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Jan 03

What my last name means

Miller. It’s a very common name. Easy to spell. Easy to say. Almost…anonymous in its plain-vanilla ordinariness.

My former last name was not at all common. I was the only person in America with my former full legal name. Even in the days before facebook, it was a very obvious name. Many people all over the country had heard of at least one person with the same last name and asked if I were related to that person (usually my father’s oldest brother. If not, it was my uncle one brother up from my father).

When I got married, I was happy to take on the anonymity of Miller. There are names I would not have traded for. In fact, a former boyfriend had a common last name that suited him very well, but would not have suited me at all. At 4’11″, one does not take on a name that means, “tall building”.

Changing one’s name on marrying was and is a very un-feminist thing to do, and I consider myself a feminist. But Miller as a name was pretty darn seductive to someone whose name had been forever a thing to reckon with. Even my father pronounces it differently depending on if he introduces himself as Bob (emphasis on last syllable) or Robert (emphasis on first). So believe me when I tell you that I did not change my name lightly or without a lot of thought.

As a feminist, I think I made the poorer choice, the choice that makes it harder for others to remain themselves if they wish.

Perhaps the better choice would have been for both of us to have changed our names to something like Brown or Jones. I don’t know.

I know that I made the choice that felt right to me at the time, and that still feels right to me as a person.

And the fact that men, in general, don’t have to think about this? Is a privilege I haven’t got.

But here’s the thing. I got married in New York State in 1996. If I had wanted to marry another woman, I wouldn’t have been able to, and still could not in NY or VA. So the ease of changing my name through marriage? Is a privilege.

Funny that.

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4 comments

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  1. Magpie

    Now I wish I knew your old last name.

  2. Paul Battaglia

    Liz, it's still weird to me to think of you as Mrs. Miller, since I only knew you by your maiden name……

  3. kathy a.

    names, names. i think when you make the choice that makes sense to you, that is the right one.

    i've always been in favor of keeping my own name, especially since all my legal stuff is in that name. and also — this is petty but true — my SIL had the exact name to which i would have switched, if i'd taken my husband's name. i would not for anything to be mistaken for her, but of course i have been, just having the same first name.

    it's a little harder in my particular situation since all my sibs have the same first initial, we all kept our names, and one sib has a very similiar official first name. my own daughter assumed a package was from me the other day, because all she noticed was the K and the last name. but it was from an auntie. sigh.

  4. TravisW

    Since you promoted this on twitter I’ll add my thoughts.

    This is one of those things that men got the long end of the straw on and honestly I’m glad we did. I’m in the process of researching my family name and thankfully because it’s rather uncommon but not completely unknown name it’s been so much easier to research. I’m convinced that at some level I’m related to all of my fellow Waddle/Waddel/Waddell’s out there and I was surprised to see the name so often when I came to Virginia compared to my home state of Ohio.

    That said I was shocked that my wife received her MBA under my name. I was so surprised by the name that was announced during her commencement that I nearly forgot to applaud her. We had only been married for a month or two at the time and we were still getting used to her living by a new name. As far as I was concerned she had earned that degree under her name and she should have kept it and been proud. (I’ll add that my wife’s maiden name was Miller and I think she was happy to give up the anonymity.)

    I guess I view feminism in the way Marge Simpson explained it to me, “feminism is about choice and I chose to be a mother”. As long as this was your choice you shouldn’t feel the need to explain it to anyone else or feel latent guilt. Yes, you could have kept the name or created something new and either of these things could have helped further the “cause” but what did you want? Soldiers don’t have to fight in every battle.

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