what’s in a name, part 2

almost two years ago, back when robert and i were merely acquaintances, a conversation with my roomies inspired a blog post about my years-long internal debate about whether or not i would change my name when i got married. i’m going to post it (slightly edited) here, both because i like it (i think i’ve regressed as a writer since then, dangit) and because that question now needs to be answered fairly soon (more on that at the end).

***

my mom has four names — two first names (chinese and english), two last names (maiden and married). now, this could be quite simple to navigate; after all, many chinese immigrant women face similar circumstances with little confusion. however, my mom decided, after she got married, to use her maiden name professionally. this sounds progressive for the 1970s, but it really was because she had already started publishing under her maiden name, and it wasn’t out of line culturally — chinese women don’t change their names after they marry. since they were in the states, though, my mom still legally added my dad’s last name to the end of hers… and then the confusion began.

fast forward 30 years, and you have our present circumstances: my mom uses her 4 names in every permutation possible. either first name with either last name; both first names with either last name; either first name with both last names. credit cards, checks, school records — everything has a slightly different combination, to the point where she has to show ID and explain herself thoroughly pretty much every time she buys something. it’s very, very complicated.

in response to the confusion that i witnessed throughout my childhood, i decided, in college, to take a more conservative position. (as i did with a number of other fairly progressive moves my mom made, i now realize, while i was in my neo-fundamentalist phase.) when i got married, i would just change my last name. we’d make it easier for everyone, and why did i need to cling so fiercely to mine? no need for that. i’m flexible. and wouldn’t it be a fun surprise? you see “liz stephens”, you expect one thing, and then… bam! she’s asian. gotcha.

i didn’t think twice about this until i got to grad school and started thinking seriously about working with asian american families. what kind of street cred would i have if i had a last name that wasn’t asian? no one would go to a liz granderson looking for help with acculturation issues. maybe i would have to pull what my mom did and keep the last name professionally… or use both? pull the double-last-name trick that is often associated with militant females? hmmmm.

recently, i’ve started to realize that there’s really much more to it than simply having an asian last name. mine is distinctly chinese — if i were to become liz kim, that would be lost. not only that, but my last name is usually held by people from taiwan, so even if i became liz wong, that piece would still be gone. i don’t want any of these nuances to be lost, because they’re not trivial — these are issues of culture, of history, of identity. and this is all the more pertinent for someone who is so freaking sensitive about being misunderstood.

and then, hell, even if i was offered a super-generic could-be-taiwanese last name like lee or wang — do i really want that? i will have had my alliterative spondee for more than 25 years at that point, and most people address me with both first and last names because they roll off the tongue so easily. is that something i want to relinquish? now we’re going past group identification and culture and heritage and straight into my personal, individual identity, and i’m not sure that i want to mess with that. and at that point, taking both last names isn’t really an option, because having three monosyllabic names in a row just sounds a little ridiculous.

hence: i find myself in a last-name conundrum. i suspect that in spite of my initial resistance, i will have to complicate things just like mom did. good thing that have an indefinite amount of time to avoid this problem….

***

now, addressing this problem is not only unavoidable but also imminent; i have about 2.5 months (holy crap) to resolve it, and i think i reached a conclusion last night.

[disclaimer: for my friends out there who did not do what i’ve chosen, i have the utmost respect for the decision you made; i know it’s not an easy one, and everyone has their own reasons for choosing what they did. this is just a little bit about my own process and what fits best for me.]

the pieces started to fall into place a few months ago, when i decided that professionally, i was going to keep my last name. it made sense on a number of levels: one, because i want to work with asian americans, as i wrote earlier; and two, because my parents have supported me through grad school, and this degree belongs much more to the “badizzo” side of my family than to the “fantasticmrfox” side.

i also decided that i wasn’t going to drop the “badizzo” in the personal realm, for the reasons of culture and identity that i wrote about back then. lots of people encouraged me to keep it as my middle name, but i felt that it would get lost in the shuffle. in addition, i’d have to drop my current (chinese) middle name in order to do that, and i felt like i’d be pushing out my ethnicity in two forms. so the question then became whether or not i was legally going to add the “fantasticmrfox” to the end — not hyphenated, because i have a strange aversion to that; just a second last name (a la the militant females i described earlier). it seemed to be a good fit. “lizzo fantasticmrfox” wouldn’t tell quite the right story — people would think either that i was a white girl (and the idea of constantly surprising people with my ethnicity is far less amusing to me now than it was 2 years ago), or after seeing me, they could assume that i was adopted, neither of which happens to be the case. but “lizzo badizzo fantasticmrfox” seemed to tell the right story; it would convey that i was an asian girl who married a caucasian guy. so after i found out that it’s legal to carry two last names sans hyphen, that’s what i settled on.

i briefly considered asking robert to also add “badizzo” to his name, but i decided against it, since he happens to be robert fantasticmrfox the fourth. if i wanted to keep my name for the purposes of legacy and identity, then it only seemed fair to let him to the same. but that got me thinking — if he shouldn’t have to change his name for those reasons… then why should i have to change mine? hmmm.

interestingly, the thing that caused me to seriously reconsider my decision was the list of addresses that we got from his parents (who i like very much, i must say) for the wedding. all of the names had been written in traditional form: mr. and mrs. bob smith. mr. and mrs. john anderson. and i just about lost it. what happened to their wives? why were they invisible? did they lose their identities completely when they married, only to be known as mrs. [husband’s name]? this has never been an issue for my parents; since both of my parents have phds, our mail has always been addressed to drs. paul and cathy jen badizzo. my mom has never gotten lost in the shuffle — but she had to get a doctorate degree to make it that way. so the only way for women to be acknowledged in seemingly-trivial forms like formal correspondence is to earn a doctorate degree? that’s bollocks.

so i started raging against the machine. i never want to be known simply as mrs. robert fantasticmrfox, not because i don’t love him, but because i am my own person apart from him. i have accomplishments of my own. i’ll be proud to be his wife, but we will be equals, and i shouldn’t be overlooked in this partnership in any way, no matter how small.

and then there are other things. i always smile when i see or read about women who kept their names (not that i don’t respect the women i know who didn’t — i just don’t cheer internally in the same way). and it seems like a pain in the ass to go through all of the paperwork (there’s a lot of it) to add his last name when it’ll only be 50% of the last name that i’ll use 50% of the time. and, much more significantly, robert completely supports the decision, even preferring it to me adding his last name, b/c he thinks that lizzo badizzo fantasticmrfox sounds funny.

so. i think i’ve decided that i’ll be lizzo badizzo for life. the pendulum could swing back anytime in the next 79 days; even now, i feel a little unsettled by the possibility that i’m holding on to my identity and rebelling against patriarchy at the expense of the unity in sharing a name. and then there’s the whole issue of what last names our children would have, especially in light of the fact that if we end up having a boy, he will likely be robert fantasticmrfox the fifth. but i’m trying this on for a moment and seeing how it fits. right now, it feels like a perfectly worn-in pair of jeans — one that i’ve been wearing all my life.

[as always, i would love to hear your thoughts — especially the lovely people in my life who have gone through the same debate!]

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7 thoughts on “what’s in a name, part 2

  1. liz, you have a fascinating thought process! i have to admit that i didn't give it much thought when i got married — i just changed it. but when you have any association with the DoD and have to deal with security clearances, it gets to be a huge pain dealing with aliases and diff permutations and combinations of names. my mom has the same problem your mom does, and it's such a pain. i like your decision, and i like that so much thought was put into it. 🙂

  2. thanks for this post, liz! totally hear ya on losing part of your identity. ideally, i would keep my name and not take his at all (two last names feels weird to me), but i guess he was hurt when i said i didn't want to use his name… 😦 that took me by surprise. that being said, i totally do not need to be having this conversation with him at this point in time. hahah

  3. haha, i actually think about this a lot. i don't want to change my last name b/c having no brothers, i wanted to carry on the family name (my mother's side is also chen – but then again, there are enough other chens to carry on that name, haha). i don't think i want to give up my middle name either, but like the idea of two last names… it just doesn't work so well with two asians sometimes. i do think incorporating your husband's name is nice if you have kids though so that you all have the same name?

  4. as always, thanks for the good thoughts, friends 🙂 @leslie: totally hear you on the double-last-name not working as well with asian (read: monosyllabic) last names. but i think it would be AWESOME, should you happen to marry your current bf, if you did. ha!and you raise another good point about kids. the kid issue is a whole 'nother can of worms for us, especially since if we have a boy, he'll probably be robert fantasticmrfox the fifth. we could get creative, like have some of them carry my last name… but then things just get complicated. i guess we'll cross that bridge when it comes. :)@angela: dude, i'm sure we have. but i cannot exactly remember what your thoughts were, so we'll have to revisit it. 🙂

  5. Liz,I have to admit, I was intrigued by your thought process on this topic. I was poking around online today and thought I'd see if you'd made your decision. Speaking as a Asian-American-PhD-who-married-a-Caucasian-and-started-working-professionally-again, it truly is a process, deciding on a name. What did I do? I dropped my original middle name, made my maiden name my middle name, and took my husband's last name legally. Working (and going back to school) under my maiden name is not uncommon these days. It's really nice to have that piece of myself that is mine alone….I hope that makes sense. Now that I have kids, especially one in school now, being a "Mrs." with my married name is good too. It reminds me of my vows, my commitment to the family I created, and my love of my husband. Yes, you will have to hybrid the names periodically, and Yes, you will have to explain the name combinations along the way, but it is worth it. Interestingly, now that I am adjunct prof. at the college I have taken classes at, my name in the system is my full married name. My students call me by what I ask (my maiden name), even though I still get the married name thrown in. All that matters is that my students learn and feel that I am effective in teaching them. Anyhow, I hope all is well with you. Keep it going!

  6. Pingback: pet peeve #3 | my name is elizabeth

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