A Woman’s Surname SHOULD NOT CHANGE after Marriage. Let’s change US traditions.

For Christmas this year, my cousins are getting together to purchase a memorial plaque in honor of our grandfather who served in the Navy during World War II. Planning this memorial brought me into awareness, again, of a trial I have experienced during all of the years after my first husband divorced me. This tribulation was magnified after I remarried. My wounds from these trials and tribulations opened as we began to plan Grandaddy’s plaque. The issue was what last name, of the three from my fifty years on this earth, should be used to identify me?

One never knows when a personal soapbox is going to appear BUT it did for me today! Someone listed my name as my current married name and left out an important part of my name as I identify myself so I decided to reveal i writing the inner explanations and experiences that have lead to my ideas for the future of women and surname usage. This is an important topic to me and I am choosing to share it here for you to consider too.

Some of you have daughters, granddaughters to consider for the future…..  I am a HUGE advocate for women to keep their maiden name legally throughout their lives and NOT change their names because of marriage. I am sharing this for your consideration – not to not begin a debate, not yet anyway. I just want to share my experience. I am sharing ‘legal name’ stories and my painful experiences to serve as information on the topic. This is a soapbox! I share deep emotional feelings I have lived with and ideas I will bet most of you have not considered. I write this to heal my heart and I write from my heart.

Why do I take this stand for women to KEEP their maiden names and NOT change their last name? 1) I HATE having aliases. I have three different last names in my life and have only been married twice. Consider Liz Taylor who married seven times has eight different aliases. She is lucky in that to the world she remained Liz Taylor. Not being of the Hollywood set, I fell within the traditional American group who expect the young bride to become Mrs. John  Doe. After my second marriage, I fell within the same expectation but none of the last name options were the correct choice since each choice brought with it problems of its own. Each name, maiden name, first married name or new husband’s name each set me up for trouble in some part of my life. If you have ever, been there, done that, you understand this issue just by looking at official records and credit reports. I have been through SOOOOOOO much after creating my professional self in one name and then having that name taken away from me through a divorce. I have a son and he has always been my most important consideration. Choosing my name, after the divorce, after my remarriage, and now during the creation of this Naval memorial plaque that will hopefully last forever, is a problem I wish did not exist for me at all. This issue would never have been an issue had I always kept my maiden name.

Everyone should  know and understand about the issues that arise from name changes, whether they are aware of this need or not. In the future, maybe the United States can have laws, like some countries do have, and encourage no name change to be required of women. I understand that no US law exists that requires a woman’s name to be changed BUT tradition does exist in our country so that most women do change their names to match their new husband’s.

When women’s names are changed, it makes record keeping and personal identification much harder for the rest of their lives. Our children/grandchildren will make decisions  that we may be able to be influence. I know the pain name changing can cause, and I would like everyone to understand these issues. I have worried about all the little girls, grand girls, and  nieces, who could experience the pain of this tradition as I have. I want you to know this story and understand so that maybe we can one day change the pains of the future that I have lived with for twenty years. I am sharing this because I want each reader to at least have knowledge of this perspective.

This memorial plaque, in honor of our grandfather who served in the Navy during World War II, will be a permanent record of our family history. My concern came when I realized that my son would not be tied to my grandfather on this memorial if the plaque did not include his birth surname too. Now that I am doing genealogy I recognize links that follow permanent memorial.  Where would my tie to my NASA Teacher in Space participation (important to me) be if anyone ever began research from the plaque?  My son is very proud of his great-granddaddy and believes he looks like him more than any other of his grandparents.  Those are only a few of the reasons legal names and choice in name printing is important to me. The plaque and name is what brought this into my mind. More reasons I share  – our girls/ our women of the future………

When I think of my great grandmother who was married five times, I sometimes think she remarried to escape her past life/ lives to become someone else. I have never wished that upon myself BUT instead I have struggled for years to RETAIN my whole identity and self. The simple act of name changing can take your past, your person, and your identity away from you. I am sure my cousins would always know me and recognize me with my second married name BUT the rest of my world would not.  When I retired from NASA, my bosses of fifteen years STILL DID NOT GET my name correct! They still called me by the name I had carried for ALL the fifteen  years they had known me. I have checked into hotels and had no reservation because the reservation was in my old name. Thank goodness the hotel staffs were kind and I got a room even though I had no official ID matching the old name!  After 9/11 the world changed and I wonder how many problems occurred when names where not correct. No biggie most of the time  – but for me – it was a REGULAR OCCURENCE and a royal pain! With my third surname, second married name,  I have experienced MANY of these pains. No one recognizes the third surname, everybody knew / knows the second surname I had when I was a the height of my career nationwide……… I wish my name had just been my birth name and never a string of other names……..

What is/was the purpose of name changing anyway? Tradition. Tradition where men ruled. Male egos.  Hope. Hope that the first marriage will be the only marriage. Hope does not make it so. In my personal situation of divorce I was not given a choice in that matter.

When I married the second time, my husband he told me that I did not have to change my name. I DID NOT WANT to change my name, BUT being married to one man and carrying another man’s name?????????? I could not do that NOR bear the pain of gossip that would have occurred locally in our small town.  ANSWER: Never change your name in the FIRST place!

My son REALLY CARED that I have a tie to him and told me I would carry both married names to include him. I do, thus Sue Darnell Ellis is how I sign my name on everything I am allowed to. I want / need a tie to my child / my person / my identity / my life /my professional past and my personality that had been built with my first married name, Sue Darnell.  I want people to be able to connect to me and all parts of my life, personal and professional. I do not want to lose parts of my life by changing my name and my identity. I had to work hard not to lose myself when the man left me – ALL because of a NAME!

At the time of my remarriage,  I decided to carry both married surnames in my name.  I use that on EVERYTHING EXCEPT my drivers license. By Kentucky State Law I can not use Sue Darnell Ellis because it does not match my birth certificate. I was told it is ILLEGAL to use anything except your BIRTH first name and current legal married name.

The story of how I am identified on my Social Security Card  is VERY LONG, PAINFUL. After many conversations the final result for my Social Security identity is this: my ‘First Name’ is  Sue, my given name on my birth certificate and that is THE ONLY OPTION that is allowed legally.  My ‘Middle Name’ does not matter legally so that blank on the form holds my given middle name, Ellen, and first married surname, Darnell. My Last Name is listed as the only thing allowed legally, my current married surname, Ellis. It works!!! I can legally be Sue Ellen Darnell Ellis. I am thankful!!

I want you to know that this is REAL and IMPORTANT to consider for your girls in the future! The past tradition and reasons for women changing their legal name to become a man’s name are no longer valid in 2010. This tradition causes much confusion and always has.

I submit this for your consideration as food for thought for the future of the little girls who will grow up to be women one day, with personal and  professional lives. It certainly would be easier to have one name for life, at least one legal name.



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