Guest Post: Currently Between Last Names

by Lesley Butterfield Harrop

What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Those words of Shakespeare seem empty in the midst of an identity crisis. Names are everything. They are everywhere. They are how we determine who we are, what we do, what and how we believe. Names are important. So important, in fact, that to change them takes an act of government, both literally and figuratively.

I am going through a divorce. Hence, the issue of my name has recently come under scrutiny. It has even risen to be the subject of spirited debates in circles of friends, family, but mostly within myself. Not by the fault of anyone else, but by the self-awareness of my soul. Going through a divorce in the same ward is nothing short of a living nightmare, as one can imagine. Regardless, I hold my head high and steer clear of those who would repeat rumors and believe untruths. This leaves me reaching out to new people, who are unaware of the juiciness of my personal life. I found the typical self-introduction goes something like this:

“Hello, I’m Sister [insert awkward pause as I try to figure out who I even am.]”

My air of outer confidence is a poor match for the identity crisis I’m feeling inside. I try again,

“Hello, I’m Sister [insert married last name.] I mean, Sister [insert maiden last name.] But you can call me Sister [insert botched hybrid of married and maiden last names.]”

No, that doesn’t work either.

Who am I? I may not even know. To embrace my married name, feels too victimizing. It hurts too much. I took that name upon myself as a symbol of hope, faith, loyalty, sacrifice, and love in my marriage. Sadly, the marriage has ended because those same qualities were not reciprocated. That name was part of my promise, which I kept. But now I am releasing myself of that promise. To release myself of that name is fitting. I can feel the empowering cleanse of shedding that name. It feels like I imagine a snake must feel as she sheds her skin: renewed, refreshed, revived.

But taking back my maiden name? That’s highly problematic in its own right. I fail to recognize that young girl with that shiny maiden name who was full of innocence, bright-eyed, thinking her life would be set, after finding a returned missionary and getting a temple marriage to boot. A lifetime has passed since that girl even existed. She is gone. Surely she is, but in her place, a woman. Wise, grown, mature, with a wrinkle……or seven.

I realize that the wise woman with one (or seven) wrinkles came about in this space. The space between married and maiden. The space between separated and single. This space is her birthplace, the ambiguity her peace. She was grown from the weeds and sparked from the ashes. This space birthed a strong woman who leads her family with fierce independence. This space made way for her wings to spread. I can honor this space. I cherish this space. It made me her.

I try one more time, with my outstretched hand and a friendly smile without a trace of shame,

“Hello, I’m Sister Currently-Between-Last-Names.”

Yes, that’s me.

Lesley is an RN with ambitions to develop programs to teach emotional intelligence in the community. She freelances as a photographer and writer, along with raising her four young children who happen to love dance parties in the kitchen.

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10 Responses

  1. Spunky says:

    One of the things I like best about Australia is the lack of titles. For the most part, this comes across at church so people call each other by thier first names only. I really appreciated that as, like you, I had a previously hyphenated married name, a maiden name and a new husband who I wasn’t ready to change my name about (took a decade and the need to look good on adoption papers to change.)

    I’m not a fan of “sister” or “brother” as a title, anyway. But I could probably get behind the early church habit of sister “first name” much more readily than the highly problematic sister “last name” business that is most common in the church.

  2. I honestly wish I had not changed names on marriage. At the time, I hated doing it but felt I had to. Lately, I have been working on history projects and I have realized that part of the reason women are not remembered as well is because their names change over time, and people fail to notice that Jane Smith and Jane Jones were the same person. I’ve been also working with scientists and wondered how someone like Jane can develop a reputation in the industry, when some of her work is referenced “Smith, J” and some is “Jones, J”. Women already have enough obstacles without our names getting in the way! And a man can divorce without any of his business colleagues having to know about what is going on in his personal life, but for a woman who changes her name, she has to point out the change to even the most distant acquaintances. At this point, if I were to divorce, I think I would keep my name as is because I never want to discard my identity again. I have done a lot of work in the name of “April Young Bennett” and I wouldn’t want to have to explain to anyone that that person used to be me.

  3. wanderer says:

    For what it’s worth, the women I know at BYU who intend to work do not change their last names when they get married to preserve that professional continuity. So this is being considered.

  4. TopHat says:

    My new year’s resolution this year is to legally hyphenate. I took my husband’s name at marriage because I wanted a break from my family of origin, but I’d like a re-do on that. I changed my email address this year to reflect that and to remind me to get the legal change done. My husband is ward membership clerk so he’s already changed it on the church records for me.

  5. Kindra says:

    I can identify with your post! When I went through a similar situation with its own characteristics, I really wanted to come up with an entirely new last name (neither maiden nor my married name), but I never found one that felt like it fit. If I had, I would have pursued changing it legally. Good luck forging ahead!

  6. Marivene says:

    As a mother, a hyphenated last name, especially post-divorce, links your last name to the last name of your children. That can be invaluable for school and church functions, where you definitely want your children identified as yours. If that becomes your choice, then it seems the hyphen represents the wise woman.

    • Alys's Wonderlandd says:

      As an actual mother who kept her identity at marriage and whose children, because they were boys, got their dad’s name, I can guarantee there is literally NO problem at all with a mother having a different last name than her kids. This is a non-issue.

  7. I didn’t take my husband’s name legally until after we were married 10 years (not that the church records reflected that). So, I was already working and it was easier to hyphenate than explain. I have had two friends after divorce choose to use their middle name as a last name instead of going back to their maiden name. With divorce being more common, the schools deal with parents of different names all the time now. Do whatever makes things easier for you.

  8. Alys's Wonderlandd says:

    Until women are able to see themselves as complete human beings and reject the idea of throwing out their very identities when they marry (to become part of a man – let’s be honest, that’s what it means), society will continue to see them as “someone’s wife” or “someone’s mother.” Claim your place as a “someone.” Whether you go back to your original name (which is YOURS as much as it is your father’s BTW), or select an entirely new name for your new stage of life (which is totally doable), own your name and own your identity. Own your personhood.

  9. Patty Johnson says:

    I am ridiculously attached to my middle name and refused to substitute my maiden name for it when I got married. My sister went back to her maiden name when she got divorced, but chose an assertive new version of her first name as the change she wanted to make. Names are darn personal.

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