Thursday, September 6, 2012

From Double E to Double F: Name Changing De-Coded

Since I have described my life right now as "comically depressing", I don't feel in much of a position to be giving advice. Truth be told, I'm sitting on the pull-out bed that I slept on for 6 months when I first moved to DC 4 years ago. There are two litter boxes within spitting distance of said couch/bed and I can hear my adorable new niece squalling upstairs. You have been properly warned, my suggestions come from a den of less-than-desirable circumstances. Upside: cable TV for the first time in my life. If it is possible to overdose on HGTV, I will do it in the next month.

So: name changing. This will be a two-part post, because there are two big parts to changing your name; emotional and logistical. This is the emotional part.

I ran the gamut on name changing options. At first, I wanted both the Grige and I to hyphenate our names. Then I wanted him to take my last name as his middle name. Then I just wanted to keep my name because paperwork is scary and I hate the DMV. Then I wanted us to both change our last name to Grige (I love that you think I'm joking. I totally was not). Finally, I decided after much deliberation that I wanted to keep my full name, but add his last name to the end. And then we went to the county courthouse, and I was told that my only option was to hyphenate or die and that I couldn't have 4 names. There were tears, but I went from EEF to EFF and I don't think I will look back.

Photo: Summer Jean Photography

The thing about name changes is that there are a lot of forces at work in the decision process. It's hard to keep track of all of them. Throughout the process, I was haunted by the fact that I might be making an "UN-feminist" decision. Every time someone assumed that I would take the Grige's name, I got all pissed-off and motivated to just keep my name, and demand that our kids take my name too. That didn't work out, because decisions that are motivated by spite (even if it is spite of ignorance), are generally bad decisions. So there is the spite/anger argument. As I described, I did not keep my last name because my in-laws needed some feminist schooling. I have my whole life to do that.

The rest of my arguments/frustrations were centered around the same main issue - family names. I wanted the family that the Grige and I are starting to have a name. Preferably one, non-hyphenated name. I want to share a name with my husband and kids, and it took me some time to figure out what I wanted that name to be. As an only grandchild, I felt very invested in keeping my last name. But I also love my middle name. And I hate hate hate mono-syllabic last names, which the Grige's is. I was also angry that the Grige didn't have to deal with any of this: the expectations of people who barely know me, the hassle of all the paperwork, feeling constantly uncomfortable with the way you are addressed, change in general....

He was a very good sport about all my drama, he actually didn't really say anything through the whole debate. He just listened to me, patiently. Finally, it occurred to me to ask what he wanted, and it turns out that he really wanted me to take his name. Oddly enough, that put a lot of my worry to rest. I felt so conflicted about the decision, it was sort of nice to have someone with a strong opinion take the reins and give me a reason to feel good about changing.I could have my cake, and eat it too - I would just have two middle names, I wouldn't have to give anything up and i would be giving my husband something he really wanted.

Photo: Megan Shiley and her phone

Then, 2 days before the wedding in the county clerk's office, I was told that 2 middle names was not allowed without going to family court. I finally showed my true, lazy colors and took the easy way out: I dropped my middle name and became EFF. While I was upset at the time, I realize now that this is the way I dealt with the whole wedding - I would prefer for things to be imperfect and easy than perfect and difficult. I am a pro at protecting myself from stress. 

It's not like the Grige and I are going to forget what my given name was. It's not like I can't still use Elisabeth if I want to. I just won't have to constantly run out of room in the middle-name space when I'm buying airline tickets or taking standardized tests. And I won't have to go to family court. WINNING. So for me, this is what worked. I'm still annoyed that I have to spend all my spare time running around to the social security office and arguing with credit card companies over my middle initial and the Grige doesn't, but he's being as supportive as he can be from 1000 miles away.

I think the big lesson here is that it really doesn't matter what you decide to do, and that it's okay to not be sure what you want to do. There is no rule that says you have to make a decision right now, or that you have to stick to the decision you make, or even that you have to go by the name on your social security card (hello, Madonna). So if you are stuck on this decision, just table it for a while. If you cut off the obsessing, things might just fall into place. 

1 comment:

  1. My advice to you: Take a day off work, find a SS office and DMV out in Virginia horse country, take care of business in some small town (where there are no lines) and then go wine-tasting.