My name is Diana
Joy Gordon Johns ( Brantley).
Probably. Let me simplify.
My name is Diana Gordon. But it wasn’t always.
When I was born, my mother and father decided not to give me any of the names they had chosen, but instead to call me Diana, after my mother, and Joy, because–well, because they were joyful to have a healthy baby girl. I understand the emotion, even if I find it ironic that I, of all people, was named “joy.”
The trouble was—is—that my first name is only 2 letters away from my mother’s first name, and that causes Problems, especially when we have the same last name. Doctor’s offices who’ve treated us both get our files confused; mail meant for one of us consistently goes to the other one; our names are always misspelled, because her name has two n’s while mine has only one.
But it’s my name. My mother and father gave it to me.
I changed that name when I got married the first time. It seemed like the Thing To Do. I was in my early 20’s, and my (ex)husband had just turned 30, and we were about to have a baby. There was a lot of pressure in and around that relationship, a lot of tradition observed because I felt like I should.
I filled out a host of paperwork. I changed my name on my driver’s license. I changed my name on my social security card, credit cards, bank accounts, social media, and at my university. I got a fancy new e-mail address. I dropped “Joy” (which I’d always sort-of hated) as my middle name because I didn’t want to have 4 names or drop “Gordon.”
It’s my name. My family gave it to me.
The summer after my son was born, I did research for a professor who was working on laws of marriage coverture in the U.S. as they underwent changes in the 1920’s and how those issues popped up in literature.
I started to see a system that I hadn’t before, the heteronormativity and the misogyny behind the tradition. Every time women found a way not to change their name, the courts found ways to compel them to do so. Women who wanted to retain their names were called “oddballs” or “sick” or “mentally ill” in court judgments. It wasn’t until 1972 that courts stopped this type of interference with women’s names.
Just over two years after getting married and changing my name, I got a divorce. And I wanted my other name back. But I had to take it back, just like I had to take my married name. I changed my name on my driver’s license. I changed my name on my social security card, credit cards, bank accounts, social media, and at my university. I couldn’t be bothered with a new e-mail address.
It was a relief to see my old name again. I felt as though I’d been an impostor for years, masquerading somehow. The top of my checks finally matched the rest of my IDs again (god who can be bothered to order new checks all the time?!).
And when I married my current husband, almost a year ago today (March 10 is our anniversary), we both knew that I wasn’t changing my name again. The thought didn’t bother my husband, who is an ardent feminist. In any case, we don’t really do things by the book.
(I suspect that if he’d been the sort of man who would insist on a name change, we wouldn’t have have made it near that point, much less actually married—we’d have been wholly unsuited for one another.)
It’s my name. I chose it.
And it’s amazing the number of people who are confused or bothered by my name. There are even those that are downright resistant—relatives who address letters and messages to Mrs. Diana Brantley, despite being told (more than once) that I haven’t–and won’t–change my name.
Let me be clear: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with changing one’s surname. I did it once, myself. And there’s nothing wrong with my husband’s name. It’s up there in parenthesis. But it’s not my name.
For me, changing my name to someone else’s signaled a loss of identity. It was an erasure.For some, it is freeing to take their husband’s name and leave their old one. For some, a hyphenated name or a new, created last name works as a compromise, somewhere between changing-and-not-changing. And sometimes, a husband even take’s a wife’s last name.
So what do you guys think–does the tradition matter to you?