What's in a Name? When Moms and Kids Don't Share the Same Last Name

Just because my kids and I don't have the same last name doesn't make us any less of a family.

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of my return to using the name I was born with, thus setting off a round of confusion for anyone who’s gotten to know me using a different last name for the 20 years prior to that.

As I was getting ready to finalize my divorce last year, I knew that I had the one-time opportunity to legally change my name the day the deed was completed with few additional costs (what a bargain) instead of paying to do so at a later date. I kept polling my kids as to how they would feel if my name was different from theirs, and finally one of my daughters was like, “Just do it already.”

But the tipping point came at a board of education meeting while I was still a member. Board member names are called throughout those meetings, during attendance or for voting. It’s always the formal names used too, no “Kevin” or “Kathleen” but “Mr. Smith” or “Mrs. Jones.”

During one meeting a few months before my divorce was final, I just couldn’t answer to Mrs. X again. Here I was doing something that was mine and answering to somebody else’s name. The superintendent updated my very official name plaque to reflect the change and I was proud to sit behind it. It was mine.

In some circles, I assumed I would always be Mrs. X. In the beginning, my kids’ friends would say, “Hi, Mrs. X” and then cringe as if they said something wrong and I would assure them they had said nothing offensive. Now, they don’t give it a second thought. The kids of my close friend dabble with an assortment of names: “Miss Byrnes,” “Ms. Byrnes,” and the teenage girl finally settled on “Amy,” which her mom quickly squelched and now I’m back to Mrs. X. And that’s okay.

There’s confusion living in a small town for so long and being known one way, only to try to get everyone to call you something else. A woman I work out with who lives in the same town stopped me at the gym the other day to tell me that my name had come up in three different conversations in the span of a few days. My first thought wasn’t, “Why the hell is everyone talking about me?” but “I wonder what name they used” (Mrs. X).

I worry that it makes my kids feel that we’re even less of a family now that we all have different last names. But then I think about the few women I know who married and kept their maiden names and despite confusion at doctor’s offices and calling to set up play dates, the kids know who their mom is.

When I got married at 24, I didn’t even think twice about changing my name. Apparently, I didn’t think twice about a lot of things. I would suggest to my daughters to give it some thought, too. Not in case things didn’t work out with their future husbands, but as a way to stay connected to who they are.

It’s nice to go back to my old name because I don’t think I really appreciated it the first time around.  And then, because I seem to be working on 20-year cycles, maybe in my 60s I’ll find another name to try out for a while, like a new bathrobe.

It’s weird that women give up their names so easily in our culture and men very rarely do. I think couples should assess who’s got the better name and run with that. When I went to the DMV to change the name on my drivers license last year, clutching a Ziploc bag filled with all the ID points you now need, the cranky-looking older lady behind the desk scrutinized all my information and then looked up and told me, “I like your maiden name better.”

Maybe there’s hope for younger generations, because when my 8-year-old son and I were addressing envelopes to mail to his sister at camp the other day, I showed him how I had written my name for the return address and he asked if he should do the same on his letter.

“Well, you’ll use your name, buddy,” I explained, pointing to the upper left hand corner of the envelope.

“I think I’ll use yours, “ he told me, starting to write his first name and my last name together in blue ink. “You know, I am half Byrnes.”

And so he is.


Lori Stratford July 20, 2011 at 07:47 PM
Having just traveled down this path myself, I can honestly say that it's like slipping on an old pair of comfortable shoes. I like my maiden name better too, by the way.
Shannon K. Winning July 20, 2011 at 10:37 PM
I did the southern thing - I kept my maiden name as my middle name. Now it's always with me and I like it. I thought a LOT about this name changing business before I even met my husband. Originally I was against changing my name at all, which got me out of a college marriage track I didn't want to be on anyway. Now I can thank my husband (and Charlie Sheen) for my winner of a last name.
Shannon K. Winning July 22, 2011 at 07:03 PM
That's why it's relevant. And don't forget mother's perrenial advice - if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.
Lisa July 22, 2011 at 07:38 PM
"Dumb article?" Any intelligent person can read how many insightful and honest comments this article engendered, and conclude that once again, this author succinctly and capably brought forth a very common issue, with clarity and vivacity.


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