I’m getting married in October, and among the millions of decisions I have to make between now and the hour of my wedding, I also have to make a decision about whether to change my name.
I’m a self-identifying feminist—and a vitriol-spitting, fire-breathing one of late, given this Hobby Lobby disgrace—and I have never wanted to change my name. It was what I was born with, I’ve carried it around with me for almost thirty-eight years, and it suits me: Estelle Ana Baca.
I already navigate a steady stream of appellation ambiguity. First of all, my name at birth was Estelle Anne Baca, but my dad wanted to call me Ana, thus initiating the childhood ritual of correcting everyone who saw my legal name and addressed me by names that seemed too mature (Estelle) and too pristine (Anne) for my childhood spirit (Ana). Consequently, everyone I met before I reached age 21 knows me as Ana.
When I moved to New York at 21, I wondered what it would be like if I stopped correcting everyone when they inspected my IDs. I felt like a grown woman, which meant I finally felt powerful enough to carry around the weight of an unusual, old name, and I started introducing myself to people as Estelle. And always Estelle, never Stella—my aunt’s variant, plus I grooooan at Streetcar exhortations—and never Estella—that Dickensian form belonged to my grandmother and not me. Just Estelle, as Sartre preferred it.
Therefore, in most circumstances I cling to my full name as I have come to embrace it: Estelle Ana Baca. I identify as Estelle and as Ana. I answer to both. I refer to myself as both, and while I really have no preference, I do mandate that if given a choice when meeting me, that acquaintances subsequently refer to me as the name with which I introduced myself. See, Ana-people switching to Estelle-people makes it too tough for me to keep straight, and I look like an idiot when it looks like I don’t know my own name.
I’ve never been the kind of woman who idly perused wedding magazines to find the perfect dress before I even had landed the perfect man, or who knew the carat size of the diamond she was going to have on her engagement ring—and for the record, J gave me a pale green sapphire—and so the thought of testing out my name with someone else’s surname appended to Estelle Ana always sounded absurd. My name is my name. Even when faced with the same situation years ago, I never changed my name. Why would I?
Life, however, has a sense of humor, and in the way that some people port around with them an air of nonchalance or a rapier-sharp wit, I have a knack for attracting unusual circumstances that require verbose explanations whenever possible. My husband-to-be’s surname is C de Baca, which is a contraction of Cabeza de Baca, meaning head of the cow. (And yes, you’ve teased it out correctly, my surname means cow in old Spanish.) Unless you’re from New Mexico, you’ve probably never heard of such a name. Many assume that the C is a middle initial and incorrectly prune it down to de Baca, which is as much of misnomer as referring to him as my leaner, meaner, all-inclusive-eyeballs-to-entrails-of-the-whole-cow Baca. He is constantly and ever explaining his name to anyone and everyone who isn’t from New Mexico.
Since we started dating, people outside of our home state of New Mexico started wondering if we were already married—Wow, that was quick!—or if we were related—Game of Thrones is fiction, thank you!—based upon the similarity of our surnames. In fact, many remarked, “At least you don’t have to change your name if you two get married!”
But here we are, and there is a decision to be made because my fiancé would really prefer it if I took his name after we’re married.
JMC: Why be the whole cow when you can be just the head?
EAB: But if it’s got only the head, it’s got no heart. And no spine and no guts and no asshole, and they’re important, too.
Yes, our conversations have actually included the above dialogue in our negotiation. Part of it is silliness, but it’s also because we’re dealing with an all-or-nothing type situation. Given the nature of our similar surnames, it’s hard to find a compromise. We can’t really hyphenate. In fact, utilizing traditional Spanish naming customs, my surname becomes a curiously palindromic Baca (Sánchez) de C de Baca, and any future offspring’s apellidos are C de Baca Baca, which sounds undoubtedly redundant. I have a hard enough time with my first names that introducing a stutter feels masochistic. I’ve suggested that perhaps we both change our names to de Baca, which my husband-to-be perceives as a genealogic decapitation.
I’ve asked a few women who changed their name after marriage, and the answer is typically rooted in instilling a sense of family unity. My bridesmaid of honor recounted that her chain of reason for taking her husband’s surname culminated in the notion that she wanted for them to have a common appellation, like a team name, that they both could get behind. I can’t argue with that at all. It makes sense to me to have a family name. I fully promote the idea of our children taking their father’s full surname regardless of my own surname.
From my own perspective, the sense of family unity is already built-in when given the widespread assumption afforded by our similar surnames, but my groom doesn’t see it that way. His name is frequently mutilated when folks aim for consistency and opt for Baca over C de Baca. Just as I am sensitive to the fact that my name is my name as it is, and stripping me of Ana is just as insufferable as is stripping me of Estelle, so I can see why one might lose their head over such repeated confusion.
As for my issues with changing my name, most of them are rooted in the notion that I disagree with the assumption that I should be the only one who should consider it. We live in a society that is patently patriarchal despite our efforts, so of course it still falls upon the purported mutability of women to alter their monograms after marriage. I’ve never really been warm to the idea of hyphenation because they generally feel clunky, and many of the women of my generation who grew up with hyphenated names were quick to dispose of them when they got married. And as for clunky names, one of the reasons I am still unconvinced about changing my name is that Estelle Ana C de Baca has so many pieces that it reads more like an encoded pentatonic musical scale than a monogram.
Therefore, dear friends, what does one do? Your advice is appreciated. Do I hold fast to my convictions, or do I sentence myself to still more explanation when it comes to the nature of my name? What would you do if you were in my shoes?
UPDATE! July 8, 2014, 10:52 am EDT
Since I wrote this yesterday and opened it up to discussion here and on Facebook, I’ve gathered some fantastic great perspectives from married (and sometimes divorced) friends who have had to make a choice. In writing about it and discussing it, I’ve come to realize that it’s not so much my surname that I’m connected to but more my given names than anything else, and opting for one or the other to complement a complicated surname is what gives me pause. No matter how you look at it, the pentagonal, agglutinating structure of EACdb is a mouthful, esp. when I’ve embraced the wobbly simplicity of EAB over the last thirty-eight years.
This thread also sparked a few private conversations in regard to family legacy. Baca isn’t a common name, but C de Baca doesn’t even register in databases on account of its rarity. That in itself is a huge argument for its preservation and promotion.
Yet, while it doesn’t seem like a big deal to just add C de to my existing surname, it is. Think of how different theism becomes when you add the a- and transform it into atheism.
Nevertheless, transformation isn’t something to be feared if it yields an improvement.