Friday, August 09, 2002

Christina's Nagging Question

What exactly is in a name? Shakespeare said "A rose by any other name still smells as sweet." I know a woman who kept her family name because she thought it was unique, and the man she married had a name like Jones, Smith, or Wilson. Her children bore their father's name. It was their choice. I know another woman, who did not change her name when she married, because she said she was too lazy to bother with all the paperwork involved. I know at least three women who chose to keep their maiden name, "just in case we get divorced." They did not want the hassle of changing names on documents. I do not know if any of them have had any children. My neice married a man from Mexico. He wanted her to keep her maiden name, and when their children were born, he wanted the children to bear both names, as is the Spanish tradition. Spaniards (and many whose cultures spawed from that region) name their children with the mother's name as the final name. There is no hypen, but the father's family name is the next to the last name. Mt neice told him that since they are living in the United States of America, she wanted to do thing the "American" way, so she and her children bear her husband's family name (which is his mother's family name). Russians keep the father's last name, until marriage, then the women assume the husband's name; however, daughers and wives must add "ova" to their name, which indicates "daughter of" or "wife of". There is a way to denote "son of", but it slips my mind. My boss, who is Chinese, and her husband (also Chinese) have different last names. I do not yet know if this is due to a cultural or a professional reason. I know several professional women who will not "take" their husband's name because it causes corporate communication problems. Email addresses , business cards, voice mails all have to be changed. I have been told that some clients become uncomfortable when women executives have "revolving door" name changes.

I was married for more than a quarter of a century to a psychologically abusive man. I can relate to why Christina's mother would remain with an abusive man. We sometimes do not think we have options, or we think our options are less desirable. I was often told, "The devil you know may be better than the angel you don't know." When I got the strength and courage to leave him, I had little strength or courage for much else. I had two nearly grown sons who were doing their best to deal with our divorce. Out of respect for my sons, I kept the name that I married. Within six months, I regretted keeping his name. I have already assumed Curtis' family name. This is a name that I will be honored to share, because every person that I have met who has that name has shown me nothing but unconditional love ana complete acceptance. This is my choice, and it is a choice that pleases Curtis, but it is ultimately my choice. I had considered changing my name to Mary Pumpkins, for completely sentimental reasons, but decided that Pumpkins might not be the best name for a respected writer. But, Hey! What do I know?

My oldest son has a unique middle name, taken from his father's maternal family name: Bastian. My mother thought it looked and sounded too much like Bastard, and she hated it - but she loved the child. My youngest son's first name, Aron is taken from his father's name which is spelled exactly the same way. For some reason his father's family had a tradition of leaving out the second "a" and we continued the tradition. We have gotten our share of strange questions too. I am 47 years old, last year, I needed a certified copy of my birth certificate, so I requested one from vital statistics, giving the information that I've had stored in my head for most of my life. I received a letter stating that there were no records of anyone with that name born on my birth date. I called my mother. She said, "Yes, your name is indeed Mary Ann Catherine. Remember? I told you that I wanted to name you Mary Ann, and your father wanted to name you Mary Catherine. When you were born, I told the nurse to write down Mary Ann, and your father made her add Catherine. It's ON your birth certificate." Well, I hated to disappoint my mother, but when I did finally get the official record, my name is only Mary Ann. My baptismal certificate shows the Catherine. My first communion certificate and my confirmation document show the Catherine, but only in the church documents does the second name appear. I once dated a guy who would only call me Catherine, because nobody else did. My ex used to call me that to get me upset...and it's not even my name! They might as well have been calling me Gladys or Hariett. Learning that Catherine is not really my name did not change me. I am still the same old stink weed that I was before. My oldest sister mourned the fact that our maiden name is Worden, and not something like Taylor, or Chase. She desperately wanted to incorporate our family name in her sons' names, but did not know how to do it...of course this was long before people began to hyphenate names on a regular basis.

As for Christina's nagging question: if people have the audacity to ask you why your name is different from your husbands, or why your son's name is a combination, you can find your own way to answer them. One that usually stops people dead in their tracks is to ask, "Why do you want to know?" Now, you can also tell them that just as your son shares DNA from both of you, he also shares both your names. If you don't want to justify why you and your sons names are different from your husband's you should not feel that you need to. You can simply tell people, "This is the 21st century." Make them wonder what in the world that means. There are all sorts of celebrities with only one name. Do you think anyone makes them justify why they don't have more? I doubt it. You could also tell them,"Where I'm from, this is traditional." They will start to think of you as some exotic person. You could learn the naming conventions from different countries and recite them. "In Spain they - - - in Russia, they - - , in Tanzania - -- but where I'm from, we honor our mother's courage by keeping the name she fought to provide for us!

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