Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What's in a name?

I was simultaneously hoping no one would notice, and that everyone would notice.

I changed my name on Facebook a month or so ago...back to what it's always been.

I had changed my name on Facebook shortly after the wedding only semi-reluctantly. Even though I was pretty sure I was comfortable with the choice we as a couple had made, it still felt wrong to me. But the flush of nuptial bliss and all those shiny pictures of me in a beautiful gown with my glowing and handsome husband (!) made me feel a bit like a new person on Facebook already, so why not go and update the name?

It took a couple attempts. Should I do the full thing? The Boy and I had agreed to share both a middle and a last name. He would take my "maiden" name as a 2nd middle, as would I, and I would assume his surname as my own (it seemed egalitarian. ish). Catherine Elizabeth Martin Durbin. But, would people think I was doing a double-barreled last name instead? After several gos, I finally settled on Cathi EM. Durbin. Several friends joked I should be Cathi Elizabeth M.D. I silently sulked that, even though The Boy went to the DMV with me to change his name on his license, he didn't change anything on Facebook. And why should he? He didn't have his original middle name up there, why should he suddenly decide to display his new one? Our egalitarian-ish choice was seeming less egalitarian, and I bristled.

I changed my display name on my e-mail, and after several months I changed my voicemail message. I held off doing anything with Social Security--I didn't want to confuse the IRS, you see. Paperwork takes time, who knew if three months would be enough time for the corporate office to officially change the I-9 or W-4 or whatever it was before the W-2's came out? Tax season came, and went. We filed jointly with no issues.

Time passed and still I stalled. Friends and acquaintances got married in the meantime, and all of them changed their names on Facebook too. Every time one of my lady friends gleefully changed her name online, my heart sank. Where were my strong, feminist peers? Why wasn't anyone standing firm and keeping their original name? How was I supposed to live vicariously through someone, if no one was doing it?*

It was around that mental point that I realized it wasn't too late for me--I could still remain Cathi Martin. I didn't have to live vicariously through someone, I could just...live. I rolled that concept around in my brain and felt a small thrill--and a huge dose of guilt. A couple days into mulling over this option, I had a conversation with a coworker who accused me of not wanting to be married anymore. I asked The Boy a dozen times if he would be sad or mad or disappointed if I never officially changed anything and he kept reassuring me (as he did when we were engaged) that it really, really didn't matter to him; do whatever made me happiest. I read things online cheering on the non-changing choice as small, individual victories for The Sisterhood, and I read things online forecasting the demise of my marriage since I was obviously holding something back.

I told my dad that I didn't think I was ever going to officially change, that I'll always be a Martin. He smiled into his plate of nachos before fixing his face into an expression of bland concern and told me that it sounded like I'd put a lot of thought into this. The irrational sense of guilt I was feeling (like I was somehow cheating The Boy out of something?) was still there, but it was so, so much smaller than the hot ball of anxiety and wild horror that had been spinning inside my chest when making the small moves to change my identity. The final straw came when a couple wedding invitations arrived addressed to "Mr. and Mrs. Boy Durbin". While I know my poor friends were just exercising "proper etiquette", something finally snapped inside of me.

So, here I am. Cathi Martin. On the one hand, I really hoped no one would notice that "Cathi EM Durbin" had changed back to "Cathi Martin", since I didn't want a Facebook wall full of "omg--divorce?????" messages. On the other hand, I wanted everyone to notice. I wanted it to be a big deal, so that the next time someone has to think about changing their name, they don't worry themselves sick over it like I did.

In the meantime, I'm pretty sure there's still time for both of us to officially change our last name to "Awesome" if we wanted to.

<3 p="">CMart (who reserves the right to change her mind again)

*For the record, I don't think changing one's name is inherently an un-feminist choice, or that my friends who did change their last names are weak, or downtrodden. I know that's the implied counterpoint to the above rant, and I want it clear that I don't think that. My brain was just in a weird, bad place where everyone else's choices seemed like a referendum on my own, and on society as a whole, which absolutely isn't true. I almost wish that changing my surname upon marriage was as natural and joyful a choice as it was for so many of my friends. Having a family name would be nice, you know?