“I’m going to change your name!” My 5-year-old declared. We change names a lot in our house; dress-up is an important part of our day.
“To what? Elsa? Spiderman?”
“Noooooo. I’m changing your last name. To my last name.”
Oh. I didn’t know what to say. My husband and sons have the same last name but I am the odd one out. I didn’t even think my older son paid that much attention to my name, but apparently he does. And it bothers him.
We’ve been three X’s and one Simon for my son’s whole life. He’s always known that I have a different last name than he does but only recently did he decide it was problematic. Once he did, he was adamant that it be fixed.
I get it. Having a family last name is, in a way, a team experience. As X’s, we are all united. It’s us against the world! To a child — or anyone, really — if I’m called Mrs. Simon instead of Mrs. X, it makes me sound as though I’m not a part of the family.
When I kept my maiden name after getting married, I knew it was going to be a long life if I got upset every time I received an envelope addressed to Mrs. X or if one of my children’s teachers called me by that name. After all, even though more women are choosing not to change their names, it’s still the norm in our society and an easy way to delineate a couple or a family.
I didn’t change my name for a few reasons: I was over 30 when I got married and my name was part of who I was; I didn’t want marriage to turn me into a different person, even if it was in name only. As a writer, I wanted to continue to use the same byline so there would be no confusion over who I used to be versus who I am. Plus, if I got famous, how would anyone from high school know it was me if I was writing under someone else’s name? Also, as a feminist, I felt like there was no real reason to change my name. But mostly? Mostly I was lazy. There are so many forms to fill out when you change your name and now, in the age of email and social media, I didn’t want to change all my accounts over.
My older son’s middle name is Simon, which was a nice way to incorporate my name without hyphenating his last name. After all, his last name is long and difficult to both pronounce and spell — another reason I didn’t take it! My younger son’s middle name is also a family name, again linking him to my side of the family without hyphenating his last name.
My husband and I joked about combining our last names into a new name for our family, but, although we’ve certainly heard about people doing that, the idea wasn’t for us.
Over the last few years, retaining my name has become more important to me — one reason being is that it offers my children a layer of privacy when I write about them. If you Google their names, nothing I’ve written comes up. Although I don’t publish anything I wouldn’t be okay with them reading (eventually), I still wouldn’t want them or their friends to stumble onto my pieces accidentally.
However, I don’t have any problem going by Mrs. X in my personal life. Although it’s not my name, if it makes my son more comfortable to have his teachers address me as Mrs. X or for our family to be known as the Xs, I’ll be happy to go along with it. There’s just no way I’m going through the process of getting all new credit cards.