Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Margaret By Any Other Name

NaBloPoMo prompt: If you had to switch your first name, what name would you choose and why?

There are three times in my life when I've had to consider what one's name means to one's identity.

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My parents overthought the naming process initially. They decided that we needed to have both a "kid name" and an "adult name". Thus, my legal name is Margaret, but my parents always - and only - called me Meg when I was growing up. I didn't have a problem with the name Meg, but it was obnoxious when my legal name was required - like on the class list at the start of a school year - and I had to explain that I went by a nickname (especially a nickname that's not obviously derived from the full name).

When I went to college 350 miles away (with only one person that I obliquely knew from my "previous" life), I decided to take advantage of the chance to start over in some ways, and decided to start going by Margaret. I wanted to save myself the explanation to every professor and new employer what my name was.

Even though I had never used my legal name in any real context before (I don't think I even knew for sure how to spell it until middle school), it didn't take too much to adjust to it. My parents on the other hand... they picked out Margaret to be my legal name, but after 18 years of Meg, they couldn't get used to it! They tried, they really did, but Meg was what came easily, and when visiting, it slipped out often enough in front of my roommates and friends that they started calling me Meg as well. 

My parents have gradually become better about using my real name, but slip occasionally, and now I view Meg as more of an endearing nickname - most of the people that I'm closest too either originally knew me as Meg or are around my parents enough to pick up on it, so it gives it a sense of being a term of endearment when people use it.

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A few years ago, I was engaged. I am not the type of girl who has been dreaming of her wedding for years. I honestly didn't truly expect to ever get married. As we planned, I did a lot of reading about wedding traditions (conventions? "traditional" is actually a bit of a misnomer for many things related to current wedding expectations), their origins, and how they play out in cultural norms.

Changing my last name wasn't something I was opposed to per se (I do like the idea of having a single family name, especially if kids are anticipated in the future), but I couldn't stand the idea that I was expected to be the one to change my name, whereas no one expected my fiance to even consider changing his. It was so annoying! Here I was, agonizing over what I wanted to do with my name, and he didn't have to think about anything. 

There's also the whole thing that even if I kept my birth last name, that name came from my father, so either way it's still derived from patriarchy. For a while, I thought about adding my mom's maiden name, if I was going through the process of name changing anyways (even though, yes, that's still my grandfather's name) (and I didn't want to drop my middle name and use my maiden name as a middle name, because it comes from my aunt)... Margaret Middle MomMaiden Myname Hisname... that would have been a mouthful.

After some thought, I asked him to add my name to his, and I would add his name to mine, so we would both have the same double-barrel last name (Myname Hisname, because it sounded better than Hisname Myname). Although I wanted him to take some time to consider it, he actually agreed to it immediately. His mom - who had been married three times and changed her name three times - had a hissy fit when she found out. I'm not sure if she thought our choice to diverge from convention was a judgment on her choice to continually conform, or if it brought out emotions of regret for conforming (let's just say our relationship didn't provide me the chance to ask her about it). 

Fortunately, for a variety of reasons, the engagement ended a couple months before the planned wedding date. Although the name issue was by no means the primary issue, I think that he actually wasn't as comfortable with the idea of adding my last name to his as he originally let on.

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Now that Abe and I are in the stage of tentatively planning a future together, I'm leaning towards keeping my last name and encouraging him to keep his name, no changes or additions. Our names wouldn't sound very good combined (they're both two syllables, and have similar ending sounds), so I don't see a double-barrel or hyphenated name as an option. 

We've also - and I hate to admit this, I hate the stereotype of the girl who's planned this all out in advance of even finding the guy for this future to take place with - but we've discussed a concept for naming our future kids: first names starting with N and O (Abe is a blog pseudonym, his first name actually starts with L, so then we'd be LMNO) (yes, I'm assuming two kids, as far as biological kids, I think it's irresponsible to do more than replace yourselves), and middle initials starting with A, because both Abe and I have A as our middle initial, plus a vowel facilitates having pronounceable initials. With those for the first and middle names, it would work well for give each of them one of our last names, and then their initials would be NAW and OAT. Although I can see some concerns of having siblings with different last names, I think this is a decent, fair alternative to having a single family name for everyone.

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Are Abe and I overthinking our future kid-naming just as much as my parents did? 

What do you think is the solution to the patriarchal naming system in American culture?


  1. I think that if it is what you both want then you should do it. I like the idea of giving each child one of your last names. While it isn't "traditional" or whatever, it will be another trait to make your family unique.

    I changed my last name when I got married, but I had one of those last names that is actually a first name as well, so my husband and I decided to name our child that if it is a girl. I also hate the stereotypical girl who plans a future, but I can t help imagine what our future children will be named or what traits they will have.

    1. Oh, that's a cool idea to use your last name as a kid's name, awesome that you have a name that'd work for that!


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