So, I didn’t change my name when I married my dear husband just over 9 years ago. Surprised? No one who knew me was, but I’m continually surprised at the hoopla it causes even now. Or maybe especially now, with our two sons firmly entrenched in the local public school system. But more on school later.
First, here’s why I did it (or, to be precise, didn’t do it):
- I like my name. I always have. I like that it reflects my Italian-American heritage, even though it’s not immediately obvious to everyone that it’s even an Italian surname (and to that end, I did a little research: Schipani probably originates in Calabria, the region that occupies the toe of Italy’s boot. That fits, because Calabria is where my Schipani great-grandfather immigrated from. But curiously, it also might be, even further back in time, Albanian). See? History and the natural ambiguity built into history. What’s not to love?
- I like being a Schipani. There are people in our ancestral line (OK, only as far back as my own father can remember) whose likes and dislikes, senses of humor and hobbies and penchants, echo mine. That feels good to me. I didn’t want to jettison the name that makes me feel tethered to that past.
- I had my name for a long time before I met my husband. Specifically, nearly 33 years. I was 34 when we got married. I’d been using my name as an adult for long enough that it would’ve felt abrupt to just become someone else.
- It’s tied to my professional identity. As a magazine editor and writer, I’m connected, quite literally, to my name. People recongnize it on mastheads and in bylines, and these days (not the case when I began my writing career more than 20 years ago) on Google.
- Did I mention I just like it? I like that it’s a little hard to pronounce or to spell (for some people, that is. I mean, I learned it when I was four or five. My seven-year-old can spell it now, too).
Here, just to get this out of the way, are two reasons I didn’t change it that don’t apply: I didn’t keep Schipani because I don’t like my husband’s name. I do like it. I like it because it’s strong and upstanding, like my husband himself, and I was proud to give that name to my sons. And I didn’t keep my name for purely feminist reasons, though I am certainly a feminist. (I believe I’d still be a feminist with my husband’s name.)
Of course, a major reason many women change their names is for the sake of family unity. I do struggle with that notion now that I’m a mother. It does sometimes feel odd to know that I’m not only the sole girl in the house; I’m also the sole Schipani. But does it matter? Not really. The boys don’t call me Ms. Schipani — they call me Mommy.
Thing is, now that they are both in school fulltime, I get double the calls and notes and emails for “Mrs. X (my husband’s name).” Even those teachers or administrators who make a point of acknowledging my different surname slip up and call me Mrs. Schipani (Um? That’s my mom!).
Many years ago now, I was supposed to marry a different guy, and when we were engaged, I made it clear that I’d be keeping my name. I thought he’d have figured that out already — but I was wrong. He. Hit. The. Roof. (No, this isn’t why we split, though the fact that I miscalculated his reaction played into it). Why? “It’s what everyone does!” “It’s what you’re supposed to do!” And, my favorite: “Our future children will be confused!” Much about that time is foggy in my head, but I remember my reaction clearly: “Listen,” I said, “I don’t plan to have children who aren’t bright enough to work out that Mom has a different name than Dad.”
I didn’t know what I was talking about then, being a good 16 years from becoming a mother, but it turns out I was right. It’s not the kids who have a “problem” with the name situation. For kids, at least for my kids, it just is what it is. Mommy has a different name. Daddy is the only one with blue eyes. Mommy’s older, but Daddy’s taller. They categorize, they compartmentalize — they understand, and they take for granted.
I had a scary moment yesterday when Daniel said that the fact that my name isn’t Mrs. so-and-so (like all his friends’ moms) is “hard.” But when I pressed him further, it turned out he meant it was hard for everyone else. My dear boy can’t figure out why the teachers can’t write “Ms. Schipani and Mr. X” on a note home. Even he knows calling me Mrs. Schipani is wrong, and can’t they figure that out?
Did you change your name, give your maiden name to your children, struggle with the possibilities? I’d love to know (mostly, I’d love to know I’m not alone!)