What’s in a (Maiden) Name?

Erin - Norfolk, Virginia
Entered on March 11, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: change

I believe in taking my husband’s name. Or at least, I did, until I got engaged.

Growing up I hated my mother for keeping her maiden name. I hated explaining to people that no, my parents weren’t divorced, and yes, she was my biological mother. I hated signing Christmas cards with two last names and taking up two lines in school phone books. Most of all I hated it when she’d loudly correct my friends, who mistakenly addressed her as Mrs. O’Neill.

From the day I learned cursive, I’ve wasted endless hours — and notebooks– practicing my married signature, the letters always mutating to the surnname of my crush du jour. Erin Raspatello in grammar school, Erin Parker in high school, and most recently, Erin Mott.

I’ve always been exhilarated by the array of nominal possibilities; invigorated by the symbolic metamorphisis my new name would offer me. I couldn’t wait to find out who I’d someday become.

But ever since my fiancé put that shiny ring on my finger, I’m suddenly finding the idea of giving up my maiden name paralyzing, and I’m not exactly sure why.

For one thing, I think, it’s the finality of it all. I mean for 28 years I’ve been Erin O’Neill, and as of this June, I suddenly won’t be. I recently came across a resolution from the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention stating that women, “ if married, in the eye of the law, [are] civically dead.” Ouch. And I guess, kinda true. The day I take my husband’s name, Erin O’Neill – legally – won’t exist anymore. Anywhere.

And that’s kinda scary. I mean, it was Erin O’Neill who won titles in Irish dancing and had her first kiss with Bill Davy under the Ferris Wheel at Kiddieland. Erin O’Neill’s the one who visited Uzbekistan, snuck into an inaugural ball back in college and once made herself sick eating a whole bag of candy corn. It was Erin O’Neill my fiance fell in love with, and Erin O’Neill who agreed to marry him. What’s going to happen to that girl when I take away her name?

But if I do keep my maiden name, is that really such a feminist conquest? What’s so empowering about defining myself as my father’s daughter, rather than my husband’s wife? Within a patriarchy, how can any woman claim she’s keeping her own name?

So while I’m ridiculously excited about getting married and sharing a name with my future husband and children, deep down inside, I wonder about the next day, after the wedding. Will I wake up invigorated, ready to begin this new chapter of my life? Or deep down inside, will I secretly be lost, missing the old me?