I dare guess that most girls, and women, have doodled their boyfriend’s last name attached to theirs. Whether on a high school notebook during class or on a notepad at home while making a to do list, it’s a time-honored ritual to imagine yourself as a Mrs.. I’m certainly an offender, both back then and now. In between those two times though, I got married, at 24. The big pull of that most unholy union was the lure of changing my identity.
His last name was uncommon and often mistaken, leading to lots of time spent spelling it out. I would laugh as he did this, and we’d discuss the various tools his family used for limiting confusion when making reservations or introductions. His name became an inside joke- and I wanted in.
My own name was fine. Lacking a middle name entirely, it was fairly straightforward. But I longed to monogram things with three initials. I wanted an adult name, to no longer be identified as a maiden. A new name was a new identity, safety and a fresh life. As a young woman just out of college, a feminist women’s college no less, whose father had just died, marriage seemed the grown up path to happiness. I hadn’t yet figured out who I was, yet I was ready to give it up without a fight and become someone defined by his identity.
I reveled in my married name. I had everything from my wedding day garter to my stationary monogrammed. I’m a little surprised now that I didn’t get a tattoo of it. I jumped into what was supposed to be domestic bliss, the identity I had in my head of what it meant to be happy and married and an adult.
Over the years, based on his success, our last name began to have some weight around town in certain small circles. And our children, both boys, took the last name to carry on. In a tribute to my father, we bestowed our kids with my maiden name as their middle name. The boys and I now shared a name, as I had taken my maiden name as my middle one when I got married.
With the start of our whirlwind divorce after nearly thirteen years of marriage, I struggled to get my life in order. All the things I should have been doing at 24 instead of getting married- establishing credit, figuring out a budget, figuring out what I wanted from life and for myself- these now consumed my time, along with raising my young children full time.
I clearly remember attending a blogging conference a few months after my husband left. I couldn’t decide what name to put on my business card- married or maiden. I left the married. Although my divorce was actually a relief, it was also sudden and I hadn’t yet reconciled myself with him and myself with me.
Then, about a month later, one of the first questions my attorney asked me was “Do you want to restore your maiden name or keep your married name?” “RESTORE,” I answered, with such conviction that she actually said she usually urged women to think about it a bit first but clearly I knew what I wanted.
Still, though legally back to myself with the ticking of a box on a legal form, I still dragged. It’s much easier to get divorced than it is to get your name back. I started again going by Morgan to friends, professionally and online but I was still beholden to my old name on my driver’s license, credit card and social security card. I was constantly explaining to vendors and clients why the difference. It took my boyfriend finally saying “You have really got to fix that” for me to realize that I really did.
Somehow straddling the two names let me not fully abandon my former life. I still had one foot in the past, dragging. I’m not really sure why, as I was forging ahead with my new life and quite happy about that. The process of the name change was overwhelming, the paperwork and visits to government offices and all the red tape. But recently, I dragged myself to a local social security office (found on Yelp to have high reviews- who knew?!), hunkered down, and within a week I was in the system in the best way possible- as myself. Again. I was giddy. I literally had a smile plastered all over my face and walked on air out of there. It was like the final step to getting back to me as me.
My kids have asked many times if I would change my name if I were to get married again. In the early years post-divorce I told them with conviction that not only wasn’t I getting married again but that if I were I would definitely keep my name. But now that I have it back, and some perspective, I wouldn’t necessarily hold on to it with a vice grip as I thought I would. Because, though it sounds cliché, through this process I’ve learned that while a name is part of my identity, I’m in charge of creating my life and self. If I allow myself to lose who I am with the switch of a name then I’m doing something wrong.