When I was born, I was given my father’s last name. My first name belonged to an Empress, but that did not make me powerful – it is at the top of my resume, stating the necessary gender. When I married, I had already lived 26 years with this name. It has been engraved on name plates, credit cards, and school yearbooks. I am in the phone book, the alumni listings, and personnel records under this name. I have fleshed it out and make it ring with memories of this unique person.
So, I am amazed when asked, just last month,
“So wait, your maiden name is Tripp, right?”
“No, I was never a maiden. My birth name is Tripp.”
“So, your married name is Tripp, too?”
“So, you married your cousin?”
“No, but someone in your gene pool must have.”
The question “Is this your real name?” seems so ludicrous. It stems from a quaint custom, a rite of passage which is not, nor has it ever been, expected of men. For women, however, a public pronouncement of love and commitment to a chosen mate is not enough. A traditional band of precious metal worn on the left hand at all times is also not enough. For I have been told it is expected that a woman must become an appellative adjunct to her mate; become a “Mrs. John Smith”. Does anyone LIVE inside that name? Or is it Mr. John Smith’s portable label for his current spouse, no more personal than a luggage tag?
I may decide to change my name someday – for convenience or pure caprice. But women have fought long and hard for the right to choose where and when that change may take place. It was 1974 in California when married women were finally allowed to hold property in their own name “sole and separate”. The Napoleonic Code has been abandoned, but I am still waiting for the change in legislation to lead to a change in attitude. When Mr. Jane Smith is a common phenomenon, then maybe the fight will be won, and one’s chosen name will be one’s only real name.
By Catherine G. Tripp (Ms. and Miss and Mrs.)