We have been married for almost three years, but I *finally* took care of my name change once and for all. Whether or not to change one’s name when getting married is not so cut and dry. And if changing, what to change it to, exactly? This was my dilemma.
I grew up in a very traditional community where it was simply expected that the woman would take her husband’s last name as her own, discarding her maiden name into the wind. As a child, even in this setting I actually didn’t want to change my name…I really liked “Gabrielse”; it was unique, it was named after the messenger angel, Gabriel, it reflected my Dutch heritage, and it was ME! I actually remember thinking (when I was very young) that I’d have to marry a guy who shared my last name just so I could keep it.
Next, I had already developed a professional presence in my field via publications and presentations that have been under my maiden name.
Finally, I learned that in Singapore (and China as well), it is standard that women DO NOT change their names when they marry–so this was the norm for Junwen! He was extremely supportive of whatever I wanted to do. Keep it, change it, modify it…Whatever!
But…..But is such a big word for only being three letters long……
But I wanted to have the same family name as my husband and as my future kids……Why? Maybe it is just the conditioning of my youth…But I wanted to be known as “The Lins”. I imagined having to queue up for something via last name, and NOT being able to stand in line with my family….I wanted to make a statement that I was separating from my “birth family” to join up with my life-partner and start a new one…Not to symbolize that I was forsaking them, but to symbolize that my loyalty and support to Junwen comes first.
Also, practically speaking, when we get around to having children we will be traveling with them internationally. I read stories online (e.g., this mother’s story, this rule) about women who had issues traveling with their children out-of-country since they did not share the same last name. In some cases, the women needed to present birth certificates to prove that her children were hers, and that she wasn’t abducting someone else’s kids!
So, what to do?
I did a lot of internet searches on the topic, and finally came to the conclusion that the best compromise was to take my maiden name as my middle name, and Junwen’s family name as my family name. I would go by “Gabrielse” professionally (a much more unique name in the field compared to “Lin”), and go as “Lin” everywhere else. I wasn’t 100% satisfied, because I really didn’t want to lose my middle name either. My middle name is also my mother’s middle name, as well as the name of other ancestors/family members and thus was another key component to my identity. But…again but…sometimes you have to take what you can get. (Edit: Apparently, this is the norm for women in the South—Check out this blog post on Southern Weddings.com—I never knew, but replacing the middle name with the maiden name is the tradition of their culture! See how expectations vary just by the region where you grow up?)
I know that some couples take the woman’s name, or combine the two names, so that the “new family” can all share the same last name. I guess, for me, it never crossed my mind. Junwen had already left his home country–I think that had I wanted him to take my name, it would be asking him to forsake a deeper part of his identity. Like I said, it never crossed my mind at the time…
With that said, a very important disclaimer/clarification I want to make before continuing: The thoughts I am sharing apply to ME, and I do not apply them to others. What I mean is, no one should judge a woman by her choice in last name. If she decides to keep her maiden name, it does not mean she is less committed to her husband than if she changes it. Nor if she changes it does it mean she doesn’t respect herself, or that she sees herself as her husband’s property. I’ve heard vicious voices on both ends of the spectrum, and before anyone started thinking I was advocating for one side, I wanted to clarify that I am simply sharing one woman’s journey (mine) in deciding what was best for her and her new family.
When we went to the courthouse to sign the marriage license, however, we were thrown for a loop: the attendant told me that I could ADD my maiden name to my middle name, thus keeping all four names officially! After a bit of discussion, we decided to take that route, so that instead of feeling like I was replacing any portion of my identity, I was adding to it. Beautiful.
The problems arose afterwards when I went through the name changing process for my I.D., social security card, etc. The issue is apparently this: Christine Elizabeth Gabrielse Lin is too long. Who gets to determine what’s too long, I don’t know, but it won’t fit. I first encountered this at social security: I was told that the computer system didn’t have enough spaces for “Elizabeth Gabrielse” to fit. However, the attendant told me she’d talk to her supervisor and call me if she couldn’t find a solution. Two weeks later I received my new card in the mail with all four names, so I thought it was figured out! Next was the DMV. “Christine Elizabeth Gabrielse” does not all fit on the one line that includes the first and middle names on the CA license, so on the spot I had to decide what to drop. I decided to turn “Elizabeth” into the initial “E”.
Everything else went smoothly until I brought my brand-spankin’-new social security card to my department’s HR office. The bomb was then dropped that they were going to list my last name as “Gabrielse-Lin”…But why? I asked. Well, similar to the DMV, “Christine Elizabeth Gabrielse” could not fit on the social security card’s first line, so they wrapped it around putting “Gabrielse” on the second line, just before Lin. I hadn’t thought anything of it, but our HR rep told me that officially, the second line on the social security card is a person’s last name. Huh. Well then…..(I would be hiding the truth from you if I didn’t share that tears were shed at this point…yes, in front of the HR rep…oh boy…)
At this point I no longer knew what to do. The semi-perfect solution offered at the courthouse felt nullified to me. So I just sat on the issue….for two years. When I graduated and started working “for reals”, my health insurance had to be put under the name listed on payroll (previously it was under my student name). I was also warned that if they ever had to book a flight for me, they would have to use the name that is listed on payroll…which, being the incorrect name listed on my social security card, would not match ANY of my identifications. Thus, I finally decided to suck it up and make a final decision about what to do: I shortened “Elizabeth” to an initial on my social security card, so that it would match my driver’s license.
Some Repercussions and Results of my Name Change
One bummer I’ll share so that anyone contemplating the Name Change decision has all the facts: the idea of keeping your maiden name professionally sounds like a great compromise, but it’s full of inconveniences. For business travel and conferences, you have to book hotels under your legal name and often register under your legal name but then try to make sure your name badge has your maiden name. Your work place will usually use the legal name in various ways; recently my program manager drafted a budget for a proposal I wrote and it listed me as Dr. Lin. I was able to change the reference to Dr. Gabrielse, however where my full name was used it was Christine Gabrielse Lin, and I had to be sure to include an explanation in my CV.
In order to have my full name on my diploma, I had to officially change my name at school—they didn’t allow me to choose the name I wanted. Yes, you can blame this complication on me—because although I want to publish under Gabrielse, I wanted my full name—my full identity—on that darned diploma that I worked so hard for!! So, a day or two before I submitted my thesis, I went to the student registrar with my marriage license and changed it to Christine Elizabeth Gabrielse Lin. (Thankfully this all fit!) This also means that although all of my publications are under Gabrielse, my thesis is under Lin…because apparently, your thesis has to be published under your official school name. (Seems silly to me, since authors go by pseudonyms all the time, right?)
Interestingly, I experienced an unexpected feeling when I received my diploma—Having my full name on there, including “Lin”, made my vow “til death do us part” feel more permanent than any verbal promise I gave at the alter. There was a sense of “no turning back” that was missing when we got married, when we gave each other rings, or when I legally changed my name to Lin. Not that I ever, EVER, courted the idea that my marriage would be anything but permanent…But I think that while verbal promises are broken every day, and names can always be legally changed again, the name on your doctoral diploma can never be changed. In that sense, I felt that having my full name on my diploma was a deposit of sorts…A physical, unalterable demonstration of the promise I had given with my words and in my heart. “I believe in us enough to stake my future on it.” It may sound melodramatic, or make me sound like I was insincere when I got married (which I wasn’t!), but as a woman who likes to feel in control, it felt like the most tangible way I could hand that “control” over to share with my husband and say, “Here…I love you. I know we’ll go through rough patches in our marriage, rough patches that may make us question the decision we made to link our life journeys together. But I promise not to give up on us, and here is a security deposit to demonstrate how serious I am. I’m now vulnerable, and in making myself vulnerable, I’m forced to place trust in you and not just in myself. Because only when we trust each other can we really love and grow with each other.”
Have you faced any of these decisions or difficulties before? Choosing what your married name will be? Dealing with social security not allowing your full name? Having ID that doesn’t match your social security card or name on payroll? If you have, feel free to share in the comments, I’d love to hear more stories! If you have yet to go through the process, hopefully my ordeal has prepared you for some of the consequences. Let me know what you’re thinking!
Would I have done it differently had I known? Maybe. Maybe I would have taken a dual last name instead. But maybe not. I think it’s an issue that may evolve over time in America, as it appears that only countries that were heavily influenced by English rule (America included) follow the tradition of the wife taking her husband’s name. In any case, I’m proud to be a Lin. Meaning “forest”, 林 (Lin) well describes my outdoorsy spirit, and I think it’s a beautiful addition in describing my identity. Even with all the hassle I blogged about, I’m proud to use my name as a signpost to the world that I’m not afraid to fully embrace this new part of who I am. I’m proud to be married to a Chinese-Singaporean!