I found myself asking this question recently as it came time to fill out a marriage license. I always thought I would change my last name when I married. Then I went online to fill out the application. I felt a visceral resistance and observed my whole body tighten. It took me a few days to process what I was feeling, but I slowly started to understand.
I always feel sheepish admitting this, but the greatest thing I wanted for my life was a husband and a family. I graduated college and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I wanted love and family. It seemed like every move I made somehow had romance on the agenda- even if it was just the dream of it. With each failed relationship, I devoured books on therapy and spirituality not yet realizing that my passion and desire was paving the way for my career and a relationship with myself.
By the time I reconnected with my now fiancé (alas, he was there all along), I still wanted a relationship and family, but the desire no longer existed so I could feel complete as a person. I had spent years crying, kicking, and clawing my way to being comfortable as myself. To marry then change my name suddenly felt antiquated and unnecessary. And maybe it is. But I knew it was important to my fiancé.
He made clear that he wanted me to be happy first and foremost, but I also understood his reasons for wanting to share his name. Call it being in love or call it being old fashioned, but I really wanted to make him happy and a part of me did want to share his name. Yet, that resistance in my body would not let me type any other name but my own on the marriage application. I felt so conflicted.
I needed to understand my own reasons for wanting to keep my name. It wasn’t a feminist desire so much as a humanist desire. I am who I am, I worked hard to be who I am, and that I turned my personal journey into a therapy practice that bears my name is very important to me. Then I started to wonder, am I still who I am without my name? The desire to keep my name was now conflicting with my desire to practice surrendering the attachment to it.
When we are attached to things, the thought of losing them can create fear, anger, grief, or contraction. As I felt into letting go of my name, all these emotions came up. Was a part of me dying? Why should I have to change my name? Why doesn’t he change his name? I still want to be Italian! I don’t want a new email with numbers! As I let myself feel all these feelings, the contraction started to pass (this took several days). And the truth was, nobody was forcing me to do anything. My fiancé had left it in my hands and was at peace with whatever I decided.
Whatever I decided, I knew it had to feel expansive and peaceful. The emotions and thoughts that surfaced regarding keeping my name were ultimately based on the fear that on some level, I may no longer exist. I would be someone’s wife, and all I had worked for in my 35 years prior would be for naught. While these thoughts surfaced in my mind, they felt so untrue in my body. They felt contracting.
What unfolded is that my desire for what feels expansive trumped everything. What felt authentic and right for me was giving in to love, not fear. The decision whether or not to change my name became about something greater than the issue of the name. It was about remembering that who I am is eternal and choosing love over fear will always be the most expansive choice I can make. Whether I change my name, my hair, my career or anything that does not truly define me, I will still be me. As I learned my first year of high school when I met my future husband, “that which we call a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.” So today, we went to the City Clerk’s office and I applied for a marriage license with my fiancé’s last name. When I walked out, I was the same person that had walked in- me.