The letters in today’s Globe magazine were an interesting lot. As you might imagine, plenty of them chose to take on “The Ms. Myth,” an article about how most women continue to take their husbands’ last names. The first one got at the thing that most bothered me about the article — the idea that if you take your husband’s last name, you are automatically a “Mrs.” Not so. I’m a “Ms.,” and have been through three last names.
There’s the usual “Last time I checked, my maiden name came from my father, grandfather, great-grandfather, etc., so forgive me if I can’t see how keeping it and not taking my husband’s name is some feminist act” response, as well. This used to make sense to me, until some writer pointed out that this idea presumes that women don’t actually have last names, we are given them by men. No. All three of the last names I have been known by felt like me, and a good part of the reason that I took my first and second husbands’ last names was because I was ready for a change in identity, a new last name to mark a new phase in my life.
My birth name, incidentally, was “Lent.” The same issue that featured “The Ms. Myth” on the cover also featured an article on Lent that was highlighted on the cover as “Lent is for Everyone” or something like that. (Sorry, I don’t have a hard copy and can’t read the tiny cover script online.) As you can imagine, that amused me no end — the reason I took my first husband’s last name, Pearce, is some evidence that Lent is not for everyone.
And it didn’t have to do with any feeling that I ought to take my husband’s last name, or certainly any feeling against my parents or my father of blessed memory. It was Robin Lent I was tired of: tired of being a child, tired of my socially alienated self, ready to grow up and enter a new phase of my life. Which is why, when I got divorced, the notion of returning to my birth name wasn’t even an option. I was Robin Pearce. It didn’t matter where I “got” the name: it was mine. I don’t feel as though my clothing is any less my own because I don’t spin the wool, weave the fabric, and sew it myself — it’s mine because I wear it, and it expresses who I am. So too with my last names.
It felt so much like me that I hesitated a bit before taking “Abrahams” when Mr. Improbable and I married. But I did, because, again, it seemed that a major life transition was underway: not only was I getting married after a long time of being single, but I was getting my doctorate and already planning to convert to Judaism. I liked the idea of us both having the same last name; it made us seem more of a team somehow. And I wanted a Jewish last name to go with my new identity as a Jew. (Although, if he’d been named “Lipschitz,” I might have reconsidered. And I do go to a Reform temple so liberal that our current president’s last name is “McIntosh.”)
Lent, Pearce, Abrahams — different names, all mine, all denoting different phases of my life. I wonder if changing one’s name were more common in this culture, if it weren’t bound up with marriage traditions, but something that people could simply do or not do as they see fit, with no feminist/patriarchal/family baggage around it, who would? And when?
When in your life would you have changed your name, and what to, and why?
(There were also some letters about my February 7 response to the woman who was overcome with emotion — not repulsion, as the headline said, I didn’t write that — about her granddaughter’s amputated leg. More on that later, because I’ve already gone on much longer than I planned to with this name business!)