Before Jord and I were married in 2010, I had a major conflict of identity that came from a rather unexpected source: a rubber stamp.
For our wedding, Jord and I had a wishing tree, which was basically a few manzanita branches (from here) arranged in a flower pot. Jord and I asked guests to write down their wishes for our marriage on cardstock and then hang the wishes on the branches of the tree. It ended up being a creative way for our guests to wish us well. However, when I was conceptualizing how the wishing tree would come together, I never imagined that it would be the source of a name-change-related breakdown for me.
In order to decorate the cardstock, I commissioned a local stamp shop to make a custom rubber stamp for me, which said the following phrase: “Wishes for the Mr. and Mrs.” Cute, right? That’s what I thought, too; I saw the phrase somewhere in the blogosphere, and I promptly ordered the stamp. I then purchased the manzanita branches, the flower pot, the cardstock and the ink for the stamp, and I didn’t think anything of it until the stamp came in a week or two later.
It was around that time that I read this post (and then this post) on A Practical Wedding. And truthfully, these posts (together with a post that I can’t seem to track down on Project Subrosa on name-changing and the Ms. vs. Mrs. debate – this post is similar, though with decidedly less sass – which is a bummer, because I love me some sass)…well, they threw me big time. I had never thought about changing my name before…I had never thought about the fact that I had a choice of whether or not to take my husband’s last name. What’s more is that I had thought much less about which choice was right for me; I always thought that I would take my husband’s name, because that is what women do in my family, and in my state (South Dakota). And now, because I ordered a stupid six-dollar stamp that said “Mrs.” on it, I felt like my choice between Ms. and Mrs., and my birth name, was being made for me.
So I cried. A lot. I cried to my mother, to my guy (now my husband), and I cried even more when re-reading the posts and the comments on APW and Project Subrosa. I felt like I had failed my cultural position as a woman by rejecting the rights available to my beloved-yet-too-often-marginalized womanhood. [Big stuff.] So, I hemmed and hawed over whether or not to use the stamp, because gosh darnit, I paid for it, and I wasn’t about to throw money out the window, but then again, it was only six dollars, and was six dollars worth chucking my oh-my-gosh-I-guess-I-am-a-feminist-wow-this-is-strange-I-didn’t-notice-this-before-now self out the window? Was six dollars worth me compromising my identity as a woman, my identity as me, as Sara?
In the end, it was my mother who helped me the most. She said that my identity as a wife, my identity as a woman, didn’t have to be determined by a stamp. She rationalized that while the majority of our wedding guests would call me “Mrs.” on our wedding day, as a cutesy ode to my newly married status, that after the wedding, I was able to stipulate whatever name I wanted for myself, and that people would either abide by my wishes, or they wouldn’t. She cautioned that in our area of the United States, it isn’t common for women to keep their birth name [which is true], so I had to brace myself for many a mailing/solicitation/family Christmas letter/invitation error. I had to be okay with mistakes.
Fast-forward to a few weeks before our wedding day. The scene: The Clerk of Courts office in our home state of South Dakota. The action: Jord and I, standing, awkwardly, nervously, in front of a window, applying for our marriage license. As I shuffled my feet back and forth while waiting to fill out the necessary forms, I seriously considered what I wanted for myself when it came to being a woman, being a partner, being a wife. And I thought about the women who came before me in my family, who didn’t seem to know (or, rather, to care in the same way that I did) that even though they were married, they still had the right to keep their birth names.
I thought about my grandmother, my father’s mother, who is one of the best women I know, and one of my most favorite people. She’s a sassy, faithful, family-oriented, inspirational go-getter at 81 years old. But in the 44 years that she was married to my farmer-tractor-driving-grandfather (who sadly passed away before they reached 45 years of marriage), she loved nothing more than to cook and care for him and for their nine children. Yet even so, my grandmother, who took my grandfather’s name, which is my father’s name, and which is my birth name – she never lost herself. She never let go of her role as a woman to take on her role as a wife, and her name certainly had no impact on her wifehood, on her womanhood.
I thought about my grandmother, my mother’s mother, who died when I was in high school. I thought about how she would respond to my internal debate regarding whether to take on Mrs., or to keep my birth name. And then I smiled in knowing that she would support me no matter what choice I made, because that’s the woman she always was. She was a supporter to her core.
And I thought about my mother, who took my father’s name when they married, and who never seemed the slightest bit inhibited by her choice to take on a different moniker.
In thinking back to all of the women that have come before me in my family, I made my choice. I took my husband’s last name, but I remained a Ms. It was a compromise that I was willing, no, that I was overjoyed, to make. My choice was an acknowledgment of my identity as Sara, and my new identity as the partner of Jord. And for me, I also made another compromise, a symbolic one, to honor myself as I’ve always been, and the new self that I was about to become, as a partner, a wife: I hyphenated my name professionally. To me, my career was (and still is) my own, and by symbolically hyphenating my name professionally, I was able to ensure that I entered into marriage with my feminist womanhood in tact.
In looking back on our first year of marriage, I have no regrets regarding my decision to take my husband’s name. I’m especially proud of my decision to remain a Ms., and I’m reminded of that every single day, when my students call me Ms. XXXX-XXXX. But as I reflect on the choices I’ve made, I think back to that silly little stamp, and I feel blessed to have had compelling blogs to read in that moment and in many more, precisely because blogging continually forces me to make choices with intention. And I know that I did just that.