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The name that makes your heart sing.

December 13th, 2004 · 8 Comments

Last month The Redhead requested opinions on whether or not she should change her name when she marries Joey. What readers wrote in her comments, sharing their experience and advice was both humorous and helpful, I thought.

Dean Esmay wrote a post recently describing his feelings about name changing. I would try to quote part of it, but then I would end up quoting all of it. In particular I appreciated how he expressed his love for his wife and family.

I exchanged my lengthy British (although often mistaken for Native American) surname for a shorter Chinese one. My maiden name was less common from a global perspective and more distinctive from a local one (almost everyone in the Seattle area who has my maiden name is a relative of mine). I went from having a specific identity to anonymity: there are millions of Leungs on the planet. However, since we have not often lived in cities with large Chinese populations, Leung has become somewhat distinctive as well. Nevermind that I don’t look like my last name. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I don’t think it matters whether a woman takes her husband’s name or not. I see the choice as a cultural one: what does it mean to the couple? I don’t think any global generalizations can be made about a family’s love based on who has whose name. In China, for example, I have heard that wives retain their maiden names. On The Redhead’s post, people commented that Canadian women don’t change their names either. There are practical reasons to keep one’s maiden name. Two friends who were physicans when they married worried that confusion would result from two doctors in the same hospital with the same name. Sometimes it may not seem to make sense to make a change. (Eric Rice’s post on his experience with Google Suggest suggests other reasons in this age to consider when making a name change.)

Life as a Leung has been interesting for me but I’m glad I changed my name. It did not require excessive amounts of paperwork, from what I remember. It was a simple thing to do. And it may have made our life simpler. I like it that we all have the same name, parents and kids. I like the convenience of only five letters to type. I like my husband too, and the more of life I share with him, the better.

Hugh in The Redhead’s comments wrote

So, with all the legalistic and philosophical fretting now done, here is my advice you you: Wendy, call yourself by the name that makes your heart sing. But pay attention to whether it makes Joey’s heart sing as well.

Dean described what makes his heart sing…I can’t resist quoting these few sentences after all…

My own happiness comes second to whatever she needs, and her changing her name to mine signals that to me. Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood. She’s my reason for being. Her wearing my name doesn’t make her subordinate to me. I many ways, it makes me subordinate to her.

And that’s the gist, really: we are subordinate to each other.

I know the name that makes my heart sing and I’m glad I have it: his.

Tags: marriage

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Rayne // Dec 14, 2004 at 5:35 am

    My name is a hyphen; I was a bit older when I married, already had an identity of my own. My father’s name is Asian and unusual even in Asian communities, since his ancestor’s given name became the family name on arrival in the U.S. Dad is well-respected because of his ethics; I am proud of that. My spouse was fine with the idea of me retaining my maiden name during our lengthy engagement — until a few weeks before the wedding. We negotiated this, finally arriving at hyphenation. It’s not that I don’t respect his family name; it was something I’d have to grow into over time. It also didn’t help at all that his ex-wife’s name was very close to mine. Taking his name over my own would have meant much confusion (nearly 15 years later I still get junkmail in her name at our house, even though we’ve moved in that time).

    Over the years my identity has evolved. I am three or more people: the person who worked for Fortune 100 companies, the person who is now a consultant and a wife, the mother of two children. Each of these identities and roles has a different name, pre-hyphen, hyphen and post-hyphen. I enjoy knowing which hat I’m supposed to wear whenever someone addresses me by one of my names. But it does confuse my spouse to this day; he shrugs and then rolls with it. The kids get it and have fun with it.

  • 2 crows to burnaby // Dec 14, 2004 at 3:48 pm

    Names and the post-post-modern woman

    I was just reading Julie Leung’s post about whether or not to keep your maiden name when you get married. This is a topic of some interest to me, especially as two good friends of ours got married lately and had to consider the options.

    When I was …

  • 3 Jim Thomsen // Dec 14, 2004 at 8:20 pm


    I guess the question is: Why shouldn’t it work the same way in reverse? Why shouldn’t Ted have been just as thrilled at the prospect of taking YOUR name? Why wasn’t that ever considered? (Or was it??)

    I don’t have a problem with your choice … but I wonder if you really considered all the ways it could have gone, or in the end simply found it easier to do what patriarchal society says you should do. WE all make a lot of go go-along-to-get-along choices in life, myself included … and there shouldn’t be any great shame in admitting to it.

    If I ever get married, I have no idea how this situation will resolve itself … but I do know we will talk over every possibility.

    I guess I wonder if changing his name to hers would have made Dean’s heart sing just as sweetly.

  • 4 Katherine // Dec 15, 2004 at 4:55 pm

    In response to Jim’s comment, I would have to say that men and women are not exactly the same or interchangeable. Men and women are different. Equal in value/worth, but not equal in role. Just as men and women’s bodies are built differently, each better suited to different tasks, men and women’s psyches are different too. I believe men are generally designed better for leading, providing for and protecting a family, and women are generally designed better for backing up their loving, servant-leader. People can try to buck those roles or be indignant about the un-PCness of it, but I’m not sure it brings happiness.

  • 5 Julie // Dec 16, 2004 at 12:07 am

    Thanks to everyone for the comments.


    Ah, the danger of only quoting part of Dean’s post…After the quote above, Dean continued:

    “Would it work for me if it were the other way around? If I took her name? Of course. The point is that we are together, we are wedded, and we are a family, and family comes first.”

    So there is Dean’s answer to your wondering.

    Getting married, for me, was anything but a “go-along-to-get-along” choice. But that’s another post or two or three…

    I had many reasons for changing my name, but I can’t share all of them in a blog post (or in this comment).

    I liked The Redhead’s post, and its comments, and I liked Dean’s post. I wanted to remember them and share them with others. That was my purpose in writing this piece.

    I’m grateful I had a choice to make. And my heart knew what I wanted to do.

  • 6 Julie // Dec 16, 2004 at 12:22 am

    I might start to put these in the comments, since I have a comments feed…crows to burnaby responded to this post:


  • 7 Jim Thomsen // Dec 16, 2004 at 10:00 am

    Thanks for your responses … but I still don’t feel satisfied on this topic.

    Katherine: Are those gender roles, as you define them, something that’s naturally within us as men or women, or the result of so many centuries of patriarchal conditioning that we’ve come to see them as natural delineations? I’m not so sure it’s not the latter รขโ‚ฌโ€ a centuries-old historical con game played on women.

    And Julie: I saw what Dean said. But it carries little weight with me because he didn’t do it. It’s an empty statement of equality to me. There’s no risk in what he said … versus the tremendous risk of social and cultural backlash had he actually done it. I wonder, really, if that’s a risk he would have taken.

    I appreciate all your perspectives, and I’m truly not trying to pick a fight. My point, as I originally said, remains this: I wonder if we’ve thought these things through as much as we think we have. More thinking never hurts (except for the occasional tension headache).

  • 8 Gloria // Feb 15, 2005 at 10:02 pm

    When I married the first time in 1945, I changed my last name from Carter to Johnson, retaining my middle name of Edythe. I divorced in 1949 and remarried in 1950. By this time, I already had a son who was named William Carter Johnson. In 1950, when I remarried, I assumed Johnson as my middle name and taking my second husbands last name as my own, making me Mrs. Gloria Johnson Coleman.

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