In a few weeks, my parents will celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary. Every time I think about this, I feel bright and warm — they are still crazy about each other after three+ decades, and on top of that have built one of the most beautifully egalitarian relationships I've ever witnessed. They are both "breadwinners," but my mom generally works more hours than my dad so he covers many of the household duties — meals, laundry. They took turns reading to us when we were kids, my dad sang for us every night, and no matter how late the hour (8, 9, occasionally later), we always had dinner as a family.
35 years ago when they were married, my mom legally added my dad's last name to hers, but she continued to use her name both professionally and personally. As much as people seem to talk about how difficult it is for kids when parents have different names, I can't really ever remember it being a problem — maybe once or twice there was some mild (but entertaining) confusion. I do know that my parents were introduced to each other at parties more than once, and had an elaborate routine involving my dad sweeping my mom off her feet in a Gone With The Wind-style kiss prepared for such moments. When we were born (me, my sister, and my brother), we inherited my dad's last name, but we always also identified with my mom's. Say my mom is a "Sullivan" and my dad, my siblings, and I are "Smiths" — we were Sullivan kids too, colloquially. We have the temperament, god knows (ask me where I get my troublemaking streak, go on).
I come from a giant family. Think: an estimate of a family guest list for a wedding would run around 80. My mom is one of 6 and my dad is one of 7. All of his siblings are sisters, all of hers brothers. My dad's sisters have tons of children, but none of them carry the family last name — it's just me and my siblings. My brother loves to make much of this situation — he is the heir, he proclaims, the only one of twenty-odd grandkids on that side who can pass on the name. Last month while visiting home, I finally rolled my eyes at this — I could pass the name if I wanted to, I observed (really, any of us could). He was startled and interested in this observation, and it turned into a long conversation about names, politics, and personal attachments between me, my brother, and my mom. After a few minutes of lofty talk, I finally raised something I'd been thinking about for approximately the last year: how would my parents feel if I added my mom's last name to my name?
I didn't expect the reaction I got from my mom: astonishment, then excitement. She loves my dad's family, but has never stopped feeling deeply, permanently tied to her brothers and parents. The idea of me making this extra, especially public, legal tie — I think it moved her.
A couple of weeks later, my brother, sister, and I are all looking into the process for changing our names. We don't know if we'd be Smith-Sullivan or Sullivan (middle name) Smith (last name) or anything in between. But the ball is rolling and I really think we're going to do it. If both of them bail, I'm going to do it, in some form or another. I'm currently engaged in a funny, 20+ email chain with my cousins and the list of addresses is Sullivan, Sullivan, Sullivan. I know that last name doesn't make a family — on my dad's side, my cousins have ten or eleven different last names between them. Still — there's something deeply satisfying about the idea of my name saying I'm from my dad's people, and my mom's people too. And maybe more important than all of that, I want to do it because when I suggested it, my mom's face lit up.
My dad is slightly confused, but supportive. I think he sees that it makes my mom happy. Plus, he knows I'd never ditch his last name. His family is unquestionably just as important to me, and it means a lot that he and I share a name — it's a name I'm proud to have inherited. (Also, he's the best dad ever. Incidentally I am drinking one of his homebrews right now and it is GREAT.) But my mom, name and all, has been a figure of equal positive power and importance in my life, and she's always carried her own last name. I'd like to honor that.
I'll be honest: this was going to be a solicitation for advice, and then it turned into feelings. But I still want advice! If anyone has experience switching their names in a non-marital situation, I'd love to hear it — I've been pulling resources from my state's legal aid, but I'm sure I'm overlooking details. Personal anecdotes, unforeseen hurdles, etc. — share away.
For the record, DudeJeans thinks this is totally cool (not that I needed his blessing, obviously). He actually has his mom's last name and has suggested taking my name on eventual nuptials. Also for the record, please know that this is 100% NOT a judgment on anyone else's individual naming choices or names. This is entirely about my feelings about my family and doing something that I think my mom would really, really love. All kinds of naming choices and reasons to change your name, or not, are valid! This is just my personal situation.