Death of a Name.
It is traditional for a woman to take her husband’s last name and forsake her own. In the past, when a woman’s only identity was her husband’s, this name change wasn’t an issue, however, as women have created identities for themselves, separate from their husbands, this custom has been challenged. It has become more accepted for women to add to, hyphenate, or keep their maiden name. But even with the progress the feminist and women’s rights movements have made, the years of tradition have ingrained in women the necessity of changing their last name with marriage.
My fiancé wants me to take his name, and even though I am not morally opposed to making the change, the pressure from society to conform is unnerving.
Logically, a name change shouldn’t be causing me as much anxiety as it is. I’ve reinvented myself several times over the years. I was Elizabeth in grade school, Beth in middle school, and I’ve been Liz since high school. I understand the hardships and rewards of changing your name. Of saying goodbye to one identity and hello to another. In that way, with every name change, I am a phoenix, rising from the ashes of my old self.
But my last name has been sacred. It has been the one constant in my life. It has been who I am for the past 34 years, and maybe that’s why I am so reluctant to bury it.
Or maybe it’s more than that.
Unlike most careers, my career, in the field of education, rallies behind the last name, imbuing a teacher’s surname with respect and power while supplanting their first names with an honorific. This practice is so rooted in the system that students consider it a rite of passage once they graduate to call their teachers by their first names.
My professional life has been molded around my family moniker. Forged in the fires of the classroom, my identity as Ms. Wilks has been cemented. While I have teacher friends who have changed their last names, they have done so at the beginning of their careers or at the start of a new place, making the transition a little easier. To change my name now, after nine years, is like throwing a finished sword back into the furnace. I must be broken before I can move forward.