Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What's in a name? That which we call...

This is my post in honor of blogging for Modern Families week at Goodkin.

As we were planning our wedding last year we settled on most of the big decisions pretty easily. A lot of the decisions, like where to hold the ceremony, how formal it should be, whether we would both wear white dresses, whether to invite children, just seemed obvious to both of us. We had already agreed on colors and patterns to decorate our home, and the decision to reuse those choices came easily. Overall, we found most traditional wedding planning and customs to adapt easily to a same-sex wedding. It’s surprisingly easy to read bridal magazines and wedding planning sites without even encountering mention of a groom, and when he does show up rarely do his jobs require him to be male or dressed in a tuxedo or called a groom.

One of the decisions we found the hardest to make was the one about last names. In the last name business we found little guidance from tradition. The night before the Massachusetts marriage license application (at which we needed to declare our new names, in order to benefit from the free name change granted by legal marriage) we spent hours debating back and forth, practicing writing and signing all combinations of possible names, and generally obsessing about the right choice. We had previously agreed that we would not share our debate with friends or family until after we had made a decision, because we wanted to feel confident that it was our decision. In the end we made one of the most nontraditional decisions of the whole wedding/marriage/anticipated life. We decided to merge our names. We kept part of mine and part of hers, and we ditched part of mine and part of hers. We would each have the same name, which would convey the connection to each of our extended families, and any future additions to our family would also be able to share that name. Our new name identifies us quickly and easily as a real legitimate family in a way that no other marker could.

When I told my mom she initially reacted with surprise. I can’t even remember now if she had expected us to keep our names or to hyphenate, but she did not expect the merge. My mom at times in the past has been a recreational genealogist, and thus one of her initial arguments against our decision was that creating a new name would make us difficult to trace for future genealogists.

Creating our family our way will probably cause many headaches for future genealogists. We hope that Partner 1 and Partner 2 on the marriage certificate will eventually pave the way for Parent 1 and Parent 2 on countless forms (unless conservatives have their way, in which case we'll have to flip a coin on who gets to be the "father"). We're stretching our own imaginations, and asking those future genealogists to come along for the ride. I commented on this to my mother, and eventually we agreed that it is a new world out here on the family frontier.

I have a feeling that our whole lives together are going to be a mix of repeating familiar traditions that are surprisingly non-gender-specific and occasionally needing to sit down and come up with creative solutions that may challenge us and the other people in our social worlds. In later conversations with my mother I have gotten the impression that she came around to our new name. Her initial reaction was more surprise, needing a moment to ponder and understand, than disapproval. So I can only hope that future genealogists can manage as well as my mother, with that decision and all the others we will have to make in the years to come.

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