mythbusting.

not to perseverate on the whole last-name thing, but i feel like i need to clarify something.

in the last two months, i’ve had several conversations with engaged or married women about whether or not they’re changing their last names, and twice i’ve heard this:

“i’ve heard that keeping your last name can make it hard to travel internationally with your children.”

this struck me as peculiar for several reasons:

1. my mom kept her last name. when i was growing up, we traveled as a family into, out of, and around the following countries:

the united states
canada
taiwan
south korea
japan
france
austria
the united kingdom
belgium
holland
spain

we did a good amount of international travel, and not once did my mother’s last name cause a problem for us. not once. i never even heard anyone mention it. and this was in the ’80s and ’90s, when women kept their last names far less often than they do now.

2. women changing their last names after marriage is a distinctly north american and western european custom. chinese and korean women keep their last names after marriage. women in most latin american countries do as well. in russia, husbands and wives rarely have the same last name. these are just a few examples, and people from all of these countries travel internationally with their kids. buying into the aforementioned myth seems to imply one of two thoughts: “the world does things this way, and deviating from it will cause problems” or “i can be progressive here, but other places might not be so progressive.” neither of these thoughts is true.

3. as my friend dave pointed out, it’s a little short-sighted to make a decision about your name — your identity — based on an event that may or may not happen in the future. your name follows you everywhere — your conversations, your phone calls, your email, your facebook, your mail, your bills, your bank accounts, your credit card, your pay stub, everywhere. meanwhile, the average american does not travel internationally with their children all that often. so letting this myth dictate the discussion doesn’t make a lot of sense. if it worries you so much, you can always bring along a copy of your kids’ birth certificates when you travel overseas. it’s really as simple as that.

for these reasons, i’m a little mystified that this myth seems to be so pervasive. a tiny part of me even wonders if it’s a fear tactic to scare women into keeping the status quo. (cue scene from a lifetime movie in which customs agents tear a woman away from her children in a foreign country — not for having drugs or weapons but for… keeping her last name!) but honestly, i don’t care whether a woman keeps or changes her last name as long as she puts some thought into it. i just don’t think this myth be the deciding factor, because really, it’s not a thing.

pet peeve #3

when the topic of my last name comes up and people give me reasons why it makes sense that i didn’t change mine, implying that while this decision makes sense in my special circumstances, a wife should generally still change hers to her husband’s.

if you know me, you know that, after much debate, i chose to keep my last name when i got married. i recognize that the decision about what to do with your last name after marriage, for both men and women, is very personal, and everyone needs to figure out what’s best for them. this is what was best for me and robert, and i’m very happy with the choice i made.

since getting married, i’ve been mildly surprised by the ways in which some people have responded to it. even though it’s the 21st century and this practice isn’t new or revolutionary by any means, i expected the decision to be more of a surprise in some circles (e.g., christian ones) than others, given that it’s less common in some contexts for wives to keep their last names. but sometimes the way that people respond, while well-intended, is irritating at least and offensive at most. they tell me why it makes sense that i kept my name, implying that this is the reason why it’s okay that i did. because were it not for my special circumstances, i should have changed it, because that’s the way things should be.

this pisses me off to no end. allow me to illustrate with some (real-life) examples:

“oh, it makes sense for you to keep your name — you’re a professional. you have publications and degrees and stuff. changing it would make things so complicated for you. but for women who don’t have all that, there’s no reason for them not to change their names.”

i’m sorry, i graduated about a minute ago. i have virtually no publications or licenses to my name, and even if i did, i got married while i was in school, so i easily could have made it so that robert’s last name showed up on my diploma. the reason i kept my name has nothing to do with the fact that i have degrees, and there’s no reason why women without degrees shouldn’t be able to keep theirs too.

“it makes sense why you would keep your last name — it means something to you because you’re asian.”

this is a true statement. however, even if my last name had no evidence of my ethnicity, i still would have kept it.

“oh, many people of chinese descent keep their last names.”

this is also true — in the motherland, chinese women keep their last names after marriage. however, i’m american, and my chinese heritage is not the reason why i kept mine.

what i sense from comments like these — and please feel free to argue with me if you think i’m wrong — is that in more conservative circles, people are uncomfortable with the fact that i kept my last name. it threatens the established order of things, the way that things have always been done. so they need to create excuses for why it’s okay for me to deviate from this norm — because i’m asian, because i’m professional, what have you — so that their understanding of the world doesn’t get threatened, and things for “normal” people can go on as they have for centuries.

but the reality of the matter is this: i kept my last name not for reasons of race or education but of equality. robert and i are equal partners in this marriage, so why should only one of us have to change their name? either both of us should (which i was also open to) or neither of us should (which is what i ultimately chose).

back in the day, women had to change their names because when they got married, they lost everything. their identities, their possessions — everything became their husband’s. this idea was certainly reinforced in conservative christian cultures, where women were/are instructed that the man is the head of the house and a wife needs to submit to their authority.

i know that that’s not why all women change their last names now, but i didn’t want any part of that patriarchal history in my marriage. so i kept my name. it’s not because of my 2 publications. it’s not because of my ethnicity, though that’s certainly important to me. it’s because of equality, and it’s because i didn’t want to perpetuate that legacy of patriarchy and oppression in any way.

so please, world — don’t make excuses for my last name. if you think it’s weird, it’s not — it’s really quite common. and if it makes you uncomfortable, maybe that’s something you should think about.

disoriented.

we got back last night from our 4th consecutive weekend out-of-town. it was a kick-ass weekend — great, great times with good friends from college; there was a beautiful wedding involved, as well as lots of eating and loitering, which made it feel just like old times. i wouldn’t have changed anything about it.

but then we got home, and a few hours later i find myself in class (my last first day of class ever, at least in an official graduate student capacity, though i’m hesitant to say things like that because i feel like i could get sucked in again), and our glorious 6 weeks of lounging and traveling come to a screeching halt. now i am a student again, much as i have been for almost all of the last 27 years. and people keep calling me lizzo fantasticmrfox, and i have to smile and say “no, i’m still lizzo badizzo,” and they stare at me blankly and confusedly, because me saying that i’m not taking my husband’s last name is, in their minds and in this culture, almost tantamount to saying that i don’t love him. (for the record, i do. very much.) and i have to find a brief way to explain myself without offending them and/or their mothers and every other woman in their lives who has, upon matriomony, changed her last name. i have yet to come up with an appropriate schtick, so my explanations all sound a bit too casual or slightly confrontational. they walk away, and i am left with a gnawing sense in the pit of my stomach of being misunderstood, a feeling that i am a bit too familiar with and one that i try to avoid at all costs.

on top of this, i read in rapid-fire succession about two asian american actresses who are on the cusp of Making It, as well as a high school classmate whose memoir is going to be published by a major publishing house next spring, and i feel like i’ve been sucker-punched. i am overwhelmed with envy because people whose stats are rather close to mine are out doing things that i would like to be doing, things that are far more interesting than what i am currently doing, which is checking my email and my twitter as i wait for the minutes in this final class to tick away. and then i will spend a year commuting 2 hours a day to a job that i feel ambiguous about at best. and then i will be free, armed with 6 years of education and three degrees that leave me generally unqualified for the more interesting things i’d like to be doing.

which leads me to the burning question, the question that i’m generally trying to move people toward: what can i do about it? what can i do to change my situation? or, if my situation cannot be changed, how can i make it bearable, how can i prepare for it to change, and how can i prepare for life after it has changed? which leads me to the conclusion that i need to write. regardless of how much other stuff needs to get done, regardless of how tired i am at the end of the day, i need to freaking write. because if this is what i actually want to be doing, then dammit, i need to be doing it, because i’m not getting any better at it by avoiding it and glowering over the success of other people.

so here i am. a large part of me wants to apologize for the angst, but i’m biting my tongue, because learning to be honest in public and not to be terribly concerned with what other people think about it are the directions i need to be pushing in at the moment.

so, friend, i am making a promise to you today: expect more writing, and expect more honesty. here we go.

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!]

what’s in a name

[inspired by a recent conversation with my roomies]

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 of fairly progressive moves my mom made, i now realize.) 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 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….