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Pondering a Change of Surname

To many people, it seems almost incredible that a name could have anything to do with one's nature, one's experiences in life, one's degree of success or failure, and one's health, yet it is equally incredible that science has not discovered the influence of language upon the lives of all who use it.

As in any other marital endeavors one’s surname may mean nothing to one spouse but everything to the other spouse. In today’s American Society the legal norms of the 19th and early 20th Centuries laws concerning the taking of the husband’s surname by the wife at the time of marriage have been challenged and found wanting.

Forty years ago two of my friends were married. Both had blossoming careers in science. The groom was a Cuban-American; the bride a liberated woman. In Cuba, as in some other Hispanic countries, it is normal for the family name to become hyphenated after marriage with the Husband’s name taking precedent, followed by the Bride’s family name. When this couple attempted to use this Cuban custom in Florida in 1974 they were told on no uncertain terms that he was “G” and she would be “G” also. These two well meaning people went to court to overturn the Florida law which dictated the surname of the husband would be used by the wife. They are both the “G-Rs” today. They made law for future couples.

My daughters, unbeknownst to my wife and me, took a vow they would keep their surnames in marriage, Mutch, and their daughters would use the Mutch surname. I was quite surprised when my granddaughter was born and bore the name Mutch as a surname. When my grandson was born he bore the surname of his father, Schaer. Since I have only two daughters and no sons, I find that pledge taken when one was twelve and the other eight, as a loving bond my daughters have made with me.

What I want to get addressed to women who are contemplating marriage is their surname may not be required to change, as in the past, to that of the patrimony; both parties may keep their own surnames and the children, well that can be decided at a later date or in a prenuptial agreement; or the parties can make their own surname out of the two surnames of the families from which they emanate.

After a divorce there are issues to decide. If there are no children, then the wife may wish to have her surname changed back to her family’s surname. If there are children, depending on how the family took or did not adopt the patrimonial name, it may be less confusing if the mother keeps the surname of the children; I’ve heard it said “It causes less embarrassment at school.” However, depending on the animosity the woman has for her ex, she may decide to ditch the husband’s surname altogether.

When both spouses have established a professional name using one name, it may be that the woman may maintain the use of her “professional name” at work and for publications and use her family surname outside of work and with her children.

With the advent of Homeland Security (or should it be Fatherland Security) regulations, all of our driver’s licenses by 2017 will contain our birth surnames as well as our married surname. That is why all of must take an official birth certificate when we next renew our licenses. I found this out when my wife came from the DMV and said her license number was changed to start with a B rather than the M it had started with for the past 38 years we were in Florida.

Just remember that in order for your name to be changed officially it must be done by court order. One caveat, in most states you can call yourself anything you want as long as it's not a ruse or a means to defraud. Thus movie stars names are in big lights but Cary Grant was always Archibald MacLeish. Thus in most states, and in particular Florida, if you want a name change after divorce, you must make a pleading to the effect. In the judgment of dissolution of marriage the judge must include a clause telling the officials of the state to change your surname from Mrs. Louse to Ms. Resilient.

Must I remember? why, she would hang on him,
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on: and yet, within a month -
Let me not think on't - Frailty, thy name is woman! -
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she follow'd my poor father's body

'Hamlet,' William Shakespeare, 1602

Hamlet is angry that his mother, Gertrude, has married his, Hamlet’s, uncle Claudius within a month of his father's death. The speech generalizes the attribution of weakness of character from one particular woman to womankind. A truly chauvinistic attitude that was acceptable for Shakespeare’s 17th Century outlook on life but not for the 21st Century’s liberated people.


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