I never thought I was attached to my maiden name before I got married. I was like most little girls – I couldn’t wait to someday find my “Prince Charming”, take on his name and have his children. My dreams were that of June Cleaver – caring for my family, making dinner every night, and being called “Mrs.” It never dawned on me to keep my birth name. I often thought that a bride who didn’t take her husband’s surname was being rebellious. I even wondered if the husband would be embarrassed.
My husband’s last name was long and complicated, hard to spell, harder to say, but donning it was tradition and I never questioned the tradition. At the time, I hadn’t even considered keeping my own last name. Yes, I was the traditional bride.
Changing my name was a long, arduous process, but I proudly stood in line to get my passport updated, my health card changed, along with my driver’s license and banking. Line by line, signature after signature I transformed from a “Miss” to a “Mrs”.
It took a bit of time after the wedding to get used to my new name; however, I would make light of the times I would accidentally sign the wrong name on a cheque or wouldn’t answer to my new name because it was still foreign to be referred to as a “Mrs.” Generally speaking, I settled right in, embracing my married name and my married life. All my dreams were coming true – or so I thought.
Divorce. It causes change in many ways, and one was whether to change my name or not. I had been “Mrs.” for 17 years. My children had the same last name, I had started a new career with this name, and it didn’t seem to make sense to go backwards. And yet, when he remarried there was a new “Mrs.” with the same last name. I felt like someone had taken my identity.
A new “Mr.” eventually came along and once again, being the traditional bride, I took on this new husband’s name. This name was easier to say, spell, and it replaced the old “Mrs.” with something new and fresh. It was soon tainted by divorce. My quandary – after such a brief marriage, do I keep the name? Do I go backwards to the former “Mrs.”? There was already another “Mrs.” with that name…. there didn’t need to be two.
I kept the second “Mrs.” for seven years and never questioned again whether I should ditch it or not. After all, I paid a lot of money for that name. It had become my new professional name, and my daughters were marrying and taking on their new husbands’ names, so having the same last name wasn’t even necessary.
It was on a recent vacation that my eyes were opened to another option. While visiting my sweetheart’s sister in Europe for a few short days, I discovered that she kept her original birth name when she got married. It was part of the culture. The wife keeps her name, the children take on the husband’s name. So simple, so clean, such a brilliant idea! I was intrigued.
A week later, one of my best friends shared “I would have kept my ex’s name, just to have the same name as the kids. It would have ticked the ex-husband off and his newest wife, too. What I actually found though, was that when I went back to my birth name, I felt empowered and strong. I felt like myself again.” Was I crazy for considering this?
I met with a new friend recently for lunch. She knew I had been on a recent trip to my family’s country of origin and wanted to know more about it. I recounted my life-long dream – a journey “back home to my roots”. Detail after detail she got goosebumps as I told her the steps of my trip – finding an old castle ruins from the 1500s in my family name; a random lintel in the middle of the city with my family name inscribed in it; more than 40 names scribed in WW1 and WW2 records at a memorial. My family had served and sacrificed in the wars. There were more stories, and it was undeniable that my family had a rich history. There was much more to explore.
My new friend was compelling as she urged me to own my history. My birth name “has a story, it has culture and strength, the history that it has is something proud to carry”. I was undeniably moved.
I recently read a quote by Paulo Coelho: “when you say yes to someone, make sure you aren’t saying no to yourself.” Had I been saying “no” to my heritage?
I also reflected on why my divorces had happened in the first place – I had wanted a different life. My new life is beautiful and bountiful in love and acceptance. I couldn’t move forward on this new path with my old married names. This was about me going “home” and finding myself again.
After 30 years of carrying someone else’s identity and no longer being “Mrs.” to anyone, I have been inspired to move forward in my life, to take back my birth name, and embrace my “Ms.”