Odd duck

I'm getting married and I can't decide whether to keep my name or change it.

By Cary Tennis
Published August 4, 2004 7:27PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I realize this is a fairly silly question compared with other letters you've received. But I'm well and truly stumped.

I'm going to be married. I'll be 30 when I finally am married, and I am well established in my career. I've always assumed in past relationships that I'd be keeping my own name when married, as befits a modern, feminist city girl. This is in direct contrast with all the other women in my family, who have married immediately after college (or earlier), always taken the husband's last name, and stayed close to home. I've been the odd duck of the family, and I have to admit that I take a lot of pride in being an odd duck. I'm the only unmarried female cousin over the age of 18, and I just happen to be the oldest. Let's just say that I've never fit in with my own family.

Of course, I find myself head over heels with a nice traditional man who, while he doesn't expect me barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, always assumed that I'd take his last name. That's not to say that he doesn't respect me, my abilities and my beliefs, and he's hardly insisting. But I know it would mean a lot to him. And what woman, no matter how citified and modern, hasn't doodled her love's last name? Even though I know that you can have a close family without sharing a name, the idea of taking his name does have appeal in a purely romantic sense.

Besides, I've never been the type of person to do something just to be contrary, and holding on to my last name just to prove I'm not like the other women in my family is feeling a little "contrary." Yet I really value my own last name -- it feels like who I am. It makes me feel connected to my father, who I no longer have contact with. People in my professional and "adult" life know me by my last name.

The women I admire at work have all kept their own last name (or hyphenated it). I'm sure everyone would adjust if I changed my last name, but I'd almost feel that I wasn't a part of the club, or that I sold out. I'd rather be like the women I work with, not the women I grew up with.

As you can tell, I'm being pulled in a million directions, and no matter how much I try to sit down and think about what I want, everything else intrudes. The compromise would be to take my current last name as my middle name (which I never use anyway), and take my husband's last name. Yet, who wants to walk around saying "Hi! I'm Hillary Rodham Clinton!" for the rest of her life? I'm afraid that eventually I'd stop using my "middle" name, and if that's going to happen, what was the point of all the fuss?

I Can't Even Figure Out How to Sign This Letter

Dear Can't Figure,

Sometimes things are really simple. Sometimes you don't need to prove your case in court, or please everybody who might have an opinion, or satisfy an inner critic who may be concerned about your philosophical consistency, or balance competing motives, or take into account your place in history and the cultural significance of your choice. Sometimes you can just have what you want. I get the feeling that you really want to keep your name. So I think you should just keep your name. Just do it. Keep your name.

All the other things in your mind are things that might happen after you do what you want. There are always things that happen after other things. Things don't stop happening. But we have to wait for things to happen before we respond to them. So keep your name and then live in the world and if things happen to you because you kept your name, regard those things that happen to you with an interested, kind air of detachment. Consider them carefully or don't consider them carefully. They are just things that happen. Somebody might ask you, for instance, why you kept your name. Then you might say you just wanted to.

People have notions about what other people are supposed to do, but mostly they're just silly notions. It's a very silly world. So keep your name and pay attention to what happens. Maybe some silly things will happen, but they won't be very important.

Remember: Much of what happens in the world is silly.

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