January 21, 2011

What's in a name?

For the past year I've been trying to figure out my new name.

Boys don't have to deal with this. They are born as Sam Smith and they stay that way. Girls? We have somehow traditionally been stuck with the decision making. Shall I just take his name? Should I keep my maiden name? Should I hyphenate?

A few years back I was really anti-name-change. I had just started dating a guy and we were sitting among a bunch of friends when this same discussion came up. From across the room he argued, "WHY wouldn't a girl change her last name? That's so dumb. She's part of a new family now, so she should change it."
"Well..." I piped in earnestly, baffled by his ignorance, "I'm not changing my name."
We stopped dating.

When I married Mr. Johnson I quickly became Mrs. Johnson. Maybe it's because I was in my 30s when I married. Or maybe it's because I had my whole career using my maiden name. Or maybe it's because there is only 1 Tamara Duricka in this world and (according to all-knowing google) there are more than 1,094 women named Tamara Johnson... I've been having a hard time with the switch. This has been a bit more than an identity crisis as I try to figure out which name to stamp on the front of my new little book.

These are the thoughts that go through my head...
*I did this project using my maiden name, so keep my maiden name as part of it.
*I'm married now. This is about a cynical girl who wanted to be better at dating and was surprised when she ended up married. Be sure to use your married name somewhere.
*Use all three names. It'll be fine even though it's a mouthful.
*Don't use all three. No one should, unless your name is awesome like Jennifer Love Hewitt. Besides it gives away the ending.
*Johnson is simple and easy to pronounce. The maiden name isn't, so drop it.
*There are already at least three other authors who have used 'Tamara Johnson' (two with a middle initial)
*Go totally different and use your given middle name: Tamara Jane Johnson. It's cute (and secretly my favorite).
*No. No one knows you as that name, why would you use that?
*Does it really matter? You will be lucky if anyone other than your mom actually reads that thing anyway.

I've chatted with a few women who've debated their name changes over the years. They get married and use their married name. Then they change back to their maiden name at work. People think she got divorced. Or she actually gets divorced. And then maybe she remarries.

In many ways, I hate the fact that women have been forced into such a traditional role. Why is it our choice? Why can't they change their names? I remember that old boyfriend said to me in heavy defense, "Women should change their name. You're becoming part of a whole new family! What will your children call you?"
"Uh... MOM."

But this name-changing opportunity does give us a chance to own our own identities. What do we want people to call us? How much of a statement is a married woman making if she chooses her husband's name? Is it an even bigger statement when she doesn't?
I have a friend who took her husband's last name when they married only under the condition that he take her maiden name as another middle name. Apparently it was much more difficult at the Social Security office for him to add a middle name than it was for her to change her last name. I had struggles at the Social Security office too when I kept having to clarify "keep my entire name. 'Duricka' is just a second middle name. So four names altogether: Tamara Jane Duricka Johnson." They still got it wrong, forcing me to walk back in their and clarify. Again.
The government must be so accustomed to American women dropping their maiden names that they have no idea what to do when we come up with something different.
Is this all too archaic? How important is it really?

I think of dear Samuel Clemens, who would still have been one of the best authors of all time had he stuck with his real name and not gone with Mark Twain. Does it really matter what we call ourselves? Isn't it more important that we deliver something substantial to the world than what we call it?

When my parents divorced, my mom kept her married name. That way people would know she was our mom. Plus, the paperwork is a hassle. Then she remarried and considered keeping my dad's last name. My step-dad wasn't too keen on that idea. So she changed it to what is apparently the most popular Irish name: Pat Kelly.

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
-Romeo and Juliet (Act 2, scene ii)

What do you think about your name? Have you changed it? Would you?


Rycharn said...

Brilliant thoughts.

A lot of people know me as "Fred" because Rycharn is just too hard and time-consuming to pronounce/correct/explain. But I've never considered formally changing my name. It's who I am, but it's only a piece. Whether I grew into the name or whether I built myself around it isn't relevant. My name is only one of many things that makes me unique. As you pointed out, my contribution to the world shouldn't be tied to whatever label I am known by.

Growing up, I rarely got trinkets with my name on it like my siblings and classmates did (ever see a bicycle license plate with the name Rycharn on it?) but I'm okay with it. I haven't done anything with the Internet domains I own, but I have rycharn.com and rycharn.org. I wouldn't have them if it weren't for my unique name.

My first name is also my Google id, my Yahoo id, my Facebook id, and simple variations (for security reasons) are used for other online accounts. My name is always available.

Pick the right area code, and you'll even reach my cell phone at (XXX) RYCHARN. See Sam Smith pull that off. :)

Erik said...

Tamara, thanks for the terrific post. As a husband, and father of four girls, this has come up in my life and I know it will continue to do so. I think what to be called is easy for the important people in your life: your kids will call you “Mom” as you so insightfully point out. Your husband, family and friends will call you “Tamara.” So will most of your close work associates. So, to a large extent, it’s really about how outsiders, professionals, customers, investors, colleagues, etc. will know you. Dare we call it “branding”?

I get a little squirmy when people advise on establishing a personal brand, but it comes up all the time if you’re out there trying to make a mark in the world (or even if you’re not). I know we live in a short attention span society, so we perceive that survival depends on having the right sound bite. Maybe that’s true, but then I wonder: did Leonardo DiVinci have a “brand”? He was a painter, sculptor, architect, designer, and many more things. These days, it seems the world—or rather—the marketplace wants us to be one thing. But I believe we are all many things. I’m in favor of the Renaissance Man and Woman.

Whatever you decide, I hope you always feel free to be your whole self in all situations. When I don’t, I feel diminished. When I do, I feel expansive. But most importantly, isn't "Jane" just the greatest middle name ever!? I think anyone _______ Jane” has a real leg up in the world!

Can’t wait to read your book!

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