(Please forgive the formatting issues. I have no idea what is wrong with it, and I'm pretty sure it isn't me this time )
My dog changed his name this month, or more accurately, I changed it for him. We moved into our newly purchased home, and along with all of the other address changing activities, I miraculously remembered that I needed to get a new tag for Blue's collar. At Petsmart I selected an appropriately blue, bone-shaped tag in the self-serve engraving machine and then I began to type in the same words I have typed on that same screen every time I have moved in the past six years: Blue Volle. Then I had to stop for a second. In just months I am getting married. Blue is already the pseudo-adopted son of my fiancé, Mike, but when we get married, it occurred to me, his adoption will become final. To non-pet owners, this might seem strange, but pets actually do have last names. At the vet, on their registrations, and, for many of them, on their tags. I tapped the delete key a few times, and then filled in Mike’s last name. I hit print before I could change my mind, and watched through the glass as the electronic engraving arm screeched out each letter on the metal. It’s official, Blue has a new last name, and it didn’t even require a trip to the DMV.
While I understand that marrying someone comes with the option for a woman to change her last name, that thought has only half-occurred to me on and off over the years until I actually stood there in Petsmart as a soon-to-be-married person. It's easy for a dog. I just changed it for him, and he is still the same mutt he's always been.
I’ll be honest, though, I don’t want to change my own. At all.
I am not marrying Mike early in my twenties as was the custom not so long ago. I am 33, and have a 10-year career and a life and an identity, all under the umbrella of the name I already have. I have published work as Cara Volle, and have started a business as Cara Volle, and beam proudly when I am referred to as one of the Volle girls, or the middle Volle sister. When my younger sister got married, she changed her name instantly, and it always felt strange to me to say it. It never rolled off of my tongue or pen, and the dissonance always echoed after I had said or written it. She would always remain a Volle sister to me, but my older sister, who kept her last name, remains a Volle sister to everyone. I always want to be a Volle sister, too, and that is the first reason I don’t want to change my last name.
The other reason is that Mike is the proud owner of a 13-letter monstrosity of a last name. It rarely fits in the allotted space on forms; his email address takes a full minute to type out, and at the request of every customer service person he meets, he has to spell it a minimum of three times, with the tricky double A, and a times-two on S-C-H and then a bunch of other letters thrown in for good measure.
I have a friend who, upon hearing me say Mike’s last name, said incredulously, “His last name is Schnarf-Schnarf?” And while I won’t plaster Mike’s name all over the Internet, I will say that this isn’t far off.
I have frequently seen Mike hand over his driver’s license or credit card, only to provoke the girl behind the counter to stare at it wide-eyed, turn it from left to right in her hands and say something like, “Wow, that is a helluva last name.” That happens to him every single day. Mike has even told me, with a last name like his, that his first name is basically irrelevant. People don’t even notice it. Great. Just what I strive for in life, more irrelevancy.
All humor aside, I think that this name-changing decision belongs to each and every woman who marries, and I think it is personal and that there is not a right answer. We all have our reasons for keeping our names, taking their names, or constructing some combination of the two, or just making something up. The great thing about living in this century is that we can do whatever the hell we want, and I hold that right very dear to my heart.
I have chosen to take Mike’s name, and while there is a large element of biting the bullet involved, I appreciate that it is my choice, and that my reasons can be whatever I want them to be.
I know that my taking of Mike’s name is important to him, and I can respect that he feels that way. He even said, “I don’t care what our last name is as long as it is the same,” which made me respect his feelings even more, although I won’t say that I think he totally meant it. His point was that he wants us to be a family, and to him, a name feels like part of that. That makes me feel a little warm and fuzzy for sure.
Having the same last name as my children is also very important to me. I don’t think it necessarily makes a difference, or that it scars a child in some way to have a mother with a different last name. In fact, I am sure there is a good lesson about strong women with their own identities to be presented in that scenario, but it is a personal requirement, vital enough in my mind to cause me to give up something that I treasure.
I know that I will always be a Volle on the inside, and that I will always be a part of where I came from, part of a family who is hilarious and classy and smart, where sarcasm and hugs are intertwined, and where everyone always gets it and where no one has to prove anything to anyone else. Those are things that never go away no matter what my name is. In addition, I told Mike that I will continue to write under my maiden name and that will be my way to keep a little part of my Volle world in, what is to me, a very big way. As I strive to one day become a published author, I know that I will get to do that as the original me, and I’m pretty sure I can explain that to my future children.
In the meantime, I will stick to planning our wedding and settling into our home and try not to dwell on the paperwork and emotions that will come with changing my name next year, and with that, selling off just a little piece of the person I am. Instead, I will think of my Mike and I a few years down the road, walking off into the sunset hand-in-hand with a gangly child or two and our big scruffy dog. The Schnarf-Schnarf family on their way to living happily ever after.