new us, new me

we’ve gone around and around about the question of marriage-related name change, chris and I. it’s kind of funny– it sort of felt like a non-issue until his family raised the question– and even then, at first, I was all “of course I’m not changing my name.”

more than anything it felt to me like just so much bureaucratic hassle– and for what? well, there are the identity and affiliation questions, obviously, which, I must admit, I was initially slow to grasp. there is, on some level, residue resentment of the one-sidedness of the naming tradition in our culture– all patrilineal representation with matrilineal influences disappearing into a palimpsest of occasional token middle, and to a certain extent so-called christian, names– the elizabeths and katharines in my family, the “one L” russels, my own holmes– but less substantive and resonant, ultimately less legal. hard to really do anything real about, given the long run of generations.

so I suppose I have, historically and somewhat by default, laid claim purposefully to my full given name, that sarah holmes townsend, as some type of enduring token of identity, wholly mine, unmoved by the shifting of emotional, psychic, and experiential influence. even willfully to spite the, koff koff, crappy monogram.

until now.

because I’ve changed my mind. that is, I’ve decided to change my name. to take on, with marriage to my fascinating and fitting partner, his name along with a commitment for the remainder of our lives. but I’ve also asked him to take on mine, as well– for us both to adopt townsend as middle and reiser as surname (thanks to tammy and by extention aleah for the suggestion).

now, I realize this tactic doesn’t touch the whole patrilineal/matrilineal naming convention question– and, ultimately, I suppose I’m throwing up my hands on that one as simply too big and deep and unmanageable to tackle (too further complicated by a heritage of multiple maternal lines through adoption). and despite how chris explained it to his dad yesterday, it’s not even so much about fairness in the final analysis for me as it is about doing it intentionally and together as a genuine gesture of our union– so that what results is a kind of townsend reiser team sans the unwieldy mouth-jumble of hyphenation.

I do understand that through use and in the course of things this townsend middle name will likely fade into something of a remnant, becoming less present and apparent over time– and I will probably become increasingly this new person myself, this sarah reiser, who currently feels like something of a stranger to me. I guess I’ve decided these things are just fine, too. I am become a neologism.

words, and all the more so names, are important to me. I tend not to use them lightly or effortlessly. I’m not so much a woman who bends easily with the groove of convention or external expectation– I resist and question and insist on finding my own right way, often taking my good time to do it. I kept my given name throughout the course of my first marriage without a second thought. I have a first cousin I’ve been closer to and distant from on and off over the years who at one time taught me something real about the resonances of renaming oneself, of laying claim to a matrix of familial and associative identities. I continue to decline to endorse any fixed right way— only the right way for each of us, felt in our bones and executed to the very tips of our nerve endings.

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4 Replies to “new us, new me”

  1. Thanks for posting your naming ruminations, Sarah. As you know, Bob and I came to the same solution to the naming/marriage dilemma. As imperfect as it is, we are still pretty happy with it, even though my former middle name (Rose) has never found a new home since we have had all male children (the first of whom has Bob’s former middle name–Paul–as his middle name). Thank you for reminding me of the thought and deliberation that went into this decision.

    And I am so delighted to hear of your new happiness.

    xoxo,
    Michelle

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