with his last name, and that’s not exactly equal, is it?
This is what sucks about the decision. I want us to have the same last name, but in order for that to happen, I’m the one who has to make the sacrifice. And now I understand why Paul wants me to keep my name. He doesn’t want me to have to sacrifice.
Unfortunately, it’s a sacrifice either way. Either I change my name, or I deal with having a last name that is different from my husband’s and my children’s. Both cases involve me making a compromise.
At our wedding in April, I’m not going to wear a veil or have bridesmaids. I may not wear white. And I will not be walked down the aisle by my father or any other male. To me, that tradition is old-fashioned, and the concept that I am being “given” from one male to another is both untrue and icky. Instead, Paul and I will walk from opposite sides of the room and meet together in the middle to symbolize that we are coming together as partners; we are giving ourselves to one another.
It’s too bad we can’t have the same sort of symbolism with our name. Oh, I suppose we could in theory. We could both change our names to Langstrone or Pangston or maybe choose a totally new last name like… I don’t even know what. But I don’t think Paul will go for that, and it seems sort of silly to me, too.
Paul has amended his initial statement to say that whether or not I change my name is totally my decision, and he’ll be supportive either way. “That’s what feminism is about,” he said. “Women having the power to choose.”
So I’ll give up my name (and perhaps a little piece of my identity), or I’ll give up sharing a name and identity with my husband and children. Neither option is exactly what I want. This is what happens when you’re a woman. You get a choice these days, but you’re always choosing between less-than-ideal options.
I still don’t know for sure what to do.
I guess the silver lining is this: No matter what I decide, I can always be Eva Langston in my writing life. If I decide to become Eva Patrone, I can still publish stories and books under the name Eva Langston. I can continue to write my blog as Eva Langston, and the Eva Langston web presence will remain as long as I keep tweeting and posting. It’s a hard decision to make, but it is nice to know that if I become Mrs. Patrone, Eva Langston will live on.