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?


  1. Thanks for sharing, Cathi! I spent a lot of time thinking about my choice of changing names also. Honestly, there was as much pressure from the "Feminist" school of thought as the "traditional" school of thought. I use quotes because I don't think one has to choose between feminism and tradition, and I am clearly a feminist and also changed my name. But for me, changing my name was a choice I had the right to make or not, and that actually felt pretty freeing. For reasons you might understand having heard a little about my background, I was pretty OK with ditching my dad's last name. He's not a bad guy but if I'm choosing between his name or Tim's name, I'll take Tim's. It felt like a meaningful, good step for me. I'm sure a lot of people assumed that I just changed my name because that's what most people do when they get married, but it really did involve a lot of deliberation. I'm glad to hear you aren't doing something that makes you uncomfortable. Names are so tied to identity, and even if other people think they know what's going on based on our name, it's how it makes us feel that ultimately matters. Anyway. That was very long winded but I applaud your decision and your reasons for doing what you did. :)

    1. Rose, I'm so glad you added your thoughts! You were someone whose choice I was both surprised and not surprised at all by, for the reasons you state. I agree wholeheartedly that being able to make a choice, feeling free to do so, and having the agency to do whatever you want is about as feminist as we can hope to get.

      I also think a lot of the angst comes from what surrounds us personally. I read several stories of women who chose to change their names and faced a huge amount of backlash from friends and coworkers because of the hyper-progressive atmosphere they were in, not to mention not seeing a single story of effortless transition when a man changed his name to his wife's, regardless of cultural atmosphere.

  2. Cathi,

    I went through something very similar when I got married. Legally, I am Jennifer Marie Osborn-Keating. After our honey moon I came back to my old office and they had changed my name to Jennifer Keating on the door and I had a small breakdown. I loved the name Keating and the way it sounded more than my maiden name but still felt a loss of identity. As the years ticked by I remained Jennifer Osborn Keating on FB and in all legal terms, but at work was mainly Jennifer Keating unless it was on a document. Believe it or not, as time has passed (I've been married for nearly 10 years) I have grown to just want to be Jennifer Keating for the most part. On my door at Elgin Community College they went by my drivers license and put "Jennifer Osborn-Keating" on my door. Believe it or not, I was like I am fine with just Jennifer Keating. I think it was something I grew into, I needed the ten years, the time, the growth, the love and of course the grown identity. As a mom, I want my son and I to have the exact last name, no different, so everyone knows and he knows he belongs to us. But again, all of this took a really long time...I morphed, grew, changed, and liked who I became and the name that slowly came with it. I say take each moment as it comes, and go with your heart. No matter what, you did the right thing for you ;) and that is what is best.