Recently my husband announced that he’s changing his last name – or at least the one he uses publicly – by adding my maiden name of Castle. Here’s his Facebook announcement:
I wanted to let you know that I’ll be changing my public/professional last name to Castle Miller. I wanted a name that reflects a shared identity with the incredible person I’m married to — an identity we share as equals. I’m like six years late on this, but there’s no better time than now!
A lot of people have asked us about it since, so I figured I’d share a couple more details about the decision and how both of our names have evolved.
When we first got married, I expressed to Michael my ambivalence over giving up my last name. As an only child who’s very close to my parents, the tradition didn’t sit right. It seemed like a total denial of my identity without any loss on Michael’s part; and it didn’t reflect the kind of partnership we wanted to have. But ultimately I decided rather than cause a stir I would change my legal name to Miller and make my last name my middle name, as so so so many women have done before me.
I’ve learned since that causing a stir now is easier than causing a tornado tomorrow. The next three years were difficult for many reasons. One of the hardest challenges we had was working in a very male-dominated field where women’s work was – as one person told me – “just gravy.” I felt my identity blur. I wasn’t becoming a writer, an editor, a performer, a good friend, or even a supportive wife. I was simply disappearing.
The name change didn’t cause my disappearance. It only reflected it and the decisions I’d made that allowed it. But as I crawled out of my blurry nothingness a few years ago and began to rediscover myself, I saw the reflection in my name and felt sad.
I reinserted the Castle and began using it as my public name, especially for my writing. It felt right. It made me smile to see my parents’ name on published work because they were the people who encouraged me in my writing early on and sacrificed so much for my efforts and education. I want to honor them in the words I write.
Michael liked it, too. One day I teased him that if he wanted to be real equals, he’d add my name just like I added his. I wasn’t really serious, but ever the iconoclast, he heard my little joke and made it a reality.
He thought about it for a long time, weighing the potential hurt or confusion it might cause his family with his desire for us to share the same last name and for it to reflect both of us as wholly as possible.
The announcement went over well, and I was so flattered by his kind words; but the reactions were a little surreal for me. I had some trouble sitting back and watching everyone congratulate him and tell him how awesome or how courageous his decision was.
See, at least in South where I grew up, it’s expected that any bride will gladly vow “obedience” and give up the name of her father and/or mother. It’s expected that she will name her child after her husband, no matter how much that child looks and acts like her side of the family. She might be the last bearer of her name on the family tree. It doesn’t matter. She’s a chick, so her identity is his. Her decision isn’t hailed as sacrificial or courageous. It’s hailed as “submission.”
I am so proud of my husband and I feel very lucky to have him. I sensed a subtle “wow Joanna got a real winner” from across the web after his announcement went out, and I couldn’t agree more. I hope more men start making decisions about their names the way he did: He didn’t do it to be heroic or feminist. He did it because living any other way felt dishonest about who he has become and who we are as a couple.
But I also hope more women will choose true sacrifice and love that doesn’t require a whitewashing of personhood.
I know for many women, a name change doesn’t represent a loss of identity. But this isn’t just about names. Sadly, women silence their gifts, strength, and senses of humor in a million different ways.
In my case the evolution of my name reflects a journey I hope becomes more common, in which women refuse to live ambiguously and instead choose lives of passion, confidence, and clarity.
(Photo credit: Leslie Watts)