If you are a proper lady in the South, here’s what you do with your name when you marry: drop that pesky middle moniker. Slide the original surname over to the center, and add your husband’s name onto the end. If you marry twice, you do it again so then you have husband 1’s name in the middle and husband 2’s name on the end. Some Southern girl babies are not even given middle names since they’ll just lose them when they marry. Why bother?
I am explaining this because I learned late that folks in other parts of the country may not follow this tradition. I did, and have baffled many people in the telling. In fact, when my daughter was born in Montana, the hospital records lady called me in my room to find out what my “maiden”name was. She was supremely confused, and I realized I had to start from the beginning, as in “where I’m from…” When my son was born two years later, I had the same conversation again with the same woman.
I am not here to cast judgment on women who choose to change their names when they marry. I understand wanting to be part of a unit, a team with matching jerseys. I also get the lifelong assumptions many girls, women, boys, and men are fed regarding how this family thing works. It’s a cultural norm.Shaming that practice is not what I’m about here.
This is also not a newsletter about the history of name changes, husbands owning wives’ property via coverture laws, and all that.
Coverture held that no female person had a legal identity. At birth, a female baby was covered by her father’s identity, and then, when she married, by her husband’s. The husband and wife became one–and that one was the husband.
There are plenty more resources for you to read about that if you like.
No, this is a newsletter about the bullshit associated with changing your name back.
First, a brief story of my name. I am the first female in my family line not to be named Mary Something as a double first name. Let’s see, my mother: Mary Eleanor. Grandmother: Mary Willard. GGM: Mary Argent. And so on back. Guess what? My mom hated her Mary so much, she dropped it when she married (even as she partook in the husband-name tradition). And then she didn’t name me Mary-something. Instead, I got my grandmother’s maiden name as my middle name: Milford.
I cannot adequately convey in this space how much I hated this middle name. Everything about it screams ugly. Sorry Mom, I know you’re probably reading this. Now that I’m much older I can (kind of) appreciate it as a concept, but it’s still so awful for a little girl. Granted, my grandmother did get called “Bill” on account of “Willard” and GGM was “Argent,” so there’s certainly precedent for rough-sounding, male-ish names for females in my family. But MILFORD? It’s too much. I was ecstatic to drop it when I got married. Slide the East over, add Baldwin onto the end.
I had some name recognition attached to the surname Baldwin, due to various awards and whatnot that I received during my married years, so I did think carefully about changing it back post-divorce. But in the end I decided professional connection wasn’t enough reason to keep something I felt I needed to shed. When I did it, though, I did not restore Milford. I just went with the straightforward and simple Anna East.
But changing your name, as any divorcée could have told me, is a huge pain, and also expensive. My first inkling of this was the day I went to complete the paperwork and pick up copies of the decrees. Some establishments will only accept a certified copy of a court paper. So, you have to make an appointment, drive to the courthouse, and wait. Upon my turn at the window I approached with my payment. Each page cost a dollar or something. I spent many dollars to obtain several copies of this paperwork, primarily dissolution decrees and name change orders. Offhanded, I asked the clerk, “Do men ever have to do this?” She looked at me pointedly, one eyebrow up and mouth pursed, like Girl, don’t you know? She said, “No. They don’t.” And went back to stapling the stacks of court papers I had ordered. It was my first insight moment about the unfairness of divorce on women even when we are the ones who initiate it, and it colored every step I had to take after that.
Official things I had to change
First came the legal documents like social security card, driver’s license, passportin that order. If you are going to get a Real ID, you need
certified copy of birth certificate ← what if you don’t have this and you now live in a state other than where you were born? Nightmare.
certified copy of marriage license ←see above. Nightmare.
certified copy of dissolution decree
certified copy of name change order
social security card with new name on it ← because of this, you have to get your SS card first
2 documents with name and physical address printed, not that easy to come by if you’ve recently moved into a rental.
Ma'am, your confidential information is already all over the internet.
For a new social security card, mail the following to the office, in a large envelope: Application, certified copy of dissolution decree, certified copy of name change order and your driver’s license. You have to mail the actual DL in and if you don't want to do that because, I don't know, you might need to get on an airplane in the next 6 months or worry you could potentially be pulled over by a policeman, you can go to your most recent medical provider (hospital, clinic, doctor office but not dentist!), ask them for a printout of your most recent visit, they have to sign and date the page IN INK, emphasis not mine, and mail that in instead.
You protest to the SS office phone guy, "But that's confidential medical information..." and he tells you, "Ma'am, your confidential information is already all over the internet."
Granted, this was still COVID times so maybe they’ve gone back to a less illegal-seeming process now.
Some banks are easier than others. My credit union basically changed my name via a phone call. But a credit card company requires paperwork. Believe it or not, aside from the Real ID, the hardest thing to change has been my hotel loyalty programs! For one hotel chain like maybe the Hilton, I had to provide that same dissolution decree AND name change order. Because of this, I still haven’t changed my name on several accounts. It’s just too much.
If anyone has any doubts about how hard it is to be a woman in this world,just try to change your name on something, anything. Look into it, just for kicks. What would be involved in changing your AppleID? How about getting any accounting office in any employment situation to fix your W9? United Airlines frequent flyer program? Are there costs involved? The broken-down, angry old man who runs the sewer district in my previous hometown demanded to know why I wanted to put the sewer bill in my soon-to-be-ex-husband’s name instead of mine, and then charged me $25 to make the change.
If you try this, you might be shocked to find out just how many accounts you have, all pointing to a specific name. Your grocery store discount card, your Best Buy account, your MeUndies subscription, all your financial records. And if you’re divorcing, all of them persist in calling you by your married name, which you’re really trying to forget, thank you very much.
Want to tell me what I should have done? Go ahead! Rewind the calendar to 1998 and advise me not to change my name. I probably won’t listen. Do I wish I hadn’t gotten a divorce or decided to restore my birth name? Not for a second. All I can do now is grind on, submitting paperwork once a month or so to the next account on the list, trying to get all of it converted before I go and do something else dumb, such as changing my address.
There is a controversy about the use of this word as well. I avoid it these days, using “first name” or “birth name” instead of “maiden name.”
And don’t get me started on “Mrs.” Pity the poor university student who calls me “Mrs” in an email. They get the whooooooole history.
Side story about obtaining my replacement passport: I took at least 8 pieces of paper evidence to my passport appointment at the post office, along with the same pen I’d used to complete the forms in case of errors, and a black shirt for my pic. The guy eyed my carefully packed bag of preparations, looked at my DL, and said smugly, “Oh, you’re just a very organized Virgo.” I closed my eyes and replied, “I’m going to pretend you didn’t just say that.” Virgo-shamed by the postmaster.
And I realize I’m writing about something frivolous, compared to the true hardships borne by females in many places, and the other kinds of traps women face everywhere. Rebecca Solnit has a lot to say about this in most things she writes, but here’s a shortish essay.
This is a whole long conversation, with a glass of wine involved,lol. Enlightening I am sure for those who have not experienced it, entertaining for this of us who have.👏🏼
I never changed my birth name after I got married (this was actually the cause of a huge argument), and since I lived in Austria at the time, there was a whole lot of hassle involved in that choice. In Austria at the time, women weren't required to take their spouse's name, but you were required to have the same last name as each other, which amounted to the same thing (how many men ever consider changing?!). I got away with it only because I was a foreigner on a residency visa, but had to battle the electric company person, who insisted that I couldn't possibly be married since I had a different last name. Hard to explain with only one week of German lessons under my belt.
Supposedly the reason that Louisa May Alcott never married was partly because she could use her writing income to support her family, whereas if she married it would all become the property of her husband. And then there's the whole Social Security issue, with Social Security payout rules having barely changed since they were first written to encourage men to work and women to marry.
I've never heard of MeUndies before, and am very entertained by their selection!