Why do women change their names when they get married? I’ve heard the excuses. It protects the husband’s manhood, simplifies mailing addresses and form filing, makes parents happy, and symbolically unifies the family because the kids and parents all have the same last name. Oh yeah, it’s romantic.
The practice started as the result of coverture, which is an “Anglo-American common-law concept, derived from feudal Norman custom, that dictates woman’s subordinate legal status during marriage. Prior to marriage a woman could freely execute a will, enter into contracts, sue or be sued in her own name, and sell or give away her real estate or personal property as she wished. Once she married, however, her legal existence as an individual was suspended under “marital unity,” a legal fiction in which the husband and wife were considered a single entity: the husband.” (Encyclopaedia Brittanica)
So much for romance.
Mr. and Mrs.
Here’s my first excuse. After the wedding invitations went out in 1993, gift checks began to arrive addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Gavin. I quickly realized that if Gavin weren’t somewhere in my name, I wouldn’t be able to cash these or future checks. Of course, checks stopped coming after the nuptials so a long-term solution wasn’t really necessary.
Here’s my second excuse. We lived in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, a half hour from the Canadian border and spent many Saturdays in Windsor. Again, I wanted Gavin somewhere on my legal documents so that I could prove that my yet-to-be-born child was mine – that I wasn’t a kidnapper smuggling some little darling over the border. Had I thought this through, I would’ve realized that a birth certificate would be required to take a child into Canada and I would clearly be listed as the mother of said child.
The middle road
I knew that I didn’t want to full-on lose my beautiful last name. Marinelli not only identifies me as an Italian-American, but it also holds my life story. Everything that happened up to that point, every accomplishment, mistake, joy and regret happened to Ursula Marinelli. I couldn’t lose that.
Nor did I want to hyphenate. The first name, which would’ve been Marinelli, always gets dropped because two last names are more than this culture can handle. It also felt too indecisive. I finally settled on the perfect solution. Because I didn’t have a middle name, I decided to insert Gavin. I never actually use this middle name. I’m still Ursula Marinelli, but my driver’s license and passport bear the same name as my daughter and we were free travel the world.
My old self
Now that I’m divorced, I plan to remove Gavin from my legal documents. It’s nothing against my ex, I just think it’s time to go back to being myself.
I’d love to hear your name story. Did you keep it? Alter it? Why or why not? Any regrets?