I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with my last name. Growing up, my last name of Youngs put me at the end of every class list. I spent twelve years looking at the back of Michael Wilson’s head in various homerooms and in high school of course the fates assigned me a locker next to James Young who was about a foot shorter than me and therefore always had to duck out of the way when I opened my top locker door. In college it mean t I spent graduation sitting next to Patricia Yurkinas and Pete Yauch, two people I had managed to go four years without ever having met. I spent 23 years explaining to people that my last name was indeed “Young’ with an ‘s’ on the end and my unfortunate handwriting caused more than one form letter to be addressed to Katie Yangs.
In 1989 I married Liza’s dad David and happily took his last name of Goodman. “Finally,” I thought…”a nice last name in the early part of the Alphabet, but not so early that I will end up in the front of the line for anything. ” And so for the next 15 years I went merrily along without giving much of a thought to my name, which now seemed perfect. My career progressed, my network of contacts and friends grew, I was appearing in many local theater productions, and slowly I built a career and some semblance of a professional and artistic reputation under the name Katie Goodman.
When Liza was five years old her dad and I made the difficult decision to end our marriage. I’ll always be proud of the way we moved forward amicably, keeping Liza in the forefront of all decisions, and of the two loving homes we have created for her. When our divorce was fresh I decided to keep my married name reasoning that I wanted the same name as my daughter and I wanted to keep my professional identity, which seemed to rest on this name. Then David got remarried and suddenly there were two “Mrs. Goodmans.” I wanted to honor his new wife’s place in his family, and gently told Liza I was thinking about retaking my maiden name. Her howls of protest were deafening. “People won’t know you’re my mommmmmmmm!” She wailed. “We won’t be a fammmmmiiillllly!” (Why is it that only 8 year olds know how to draw out otherwise lovely and benign words like ‘mom’ and ‘family’ to the point where they be come unbearable?) . I succumbed to her pleas and, let’s be honest, gave in to my inherent laziness and loathing for red tape, and never took the next step to change my name.
The subject lay dormant until early June when New Hampshire passed its’ landmark marriage equality bill. Kelly and I had gone out to dinner to celebrate this historic occasion and the more pedestrian installation of our new carpet. As we sat in our car bathed by the lights of Elm Street we spontaneously proposed to each other and symbolically moved our rings from our right to our left hands. Later as we toasted our engagement with a fine shiraz at the Firefly Bistro I proclaimed “I can’t wait to marry you Kelly Ann Collins.” “And I can’t wait to marry you Mary Katherine…uh….Youngs…uh Goodman,” she replied. Huh. What WAS my name anyway? Understandably Kelly wasn’t too keen about marrying me with a last name that belonged to my ex husband,. I realized the time had come to really get serious about changing my name back to Youngs.
But I was about to be thrown another curveball.
This week, when I told Kelly that I promised to move forward with finally going back to my maiden name she said “well since you’re going to change it why not just change it to Collins?” In a million years I never thought that this marriage would be one that asked yet another name change of me. “Hmmm,” I joked “don’t you think Katie and Kelly Collins sounds just a wee bit precious?” “I think it sounds great!” she said. “Well why don’t you take MY name?” I proposed. “Because I’ve had this name for 42 years and I like it “ she said…you’ve already gone ‘round willy-nilly changing your name so I figure you can do it again right?”
“But,” I protested, “so much of my famly is gone now I feel strongly I want to preserve my family name and go back to Youngs.” Of course the 10-year old peanut gallery had to chime in from the dining room table where it was finishing up its math homework. “Mommmmmm” (there it is again) “your brother has the last name Youngs and he has three boys and they’ll get married and have kids and there will be lots more Youngs, so you can keep your name the way it is…Goodman.” “But…” said Kelly. “But… “ said Liza.
“ENOUGH!” I bellowed. “This is my name and my name only and at the end of the day none of you get to decide what my name is…not you Liza, not you Kelly , not my ex husband, and not the guy at the coffee shop.” They grudgingly and a bit sullenly went back to their homework and dinner clean up while I pondered how my name could produce such a strong reaction in them. While, I had tried to reassure Liza that of course we’d still be a family no matter what my last name was. I battled with the niggling worry that without the same last name as my daughter I would somehow lose that public recognition that I was her mother especially now that her dad and step-mom had another baby who shared her last name and were the very picture of a traditional family. Would there be confusion at school? Would they still call me in emergencies or immediately call her dad and step mom? Would I be relegated to the sidelines? Would it be weird? I also struggled with Kelly’s desire that I take her name and the resentment I felt at her assumption that I would be the one who did so. Was I still the ‘former straight person” in this relationship who would be asked to assume the more traditional role of wife? I. Don’t. Think. So. But then I haven’t been Katie Youngs in nearly 20 years. The name sounds foreign and strange on my tongue and I’d have to give up my carefully perfected Katie Goodman scrawl on the bottom of documents and checks. Even this blog bears my married name in its URL, even THAT would have to change. Why is this issue of my name so loaded for so many? Who am I anyway? Who have I been these past five years that I clung to my married name. Who should I be next year at this time?
What do you think?