Change is hard. Really, really hard. I am in the middle of negotiating my own change with my university after the most recent building flood. As a professor, I feel like I’m always asking the question “Who am I, anyway?” The path toward tenure is one of achievement and sacrifice and I find my recently deceased grandmothers words still echoing in my ear. “Is this really what you want to be doing?”
Then today I read an outstanding blog post on changing your name after divorce.
It’s funny, I started blogging not long after my marriage to the artist formerly known as Mr. I, and remember my decision to take his last name. I was in graduate school, hadn’t started publishing, and the decision was easy. I wanted to be a family. I wanted to be a wife and a mother. I wrote the first 10 years of my blog under the pseudonym “Isis” because I valued this so much. Mr. I and I had just visited Egypt and that name resonated with me. Isis was a goddess of wisdom, nature and mysticism and was said to be “more clever than a million gods”. But, when the evil god Set killed her husband Osiris, she stopped everything else and searched the ends of the earth to put him back together. I wanted to give that level of devotion to someone and, when my marriage fell apart, it was so incredibly painful. There are things that you can’t put back together. When I realized that, it was time to let Isis go as the fairy tale she was.
(Except for the part I omit in the story where my younger brother was pissed off that I abandoned our last name and took a different one)
But, like the original blog writer, I had changed my name and needed to figure out what to do with it. I was already answering questions from family and friends, including my aunt who still pops up every couple years to comment, “I just don’t understand what happened! He was such a nice guy!”. She means well, but she’s lived with more dudes than I can remember. I’d like to ask her what happened. They were all nice guys.
I had published a lot with my ex-husband’s name and I’ll admit that the “How will people know you?” question and the “Your name is your reputation” bullshit touched a nerve in the midst of an already painful situation. Also, realizing my kids would have a different last name was, as the original writer also noted, tremendously painful. As it turns out, being referred to “Mrs. Ex-Last Name” was not as painful as my made up delusion that people wouldn’t realize I am their mother. They look just like me. No one would ever doubt they’re mine.
And then I ended up in a whirlwind courtship with my current husband (I call them “current” husbands because the only thing truly forever is divorce and even Liz Taylor proved that’s not so true) and I faced the name conundrum again. This time, my husband works with me and is more senior in his career than I am and the idea was put in my stupid, stupid girl head that I wouldn’t want to be seen as just Strange’s little wife. So, I continued to keep the ex’s last name and we started calling ourselves the Isis-Strange family in our personal lives.
And that was cool until Little I started writing his last name as “Isis-Strange” and that made some people very upset. I found myself managing some grown ass mans’ feelings, when really my heart was just breaking for Little I who was just trying to figure out what his new family was all about and acknowledge the love and support of someone new in his life.
He asked me about my name the other day in the car again. “Do you consider yourself more of an Isis or a Strange?” It was a poignant, direct, piercing question and I could only tell him the truth. In my work life, I use my old name and it’s the name of my children, so I’ll always feel attached to it. But, Strange is my husband and there is a big part of me that just wants to be Mr. and Mrs. Strange (Dr. and Dr. Strange?). I told him, there’s no easy solution, so I just avoid doing anything all together.
Because, at the end of the day, whose last name you have as a woman isn’t about you at all. You don’t really get your own name and other people have far deeper feels about whose name you use. The ownership in your salutation. Who you’ll piss off this week by deciding what to put on your name plate. I feel far too damned old to make a major change now. But, If I had it to do all over again, I would have eliminated any last name as soon as I could talk because last names are dumb.
It worked for Madonna.