Andrea spent much of her life figuring out how to get rid of her last name. Then she got married, but was her husband’s name right for her?
Truth: If it had been possible I would have given up my surname for adoption as soon as it came to light. I may stigmatize myself for saying so, but the fact of the matter is that I never wanted it in the first place. It was an accident. My grandmother remarried and my father took her new last name to keep things coherent and my mother took my father’s last name when she married him and so it came to me. And because it never spoke to me of history or blood relations or cultural origins I carried it around like a prosthetic limb that never fit properly and had this tendency to chaff.
Pieces of my identity wore away on the gritty edges and I began plotting its demise when I reached adolescence. While others were busy experimenting with all manner of self-mutilation I longed only to excise that name that jarred so brutally with my perceived sense of self. After contemplating taking my grandmother’s maiden name, then deciding Peacock just wasn’t going to suit, and seriously considering making up a brand new title for myself, I decided that my best bet was simply to marry out of it.
I was in love with a Munro when I was in high school. Not only because of his alluring last name but, I confess, at least partly because of the possibility of escape it offered. It sounded like salt on the rim of a martini glass — a sharp edge and a pleasurable bite. I coveted that name, but its owner eluded my 17 year old charms and I never even got to kiss him, never mind assimilate his name.
The man I eventually married is a Paterson — the feminists are likely gasping in horror at the patriarchal implications of that one. In the name of the father, and of the son, and of the woman who tried to fit herself in to that male centered genealogical paradigm (that makes no biological sense by the way — we all know who our mothers are. Not so for fathers. Fathers are a trickier business).
So I was faced with a choice: keep the name that I felt no attachment to or take a new name that, though symbolically questionable, would at least connect me in some concrete, verbal way to the man I love and have decided to spend my life with. In the end I was able to overlook the fact that I will be forever Andrea “Father-Son” (a strange juxtaposition indeed, as I am not and never will be a father or a son or an integral part of a father-son relationship) and take a name that has meaning for other reasons — because it joins me to my husband, because it allows our emerging family to share a title that binds us, because it marks a major transition in my life from a single woman to a wife.
And strange things have happened since I became Andrea Paterson — the name is like a small instance of transformational magic that has given me leave to let go of preconceived ideas about who I am and who I might become. In some small way it lets me grow into roles that I hadn’t previously imagined for myself because I have a different way to identify myself and an excuse to begin again. I can scan the entire manuscript of my being and start considering revisions, because all of a sudden there’s a new working title for my life and self that allows room for new perspectives.
The truth is that I have enjoyed acquiring a new name and feel no sense of loss over the old one. I like the sound of my new name, the sense of wonder that I have every time I get to sign it to paper, the fact that it will always be obvious that my husband and I belong together in a fundamental way.
I like the freedom of shedding the unwanted skin of my old self — the worn things, the things I’d been meaning to change anyway and donning this sparkly new linguistic attire. This new name was the catalyst for a spring cleaning of the soul and I feel no shame for sweeping away the old one without a care — out with the dust and the lint and the sloughed off accretions of 27 years of living. Welcome excuses for starting over, for feeling new and scrubbed clean.