When my ex-husband and I married in 2011, we both changed our names to a brand new family name. I didn’t take his name, he didn’t take mine; we took on a brand new name. It was an unusual and flashy name, and we loved it. For fun, let’s pretend our family last name was Rocket, it wasn’t, but Rocket is equally ridiculous and noticeable. We were proud of how egalitarian we were, and that we had found a way to not give preference to one family over the other while sharing a last name.
When we separated, I told my ex we should both go back to our “maiden,” names. The thought of he and his new girlfriend getting married and her having our invented family name made me, and I quote, “want to rage-vomit.” This is what I told him. To my knowledge, his last name is still Rocket. I have no idea if hers is, and frankly, I hope I never find out.
At the time, I didn’t want to change my name because A) Screw that, I’m not admitting defeat, if he won’t change his neither will I, and more importantly, B) I had done the name change thing five years ago, and it was a total pain. I had enough to worry about with moving, getting my beneficiaries changed, getting our divorce and taxes filed, and, you know, building a new life by myself. I cried all the time and often couldn’t fall asleep. I was exhausted. The idea of adding a name change to this process was harrowing. So I stayed a Rocket.
As we separated and divorced, something I had only ever thought of as a fun side effect of our weird name became a burden; it attracts attention. People would often ask, as they had for the past five years, “ooooh, Rocket, what an interesting name, where does that come from?” When we were married I loved explaining how we’d chosen our name and why. Afterward? Not so much.
Ninety-nine times out of 100 I kept my cool and smiled and said “it is neat isn’t it? SPACE, right? Big place,” and went about my day. Though internally, each time it happened I would berate myself for my stupidity. For getting married, for getting divorced, for picking a new name in the first place, for placing my marriage over my nuclear family, for not being strong enough to leave earlier, for, for for…
My therapist has advised I needed to work on more “positive self-talk.”
People kept commenting on it, though. I tried to be nicer to myself, but the name was still a reminder of our failed marriage. That our brilliant, egalitarian idea of starting our own family name was, in the end, grossly guileless.
I decided I needed to go back to my original family name. I did all the paperwork, paid the Clerk of Courts $80, and officially reclaimed the name I was born with. I’m now going through the long process of updating all of my accounts, licenses, and records.
Holding my court declaration in my hand was so, so freeing.
My name-nightmare wasn’t over yet, though.
Do you know what the most common reaction to “Would you update my last name, please?” is? It’s:
“Congratulations! When did you get married?”
Then I apologetically say “Divorced, actually,” and try desperately not to be rude about it. This is exactly what I wanted never to explain or think about ever again.
Yes, of course, it’s more likely that the 30-year-old woman calling you to update her records with a new name has begun a marriage than ended one. I’m not mad about it. I just sincerely do not need that reminder.
Good news, though. I figured out what I’m going to say to people from now on, when they ask me why I’m changing my name, or when I got married.
“I’m going back to my roots.”
Someday, my last name will not invite commentary on my marital status.
For today, I take comfort in sharing a name with people who love me, and have loved me my whole life. When things go bad, it’s easy to tell who’s in, and who’s out. Unluckily for me, my husband was out. Now, I am too.