The Name Game

You’ve probably seen me mention that I’m getting married soon. I’ve written about it here, and some of you actually know me well enough to know just how crazy I’m starting to get.

You may not know, though, that Kristin McFarland is my real name. I never adopted a “pen name” because, well, I’ve been writing under my real name for years. You can do a Google search and see a lot of pieces written by Kristin McFarland—news pieces from Berkeley, Indianapolis, IU, small-town New Mexico; about a gazillion blog posts; interviews; eHow articles—there’s tons of stuff, and they’re all out there, permanently a part of the interwebs.

And that’s okay. I vouch for my work, and I’m fine with all of the publications to which I’ve attached my name.

But now I’m getting married. I plan to keep my name. It’s MY name, after all, and I’ve lived with it for 27 years. Plus, all my work is under this name, so I’ll keep writing under it regardless of what name I end up with.

There are fair number of young women who aren’t changing their name when they  get married. I can name three good friends off the top of my head who have kept their names—though I admit I can name a lot more who haven’t. I can also think of a friend who changed her name and said it was a huge wrench to do it.

Lately, I’ve been suffering over it some myself. It all started when we had to take my cat to the vet.

Receptionist: “What’s the name?”

Kristin: “Well, MY name is Kristin McFarland, and the cat’s name is Portia.”

Receptionist: “Hmm… and you’re sure the cat has been here before?”

Kristin: (distinctly remembering feline wails and trauma while visiting this clinic) “Well, it’s been a few years, but yes, I’m sure.”

Receptionist: “I’m not finding you.”

Kristin: (lightbulb) “Well, our other cat is in the system under my fiance’s name.”

Receptionist: “Oh… yes, here Portia’s file is!”

And it occurred to me, after they teased me about it when I arrived with the cat, that this will be a pain in the rear my whole life. It will always be, “Well, did we do this under MY name or YOUR name? Better check both!” And it will get worse if we ever have any little-Kristins. A friend of mine who kept her name says people regularly judge her because they think her kids were born out of wedlock.

So I have to admit now that there’s a little logic to a family having the same name. It creates unity, after all. And I could see wanting to distance my writing persona from my personal-self. But I still don’t think it’s fair that the woman always changes her name.

Maybe we’ll just adopt a completely new name, like Skywalker or Summers or Baggins.

Readers, what would you do? If you’re married, what did you do?

8 thoughts on “The Name Game

  1. I changed my last name to my husband’s last name because it was important to him. I couldn’t care less, but it was a pain. Twenty years later, it doesn’t really matter all that much. Sort of.

    My brother-in-law changed his name to his wife’s name because she would be the last to carry her family’s name (they had two girls, so one of *them* will have to stay with her family name to keep the lineage going).

    I’ve known a couple who both changed their name to herlastname-hislastname. For the most part, they each continued to use their given last name, but it seemed they had less problems with legal (like the vet) stuff because they each shared the same last name that includes them both.

    It would be nice if we all did what the Chileans do: they never change their names, regardless of martial status. They do: firstname, middlename, father’s lastname, mother’s lastname – for life.

  2. Yeah, the Icelanders do the whole non-changing-name thing too. So I would be Susan Eriksdottir. Makes way more sense to me.
    The whole name-change thing is a tricky area these days. It’s traditional for a woman to take her new husband’s surname, but it’s not obligatory. On the other hand, you risk being perceived as an up-yourself, over-career-focused uber-feminist type if you don’t – and that’s not fair. Unless you ARE all those things, of course, in which case… good luck to ya.
    My best friend got married recently. Or rather, remarried. They decided to double-barrel his surname with her maiden name, and do it for both of them. It sounds nice, and it’s more fair, and as you say, it stops the vet, doctor, etc getting confused!

    • I wish we could adopt the Icelandic tradition. It’d be so much easier. As it is, I’m either pissing off my new in-laws or letting my maiden name die out with my generation.

      Man, my kids will inherit quite the battle, won’t they? My friend who kept her name gave her last name to her kids as a sort of second middle name. Unfortunately, her poor daughter will end up with five names if she gets married and has the same name change dilemma!

      Like I said in another comment, the hyphenate last name would be a whopping five syllables for us. I don’t want to be one of those people whose name takes up two lines on the check. 🙂

  3. I didn’t exactly change my name, but for professional purposes, I added my husband’s name. Now, if I’m dropping clothes off at the dry-cleaners, I use his name, just to keep things simple, but all my legal & tax documents have both names. Which is a PIA when I’m on the phone with the IT guy at work, trying to remember which name he should search for me under. But I’ve got only sisters, and for our little twig of the family tree, my maiden name will end with this generation, so I want to keep using it.

    • Unfortunately, if I hyphenate, my last name will be the extremely unwieldy “McFarland-Buschhorn.” Yikes.

      My maiden name would end with me, too. *sigh*

  4. I didn’t change my last name when I got married but when we finalized the adoption of our oldest daughter and changed her last name, I felt I should change mine to signify we were a unified family. She and I did the name change thing together at that time. I made my maiden name a second middle name so it’s still there, just not as a last name. It’s a tough decision. What felt right for me was to keep my maiden name for a while and have the option to change it to my husband’s name at a later time if I chose to do so.

    • I’ve thought about the second middle name approach. Maybe you’re right — maybe I should just keep my maiden name until it feels right to change it. If it feels right to change it.

      Thank you for sharing your story — it helps me appreciate the circumstances that can affect the name-change decision.

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