A few days ago I read about a recent trend in women who change their surnames names when they divorce. Not from their former husband's last name back to their maiden names, but to a new, chosen last name. An increasing number of women are shedding their marital status names (ex and maiden) and opting to completely rebrand themselves with whatever last name they so choose.
New York Times writer, Megan Woods, reported on the topic of women changing names. "Hanging on to your ex's last name can daily conjure an unhappy past, while going back to a maiden name you've outgrown can be difficult to imagine. Divorce can be an opportunity to create an entirely different surname that speaks to the woman you have become." Megan L. Wood, When The New You Carries A Fresh Identity, Too. New York Times, February 15, 2013.
Like many women following tradition, I took my husband's last name. In a less than perfect divorce, after a less than perfect marriage, I tired to change my name back to my maiden name. The attorney botched the papers and I remained in that awkward last name zone, carrying my ex's last name for for fifteen years until I remarried. Although my last name is now legally my new husband's last name, I continue to use my maiden name in business. Not because I do not like my new last name, but because between marriages I built a very successful business that bears "Wolfe" as part of the brand. To change it, did not make good business sense, and, my business has now become a large part of who I am. Not all of who I am, but a part that I did not want to entirely change with an "I do."
In Wood's article, best-selling author, Cheryl Strayed, offered the following reasons she chose to create a new last name post-divorce: ""Naming myself was symbolic in many ways. It signified to me how it was I had to take full responsibility for my life. I had to create my own happiness, to build my strength, to be the engine of my momentum. Choosing my own name struck me as both a positive act and a powerful one during the time when I felt uncertain and weak."
I felt many things after my divorce, but weak was not one of those things. I felt empowered, finally able to explore and embrace new and wonderful things in life that were always just barely out of my reach while in a difficult marriage. Now, happily remarried, my business brand remains separate from my marriage brand. But somehow that seems perfect for how I identify with myself these days. I am not "just" a wife, nor "just" a business woman. A name no longer defines me, or my purpose in life. My values and choices in life better define me.
Perhaps, it is not the last name you go by, but the name you make for yourself in life that matters most. And, by that, I am not talking surnames, but the other names people use when referring to you. Adjectives that describe you; that become earned nicknames matter more - words like good wife/mother/person, honest, hardworking, kind, loving, giving -- even "happy" are names that don't appear on your driver's license, but are the words that people will most likely remember you by.