Rebekah is a married feminist and activist who has worked on projects for Planned Parenthood and has interned with her state legislature. She grew up on a ranch in the middle of nowhere New Mexico. She currently is majoring in accounting and lives in the suburbs of Seattle with her husband.
I don’t know how to feel about my name
I have a very complicated relationship to my name. To say that I grew up in a very conservative family is an understatement. Both of my parents are evangelical Christians. I am the black sheep of the family. From the very beginning I was strong willed and would not do what was socially expected of me. Needless to say I did not have a happy childhood.
My parents got divorced when I was five and both of my parents quickly remarried, with my mom taking her new husband’s last name, and my stepmother taking my father’s. My father quickly started building his new family, which didn’t have a lot of room for an unruly five year old who didn’t like sitting in church on Sundays and preferred climbing into trees and reading instead of playing with dolls. My mom, who was stuck with me by way of the court chose to lord it over my head that she and her new children had her husband’s last name and I had my absentee father’s.
I was taught from the very beginning that my name wasn’t my own. I was and would remain the property of men for all of my life. My parents purposefully chose my first name because it means bound in Hebrew.
It should not have been any surprise to either one of my parents that I left home at 18 to make my own way, far gone from the grasp of their emotional taunting and the pain that it caused to a child who desperately wanted the love and approval of her parents. It still shook the ground that they walked on and my mother has never quite forgiven me for that.
Six months ago my boyfriend of two years proposed. Up until that point we really hadn’t had a conversation about what we would do with our last names if and when we got married. My preference has always been to make a new last name. He as the child of a feminist who kept her last name when she got married.
Because it costs quite a bit of money, hassle, and time to change your name, when we got married we both kept our last names.
Two weeks ago I needed my dad to send me paperwork that was in his possession. He sent the paperwork, not to me, but to my first name and my husband’s last name even though he knows that I haven’t changed my name. Today I had a conversation with my mother about why I am not going by my husband’s last name. I explained the reasons why I had chosen to keep my last name to a resounding argument that it’s not proper for me to be so uppity. She then felt the need to justify her decision to change her name because she felt that me keeping mine was an implicit judgment against her decision to change hers. It made her feel as if I saw her as less than.
I don’t know if I made the right choice about my name or not. Some days I appreciate it’s simplicity. Some days I feel an extreme disconnect to it and wish to change it. I know that I always have the option of doing that later. I still have complicated feelings about having the last name of a man who wasn’t really a father to me, and I would much rather have a last name that speaks to something that I freely chose, instead of something that was thrust upon me by way of birth. Either way I have learned that the names chosen for me by my parents aren’t my identity.
A quick note about images in this series: each essay includes an image of a place that holds personal meaning for the author.
Let’s Talk About Names: Nia is the previous post in the series.
The entire series is available at the Let’s Talk About Names Tumblr.
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