What name is it under? Uh, try Buckingham? Nope. Try Lowy. Nope. Try Buckingham-Lowy, even though that’s not really my name. Yes, I know that’s what it says on my license. The introduction of the hyphen is a Registry of Motor Vehicles story I’ll tell in a few minutes. Your passport, you say, that’s the definitive answer? The surname on it is Buckingham Lowy. No hyphen. Not my name. Birth certificate – Virginia Beth Buckingham. Used to be my name. Marriage certificate? Virginia Buckingham Lowy. Bingo. My legal name. Except I never use it.
My name conundrum is a cautionary tale I share mostly because it’s a pain in the neck. Some 30 years ago when I got engaged, I wanted to keep my maiden name because I already had an established career. I also wanted to have the same last name as my future children. What to do?
I know many in my generation and since have grappled with the issue. A dear couple I know and love opted recently to take a new name altogether, an amalgamation of their two middle names but the megillah of all the bureaucracy they have to navigate to accomplish the change is daunting. It seems there’s no easy answer.
I just saw a national poll by Pew Research on the name-after-marriage issue. In it, 79% of women in opposite-sex marriages say they took their spouse’s last name. There wasn’t a big enough sample of those in same-sex marriages to analyze, but overall, no matter their sexual orientation, 33% of women who have never been married responded that they would change their name, 23% would not and 17% would hyphenate. What about married men, you ask? Just 5% took their spouse’s last name and 1% hyphenated.
In political polling, when you’re testing the power of an argument for your candidate or your issue (or against the opposing side), you typically ask someone’s perspective before you show a potential ad, then you show the ad, and then you measure if the person’s perspective changed after viewing.
So, let’s pretend I am running a ballot question about whether I should have changed my name when I got married. Think what you would say now. And then you have to vote yes or no after my name “ad.”
(Romantic scene, fireplace burning, a newly engaged couple chatting on the couch.)
Ginny: Honey, I’ll change my last name if you change your middle name to Buckingham.
Fiance: No way.
Ginny: You stink.
Still Ginny: But I want our kids to have the same last name as me so what do I do?
(Inspirational music rising)
Ginny: I know, I’ll change my last name legally but I’ll use my maiden name professionally!
Fiance: You’re so smart.
(A slightly older Ginny, holding a cell phone in one hand and a landline in the other)
Ginny (into cell phone): This is Ginny Buckingham, can you get me a conference room for my 2:00?
Ginny (into landline): This is Ginny Lowy, can I get my daughter in for a strep culture?
Ginny looks knowingly into the camera and gives a thumbs up as if saying, “I got this.”
An even older Ginny in the car talking hands-free: “Um, I’m pretty sure I have a reservation? Did you check under Lowy? How about Buckingham? How about Buckingham-Lowy?”
A chagrined Ginny looks at the camera and gives a thumbs down.
Fade to black.
A quick side note on “my” hyphen. Which isn’t mine. Because I never chose it willingly. I was working in the State House when the registrar at the time was demonstrating fancy new equipment in the Great Hall. My license was expiring and I had recently gotten married so I volunteered to get it renewed as part of their presentation. When we got to inputting the name, I said, “My middle name is Buckingham and my last name is Lowy.”
“No can do,” said the friendly technician. “Buckingham can’t fit as your middle name.” Since I wanted my professional name to be on my license, the only option was to hyphenate.
So where do you land on my name choice? Oh, you say, it’s not a yes or no answer because if you stuck to using your maiden name in professional circumstances and your married name in personal ones, there wouldn’t be a problem.
There’s a name for that. Disorganized.
Recently, we were talking to our daughter about whether she would change her name. My husband passionately argued she shouldn’t.
There’s a name for that, too. No, it’s not hypocrisy. In politics, we say his position has “evolved.”
Sigh. Next week, I’ll tackle something easier. Like nuclear détente.