This I Believe

Josie - Chicago, Illinois
Entered on June 20, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30
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I believe last names should not be forfeited at marriage. I believe my history is just as important as my husband’s; that my mother’s legacy is just as important as my father’s. And I believe our culture is woefully behind the times when it come to “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” and the whole Name Game.

When I got married, my husband’s friends and relatives were confused. They sent cards addressed to Josie Aaronson, or Josie Gelb and one even asked how long I had been divorced. But my hyphenated last name, that tumbling mouthful: Aaronson-Gelb– is not the result of marriage gone wrong. It is the result of growing up in California’s Bay Area, where family “traditions” are cutting edge.

As a child growing up in the early 80’s, hyphenated last names were all the rage. My best friend was a Kreps-Falk; a Jarvis-Wloszek lived down the street. Class lists included Ehransaft-Hawley and (my favorite), Zaremba-Doboshinsky.

It wasn’t until I left California that I realized hyphenated last names are not the norm. Airplane websites showed error messages when I booked online. Medical officers treated me like an idiot.

But it was my recent marriage that prompted the people I knew to start asking the real question. What was I going to do when I had children? I developed a range of responses. Aaronson-Gelb-Shapiro. Sharonsongelb, little Erin Songelb Shapiro. I imagined what would have happened if I had married another hyphenated person. Aaronson-Gelb-Shapiro-Smith. “You wouldn’t honestly do that to your children, would you?” people asked.

As for my husband, Alex– he was wounded. What was so wrong with Shapiro that I didn’t want to adopt it as my own? But it wasn’t his last name I was opposed to; it was the thought of losing mine. There are benefits to being an Aaronson-Gelb. Google my hyphenated name and guess who you find? Google my proposed “married” name and you’ll uncover nearly seven million results. Still, it would be nice to share a family identity with the guy I love.

I tried to broach the name-change decision with my mother. She leaned back in her chair, short hair in the same style it’s been since 1968—and informed me that if I wanted to throw away years of feminist progress and accept subordinate status within my relationship, then that was my business—“sweetie.”

And it’s true. Changing one’s name is an intensely personal decision. So my husband and I broached it in our own way: Alex took on the A and G from Aaronson-Gelb and I took on the Shapiro. We morphed from disparate individuals into one unit…the A.G. Shapiros. And no, the A and the G are not middle initials. They are part of our family’s last name.

Are my pharmacy prescriptions still misfiled? Yes. But now Alex’s are too. Do airlines still send error messages when we purchase flights? Yes. But they send them to us as a family. And is my mother still miffed at my decision? Of course. But now I can pass the phone off to Alex when she complains. After all, we’re family now; we’ve got the last name to prove it.