When I found out my husband was cheating and kicked him out at three in the morning, the last thing I was thinking about was my last name. The next day I piled all—I mean every last molecule—of his stuff on the front porch and told him to come pick it up by five. Otherwise, I was mailing it all to his girlfriend’s husband, certified, and signature required. I still wasn’t thinking much about last names, but I will tell you that his crap was off my front porch by 5 PM.
In fact, it didn't cross my mind until I was filling out divorce papers for the court. One of the questions asked if I was going to change my name during the hearing, so I started wondering what to do about that pesky last name thing.
You know the thought process, right?
It’s Who I Am
I took on this last name when I was 19. At 50 years old I no longer identified with my own maiden name. After all, I had signed my name this way at least ten years longer than the other way, and I identified with it now.
Changing my last name would mean changing everything from credit cards to voter’s registration. I wasn’t sure I was up for that much paperwork just to disassociate myself from a man I no longer wished to be attached to physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
Then there were the kids. Our family had just exploded, but they had his last name. I wasn’t sure I wanted to have a different last name from them—at least not at that point.
Finally, I had established a rather public career using my married name. I had my own website; I was known as a freelance writer by my clients and an author by my readers, and my name pulled up on a Google search pretty quickly. For these reasons, I was concerned that a name change would create a setback that I couldn’t afford.
I was also reading an article that mentioned an ex-wife's decision to keep her ex-husband’s last name, and that it really irritated him. That might make it worth it, too.
On the Other Hand
The other side of the name-change debate was pretty compelling, too.
Mainly, my married name no longer represented my family. I didn’t really want to be associated with him, and I was relatively sure he didn’t want to be associated with me. Plus, even then I was pretty sure he was going to marry the woman he had been cheating with—which he later did. So I would be stuck sharing a last name not only with him, but with her. Ick.
Having my maiden name back would allow me to begin again, almost like those three decades had never happened. I was fairly sure that my clients would find me, regardless of the last name.
But it was a tough decision and one that I didn’t take lightly.
My Decision Was Right for Me
In the end, I chose to continue using my last name without changing it. I felt that it helped the kids have some continuity and, to be perfectly honest, I am used to this name. There was no shift in my work, and I didn’t have all of that paperwork to do. I just kept all of my accounts just the way they were—well, except the joint accounts. I closed those as fast as I could.
Maybe some people wouldn’t have struggled with it as much as I did. Maybe it would have seemed very simple, very cut-and-dried to others, but it wasn’t to me. It was the most difficult decision I’ve made concerning the divorce because my identity was tied up in it, you know?
Then Comes Marriage
When I married my second husband, I went through a lot of the same thought processes. Now I had to decide whether to change my name or leave it once again. At 19, in my first marriage, the idea of keeping a different last name from my husband would not have occurred to me. It was done very rarely in the 1970s, especially in the South.
Once again, I had a tough decision to make and once again I chose to keep my current last name. I am happy that my husband is secure enough not to be intimidated when someone calls him by my last name!
Although I use my surname for work, I am increasingly signing my name with two last names connected by a hyphen in my private life. That’s working pretty well for me.
What Should You Do?
Don’t rush into anything. You can change your last name at the divorce hearing, or you can do it sometime afterward. There really is no hurry. The important thing is that you do what you are comfortable with, and consider what is best for you, your kids and your career.
The career aspect of changing your name, once you are established, is probably one of the most difficult, and can depend on what you do for a living. If you are self-employed or in a field where you are known by your name and reputation, then it might be best to keep the name. If you are a store manager or work in a job where your name isn't tied to the brand, it probably won’t make that much difference.
One of my biggest issues has continued to be with my identity. Divorcing in your 50s means that 30 years or so of your life (and the identity you created during that time) gets swept away. I think that changing my name would have added to my inner chaos, but you may be totally different and need that name change to move on.
Obviously, you aren’t the only one who has had to make these tough decisions. Join First Wives World today to get advice from others who have been right where you are.
Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons, User : Gareth Williams