A Title of Respect
I had a conversation with my cousin Martina who married almost 3 years ago. She shared with me the struggle she had in deciding whether she should take her husband’s name. She spoke of identity, and an important case can be made for that. According to dictionary.com, one of the definitions for identity is the sense of self. We grew up saying, “Yes, that is me” to the mention of our names and perhaps associating the history of our names to what we are about as individuals. It is a part of us, a part of what makes us who we are. And suddenly, because we’ve accepted someone into our lives through the words “I do”, we are told that that person we were all of our lives has now assumed a new identity. In fact, it’s been a long-standing tradition that when the bride and groom are introduced as man and wife (not husband and wife) for the first time, it’s usually Mr. and Mrs. and the groom’s full name. What happened to the wife’s first name? Sure enough, at my own wedding, Dan and I were introduced as Mr. and Mrs. Daniel J. Tighe. In a manner of speaking, my name was pushed aside when I chose to say the words, “I do.”
Is there truly a loss of identity? If one really thinks about it, what does the actual word “Mrs.” mean? Does it allude to the idea of possession– that once we are married, our husbands own us? Dictionary.com defines the word Mrs. as a title of respect prefixed to the surname or full name of a married woman. A title of respect. Does this mean a married woman who does not use this prefix with her husband’s name to represent herself has lost the respect of society or am I taking this interpretation too far? Where does the word Mrs. come from anyway? Is it another title created by a patriarchal society meant to keep women in their place? (The dictionary claims that Mrs. is an abbreviation of mistress and we’ll need a whole other post to discuss that definition.) This is one of the reasons why so many women do make the choice to either hyphenate their names or to simply keep their maiden names. Why should we have to change something we hold dear for a tradition- a tradition that is very slowly fading away?
When I had that conversation with Martina, I began to wonder: how many newly wed women out there actually do struggle with the name change? Before I got married, this was never even a thought of mine. I simply knew it as tradition— a way of life for so many women within so many cultures.
What My Name Means to Me
When Dan and I decided to get married, Dan made it very clear to me that he wanted me to take his name. In fact, knowing how I felt about it, he researched how I could add Tighe to my already long name and only use parts of my name when the situation required it. I could legally use my maiden name on some occasions and legally use my married name for others. While I appreciated him taking my feelings into consideration, the idea of adding Tighe to my name was still gnawing at me.
I have a very distinct memory of me standing with my father outside of our home in Hollis, Queens when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I remember telling him that when I get married, I don’t want to change my name because I find my name to be quite beautiful. Marie-Catheline Jean-François. I couldn’t imagine that Marie-Catheline would sound just as beautiful with any other last name. My father looked to the ground, thoughtfully considered my statement, and, with his hand around my shoulder, told me that I might change my mind when I’m older and that I’d probably have to discuss it with the man I choose to marry. He didn’t say anything about tradition or the need to make my future husband happy by taking his name. Although I’ve always respected his pragmatic response, after all these years, I still hold on to my desire to keep my name after marriage.
The beauty of my name is not the sole reason why I want to hold onto my last name. Somewhere in my twenties, I started to really understand what my name meant to me. My father is the most important man I had ever had in my life and I would love to honor his memory by keeping his name. And that’s not to discount how important Dan is to me. But my name means something to me. People tell me, “Oh! What a beautiful name! Are you French?” And I proudly respond, “I’m Haitian.” Yes, I understand that I can still be proud of where I’m from without anyone questioning me about my name. And a part of me tells me, okay, you’ve been proud of your name for 45 years, now start being proud of the fact that you are Mrs. Tighe. Dan is in no way trying to get me to denounce my maiden name or my pride. He simply wants me to be proud of yet another aspect of my life. I understand this and I respect it.
The Girl with Five Names
I actually had fun using the Tighe name to come up with the name of my blog site and I identify myself in my pictures on my first post as Mrs. Tighe to play around with the theme. That was easy to do as a promotional tool. But now that I’ve had time to process the idea of legally adding onto my name, I’m positive I will because it’s something that my husband wants very much. I understand that one’s identity does not need to change as a result of changing or adding onto a name. After reading a first draft of this post to Dan, he made a very interesting point with which I tend to agree. Adding Tighe to my name, he said, is a private and public acknowledgment of our couple hood and of the new family we have become. But my name is already so long; I admit that I feel silly adding Tighe to it, making it longer than necessary (not to mention it doesn’t flow quite the same way). Perhaps I should let go of my feeling silly, knowing that I am not the first person in history to have such a long name. I should simply embrace every single part of my name, each one adding to the unique person that I am. I’m not erasing who I was before I married. This new addition to my name is just a declaration of who I was and who I am now. There will never be another Marie-Catheline Jean-François Tighe and I should be proud of that.