I was infatuated with falling in love when I was younger. I was more than a bit boy crazy and I could imagine the beginning, middle and happily ever after of every relationship. It was intense. When I decided that a boy would fall in love with me, they had very little chance of outsmarting my plan. I chased them down and became irresistible.
I would see a guy before the bell for first period would ring. Once my target was identified, the infatuation would start with daydreaming. I could lose time thinking about their cuteness. I would barely pay attention in class because I would try to figure out how to catch his eye or slip him a note, unbeknownst to the teacher.
I would open my notebook and pretend to take notes. Instead I would be doodling my name and my crush’s name. The adrenaline that would pump through me as I considered if their last name “matched” my first was electric! It had to sound right to be a good fit.
Mrs. Rozella X
Mr. and Mrs. X
Dr. and Mrs. X
After making sure our names matched and sounded perfect together, my imagination would take me off into the future. The perfect wedding, with the princess dress. The large wedding party with all of my best girlfriends perfectly in the most AMAZING bridesmaid’s dresses. I would make sure that my friends met his friends and that they looked heavenly together as they glided down the aisle during the ceremony. There may even be a love match or two. I was a benevolent friend in my dreams. After the wedding, we would have a reception that would go into the wee hours of the morning followed by a honeymoon filled with breathtaking sex and adventures. We would return home deeper in love and ready to conquer the world! See Exhibit A:
It was as if falling in love and getting married and taking on their name was the penultimate expression of love and commitment, the ultimate expression being the creation of a child who would have my smile and their eyes, and….wait for it…. Their last name. Then we would be the X Family, with monogrammed towels showcasing my husband’s (now my) last name initial. The X family would take over the world and wearing his name as a badge, we would be protected from all danger and harm.
In addition to having his last name, I would lift him up and support him as the head of the household (there will be another post on this, I promise). I would cook and clean and care for the children and have a high powered job. Our life would be pure bliss.
By the end of first period, I had created the perfect family. Seriously, I thought EVERYTHING through.
So, imagine my surprise, when I married my now ex-husband in January of 2008 I felt so much anxiety and loss when taking on his name. I had been preparing for this moment my ENTIRE life. I was more than ready to become Mrs. Rozella Poston… or so I thought.
I was not prepared for the onslaught of emotions that overwhelmed me when it was time to change my name. I was not prepared to be thrown into an identity spiral and deep feelings of loss that accompanied me as I traversed the legal system to change my social security card, passport, driver’s license and every other form of identification I owned. I was surprised to find myself grieving the loss of a name that I didn’t even think mattered that much to me. It took me a full year after we were wed to finally get everything changed from White to Poston.
And you know what surprised me most of all? I hated it. I resented the process that expected women to happily give up the name that is core to who they are while men are not expected to do ANYTHING. Sure I knew of a handful of people who kept their names, a couple of people who hyphenated their names and like one couple who recreated a last name using their surnames given at birth. However, they were not the norm. I remember briefly broaching the topic of last names before our wedding and my ex-husband made it very clear that changing my last name should happen because, “That’s what you do.”
Sure, I had a choice and I chose to change my name but now five years after my divorce and the work it took to change my name BACK has me certain that I will NEVER CHANGE MY NAME AGAIN.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my name recently. I love my name. It used to be burdensome but I’ve grown into it and don’t want to trade it for anything.
Rozella Haydée White.
Rozella is from my paternal grandmother. Rose Ella is her name. My mother thought that was a tad bit too country, so she changed the ‘s’ to a ‘z’ and made it one name instead of two. Rose Ella was the granddaughter of Virginia sharecroppers. My grandmother can regale you with stories of farm living – of what she killed, how she killed it and the food it provided for her family. She also goes to a faraway place when she shares about picking cotton. She very rarely talks about the white people she worked for and I know there is still unresolved trauma in her life due to the sordid history of race in this country.
Haydée is from my maternal grandmother. It’s Spanish and is pronounced I-Day. My Haydée Gisela was of Panamanian, Jamaican and Puerto Rican ancestry. She was raised by a gaggle of Puerto Rican women who migrated to the mainland and settled in New York. They were women who worked hard and pooled their resources to provide a middle class existence for my grandmother and my mother. They had a love/hate relationship with men. I am still digging for details as to why that was, but I got the message growing up that depending on a man was a huge NO-NO.
White is my father’s last name. It’s ironic because it was a name that I came to learn isn’t actually his biological father’s name. It’s the name of the man who raised him but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned that my paternal lineage cannot be traced through the man I thought was my grandfather. My father’s father was a man with a different name and I often wonder how his life might have been different if he grew up with an identity formed more by that family than by our family.
Each of my names have taught me something about myself and have influenced the way I show up in the world. Rozella represents resilience and knowing my history as a descendant of slaves. Haydée made me a feminist, in every way. White impresses on me the importance of not just surviving, but of thriving in every circumstance and stage in life.
My name is not an abstract thing anymore. It has become the foundation of my identity. If I’m honest, it always was but societal and cultural pressure led me to believe that it was disposable. I was brought up thinking – not because of any overt pressure but by subversive messaging, which can be worse, in my humble opinion – that I couldn’t fully be who I was until I took on the name of a man in order to validate my existence.
What makes it even more complicated is that White is a name that has been passed down through the male line of my family, so I often wonder, who are the forgotten women in my familial history? What is their story? Who were they before their names were changed to reflect the men in their lives?
As we live in a patriarchal society, I doubt this tradition is changing anytime soon. But like many other traditions, I’ve started to question the origins, meaning and impact of the tradition. We don’t have to do things “just because”. We are thinking, critical, creative beings. We can question and wonder and create new tradition and meaning that is consistent with our values and what we believe.
So if taking on the name of a partner is important to someone because of their values, then I say go for it! However, if you feel forced to do or be anything other than who you are because of a tradition, then I say question it and make changes that reflect your true self. And that’s the work – figuring out who you are and what matters most. When we do this, our authentic selves come to life and we show up in the world differently. This is the act of embracing your shadow. Won’t you join me?