What's in a name?
As a little girl, I never much cared for doodling flowers on my paper or stenciling my name in fancy script, imagining myself as a future "Mrs." I remember once, in kindergarten, writing "Mrs. Shamburger" all over my worksheet, but for the most part, I liked my name as given. I loved when I would receive gifts with fancy monograms that put my last initial in between of my first and middle initials, so that the letters would read "ERE." Ahh, symmetry. So pretty.
One of my elementary teachers looked over at my three dimensional log cabin that I had differentiated as my own with the bold marks "ER" all down the logs on the backside of the display. She told me that she did a double-take because her initials used to be ER. "I thought for a moment that was me!" she had exclaimed. My third grade teacher was beautiful and glamorous and blond-haired and every girl in the class wanted to be like her. I was pleased to realize that we held the same initials--or at least, could have or once shared a name.
Not until my then-boyfriend Dan and I became more serious did I really give the name matter more thought again. My infatuation with monogrammed paraphernalia had waned (I had discovered that gifting monograms was a southern compulsion almost as strong as bringing "salads" made of jello and mayonaise to potlucks), and I had taken to signing my academic papers "Emily E. Rowell": distinguished, unique, intriguing enough but still pronounceable and recognizable. I suppose it always was assumed by Dan, our families, most of our friends, and even me that I would take his name. While I never had fantasized about being a "Mrs.", I never imagined not taking my husband's name. That is just what you did in the South. Compounded with the fact that Dan and I were young with little precedent set before us, still searching for our own voices, the shall I/shall I not take his name question probably acquired more significance for everyone involved (or not involved, in the case of the parents--although they did not see it that way) than it may have had we been older. When I first broached the subject of not taking Dan's name--or better yet, hyphenating our names--I did so partly to see Dan's response. Was he appropriately evolved? Enlightened? Progressive? The answer, I found, was no.
Neither one of us reacted to my question to the other's liking. Dan wondered why I had to make a federal issue out of everything and I resented that he thought I was making an issue. Why weren't other alternatives to taking his name valid options deserving equal consideration? To this conflict I responded as I do to so many: I researched. I buried my nose in others' writings, accounts of experiences with hyphenated names, newly established surnames, maiden names, married names, and everything in between. I thought--as I always do--that if I simply looked hard enough, long enough, that I would find a solution that made everyone happy. There had to be a clever way, right? Surely there existed either a compelling argument that would instigate a conversion on Dan and our families' part or a creative answer that honored tradition and both Dan and my autonomy.
Well, that answer never came. The time came to order copious amounts of monogrammed engraved stationery for wedding gift thank you notes, and I had to decide something. Perhaps I could have etched the notes with "E & D" and that would have been that. Except that I knew that it wouldn't. Even though I requested for the wedding band not to announce us as "Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Brown," even though I always, always sign my personal correspondence with all three of my names, even though I have removed almost every monogram from our home, I continue to be called "Mrs. Brown," and I am sure it will not stop anytime soon. Sigh. I know, I know, tradition is what most people presume. And I know, I know, I chose personally to refer to myself as Emily Rowell Brown but professionally and legally remain Emily Rowell. And I know, I know, that my diatribe smacks of privilege and middle class white girl "first world problems." But can I just have this one? Please?
At some point I simply stopped caring what others thought. Names, I learned, are one of those things like breastfeeding: everyone has an opinion. So I use Emily Rowell Brown for my social media and Emily E. Rowell for my school email and papers? Yep. And my plane tickets should be booked under Emily Rowell? Mmm hmmm. But all of my correspondence--professional, legal, and personal--is forwarded to my Emily Rowell Brown gmail account? Uh-huh. "You're going to have to make up your mind one day," a fellow classmate once told me exasperatedly. But why? I wondered. My name, my rules.
I of course had heard the arguments against holding onto my birth name: whether under the auspices of husband or father, surnames still bear the marks of patriarchy. Hyphenated and double last names make things confusing. Children will have a difficult time if their parents' names do not match (this, I believe, is less and less the case). And so the lines of reasoning continue. What they cannot account for, however, is feeling, the personal affections and sentiments that enter anew with each person, each decision. In some ways, I chose to remain tied to both important men in my life, partially due to my allegiance to each, but also due to my pride in beginning to forge a name for myself as Emily E. Rowell, far away from Alabama and my father's shadow, a name all my own, and still more due to my liking of the looks of Emily Rowell Brown, which seems somehow important, complex, and rolls off the tongue quite nicely.
My reluctance fully to embrace my husband's surname may have something to do with its extreme banality, my eschewal of the monosyllabic, the one-dimensional. Or it may have something to do with his sister sharing my first name. Or perhaps I am preparing us all for the battles that will likely ensue when we have furry animal additions to our household down the line and maybe one day even kids.
Yeah, that'll be fun.