My husband and I met when I was in grad school. We dated long-distance for the last year I worked on my dissertation and I moved in with him after I was awarded my PhD. We didn’t marry until almost 8 years later, when I’d already been putting my name on contracts and professional documentation for over a decade. So I kept my name.
I don’t generally use my professional prefix, but when a person insists on a salutation — I was Dr. Prater before I married my husband and I’m Dr. Prater after marrying my husband. Different cultures utilize different rules on surnames, and even American society has changed a lot in the 40 years I’ve been wandering the planet. Women in all types of careers and social situations make a range of choices when it comes to their married name, so it isn’t new, or edgy, or even rocket science. And yet…
“so Mrs. Prater”
“It’s Dr., or just Alicia.”
“But you’re married?”
“So, Mrs. Prater…”.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Prater doesn’t exist.” If I was Mrs. anything it would be my husband’s surname, and we didn’t do that.
I would understand confusion over the surname, but my earned salutation just disappeared after the ceremony and it’s presumed that my name changed even when I tell them it hasn’t. So yes, they’re still technically using my name, but it isn’t my identity. It belongs to someone who doesn’t exist.
I became defined by my ‘wifehood’.
- When we first got married, our car/homeowner insurance carrier changed my name without our permission or us requesting it when I simply requested our marital statuses be changed. We then had to try multiple times to get it fixed in a way that didn’t result in them changing back the marital statuses. The local office admin and the CS rep at their headquarters were so confused that the two things were not mutually exclusive. I had to waste time finding someone in the office who understood (the agent! somehow he got it!).
- My mother ends up addressing Christmas cards like I’m a thrice married starlet collecting names because she isn’t sure what to put so she writes out my entire name and tacks my husband’s on for good measure. Literally nothing has changed in this respect and yet suddenly, with an “I do” and a ring, my identity was wiped.
And there’s always someone — “well, why don’t you just change your name if it’s so much trouble?”
Why should I have to?
It’s disheartening to have to remind people that I exist as an autonomous individual and that I have a name, they don’t need to address me relative to my husband. If I had chosen to take his name would there be the same confusion when I inevitably have to correct people who use my unmarried name?
Or maybe we’ve become too accustomed to erasing someone’s identity when we find it doesn’t fit our own experience.
I want to read in the comments your “omg I can’t believe that’s what they got from that” moments when you’ve had to correct your name. I know it’s not exclusive to married women (do you know how often people call me Alice or Allison in emails? I mean, my name is right there in the signature!) or even just to women.