In the months before we got married, Hanna and I decided we were going to combine our middle names upon marriage:
- Elisabeth + Jane = Elisabethjane
We even had our rings engraved with the word: a design we created ourselves by each writing the others’ “maiden” middle name:
I even wrote a guest blog post about our process for The Last Name Project, which I still think accurately captures our reasoning and the symbolism we saw in taking this approach.
But then some things happened.
First, when we went to fill out the forms at the town hall in Brookline, pursuant to obtaining a marriage license, there was no way to change your middle name upon marriage. The clerk didn’t care. The bureaucracy only cares if you’re going to change your last name(s). Which, practically speaking, means you can only change your last names if you want to change your names without additional cost and seamlessly with the marriage paperwork.
“That’s okay,” I said while we were standing in the office. “We’ll just take care of it later, separately.”
We were going to have to file for two legal name changes, at $165.00 per person, in Probate and Family Court. With all of the other wedding-related details and expenses, it seemed like a detail we could follow up on later.
Then, on the night before our wedding, Hanna suddenly realized it was important to her that we share a last name. “What if something happens?” She asked, into the dark as we lay in bed talking about it. “How will people know we were ever married? How will they know you belong to me?”
We had previously discarded the notion of hyphenated last names as unwieldy, though neither of us — historians to the core — wanted to walk away from our family of origin names altogether. So at the eleventh hour, we revisited the hyphen option and have settled on Clutterbuck-Cook as the shared last name we will eventually take.
Eventually being the key word here, since nine months later we’ve yet to file the paperwork and pay the $330 in fees to get it all taken care of. Expense is a barrier, as is the lingering question of whether we’ll move forward with our shared middle name plan, in addition to the last name change, or whether that’s just too extensive for any one person to bear: Anna Elisabeth Jane Clutterbuck-Cook? I mean, it’ll basically never fit on a form. Ever. Again. Not even the forms for effecting the change!
And then DOMA was an excuse for not deciding. “We’ll do it when DOMA falls,” I said, eventually. It seemed like a good way to mark the expansion of marriage equality. And practically it seemed like the sensible thing to do. Why change our names when the federal government would refuse to acknowledge we were legally pledged to one another anyway.
But now DOMA is no more (yay!). Plus, our passports are up for renewal, making a natural time to get everything formalized.
So I’ve been starting to just kind of play around with this new last name of ours. When I sign up for new accounts online. When I fill in a return address on an envelope. On Twitter. On my blog. Probably soon in the signature line of my work email:
- Anna E. J. Cook?
- Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook?
- Anna E. Clutterbuck-Cook?
- Anna E. Cook?
- Hanna and Anna Cook-Clutterbuck
- Anna and Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook
Right now I have a handful of variations on this theme rattling around the Internet. Slowly, I think Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook is winning out, although part of me still wants to add the Elisabeth too.
I admit, part of the reason I’m reluctant to let go of the intertwined middle names is that it seems like an elegant and egalitarian solution. Everyone we told the middle-name plan to thought it was awesome and radical and why-had-no-one-thought-of-this-before? At the same time, like Hanna, I feel the undeniable pull of social legitimacy — that thing same-sex couples, particularly, are both applauded and shamed for desiring. Like Hanna, I want us to be unmistakably married. And in modern, Western culture sharing a last name or names with one’s spouse is a fairly unmistakable linguistic act: We two, together.
(Or “we three,” perhaps, for some — though not us.)
I don’t think it’s queer, or feminist, failure to want recognition or legibility for who we are. And the society (and legal paperwork) through which our lives are filtered shape our choices.
If the marriage certificate forms had allowed us to change our middle names, it would be done.
But they didn’t; because that’s not how it’s done.
(That’s not “how it’s done” for straight men, either, in many states. Massachusetts law treats both spouses equally but in many states husbands who change their last names upon marriage incur additional fees or outright refusal.)
The Internet is strange, too. Do I just grandfather in my Twitter handle? Email address? Even my most widely-used internet handle, annajcook doesn’t acknowledge my marriage linguistically. Do I ditch it and start afresh? It seems untidy, somehow, lacking in efficiency, either way.
Why can’t everything magically switch over, like when you change your profile picture on Google and suddenly every platform shows the new you?
But on the other hand, I like to think this period of messy uncertainty gives historians of the future a trail of breadcrumbs for us all as we move through the virtual and analog universe: Here we are, tangled together. Somehow. We’re still working out exactly how.