In just three short months, I — Liz Hohenadel — might cease to exist.
That sounds like the start of the next teen dystopian thriller, but I’m just being a little dramatic. Three months marks not a vampire pandemic or the start of the Hunger Games, but an event of equally epic proportions: my wedding. After which point I will be forced to make a major decision that may or may not cause my identity, as I’ve known it thus far, to disappear. My conundrum: Should I keep my maiden name, Hohenadel? Or should I take my husband’s name, Scott? (There’s the third option of hyphenating, but that has always been off the table for us — Hohenadel is a tongue-twister as it is!)
So herein lies my struggle. Coming of age in the “Girl Power” era of the mid-‘90s, I’d always assumed I would keep my last name — personally and professionally — after marriage. Why wouldn’t I? I’m a feminist, after all. I’ve donated to Planned Parenthood. I voted for Hillary Clinton. I read (most of) Lean In! How could I possibly take my husband’s name and align myself with a tradition so steeped in patriarchal ownership?
But then, sometimes, I stop myself and think: how could I not?
On paper it’s obvious. Feminist ideals aside, the decision to keep my maiden name seems almost easy. I’ve heard the bureaucracies of legal name change are a momentous pain. I carried an expired driver’s license for nearly a year because I was too lazy to bother getting it renewed, so I don’t know if I have the energy it takes to deal with all that paperwork and red tape. Plus, everything I’ve done so far in life — earning my degree, starting my career, and signing the lease on my first grown-up apartment — has all been done as a Hohenadel. And, most importantly, in the words of the great Marlo Stanfield, the terrifying albeit fictional drug kingpin from HBO’s The Wire: “My name is my name!” I mean, yes, he’s referencing the intricacies of the Baltimore drug game while I’m thinking more along the lines of changing my Twitter handle (oh shit, I might have to change my Twitter handle!), but I get where he’s coming from; our identities are wrapped up in our names and changing mine feels like a betrayal of my very self. Sure, having Scott as a surname would be easier to spell (and how deliciously upper crust does Elizabeth Scott sound?) but should I really be tossing away my personal identity for a shorter, WASPier Gmail address? Doubtful.
I thought I had come to a decision. And then I saw the bowl.
Last Christmas, my married cousin and his wife arrived at our house carrying their addition to the family dinner, a quinoa salad in a big white bowl emblazoned with the words “The Hohenadels” in bright, cheery red. And though I’ve never had anything monogrammed in my whole life, the sight of their shared name — that bold, obvious “we are a family” statement — struck me. I wanted what that bowl represented: potlucks, picnics, children, family.
The fact that I couldn’t stop thinking about the bowl took me entirely by surprise. I’d always thought of the whole name change business in terms of what is lost, rather than what could be gained. That taking your husband’s name means surrendering your individuality, becoming someone’s (shudder) Mrs. But that bowl revealed another way of looking at names; not as “his” and “hers” or “mine” and “yours” but as “ours,” as a family name.
I know a bowl is just a bowl and a shared name does not guarantee a happy family, but I like the cohesive unit it represents. And when I consider my own reasons for getting married, one of the leading factors is that idea of becoming a unit. So many of the arguments surrounding this decision are rooted in individual thought, and yet, the whole point of marriage is that it’s not an individual act. Whether I like it or not, marrying someone does change your identity. I’ll no longer be a solo player. Marriage is a team sport. And I think I might want my team to have the same name.