Name Changes

Names are a funny thing. They are so much a part of our identities and yet so many of us probably have a name that they don’t understand the history of or just don’t feel that strongly about. Last year, after considering it for nearly a decade, I changed my middle name so that I could incorporate my step-father’s family name as opposed to keeping my father’s first name as my middle name. I had felt for a long time that it wasn’t that necessary to keep my father’s first name as my middle name because when you break down “first name, first name, family name”, it just never seemed seemed right to me. Two first names and one family name when I was just one person from two families didn’t make sense. Making that change so that the only first name was mine and the other two names were of the families that have helped shaped me just felt right. Nobody asked me to, it was my decision and I’m still quite happy about it.

Similarly, many women are typically assumed or asked to change their family names when they get married, and I’m sure that many do without too much question or issue. I would always hope that there’s at least the discussion clarifying how names are going to work in the marriage, but that’s up to each couple that’s getting married. Thankfully there isn’t as much societal pressure anymore for a woman to change her family name which I think is right and fair. No one should be asked to give up a part of their identity without at least both parties equally considering making a change. Sylvia even forwarded me an interesting article of a man, that had some good points, who changed his family name to his wife’s after the wedding.

Even if there is a discussion and accord about a name change for after the wedding, then you have to decide if a full last name change is being made, if you’re going to hyphenate, if you pick an entirely different last name from the two of you, or any number of other ideas that I’m sure that are out there that I can’t recall at the moment. So, you’ve got two layers of decisions going on and that’s not even talking about how you handle naming kids, assuming you have any. If you don’t go with the traditional name change, then you have to decide on how to make that work too because family is family.

Sylvia and I haven’t spent that much time talking about changing our names because I know that we’re both happy with our names. I know that she’s kicked around the idea of us taking my step-dad’s family name if only because she’d at least be able to keep an Italian identity and not taking up an Irish one, but I’m not really that excited by the idea. I’m proud of my family name, both of them and I like where they sit in the spectrum of my full name. I like the idea of swapping my identity around again about as much as she does being mistaken as Irish. The one thing we are completely in agreement about is that we’re not hyphenating our names as that’d just be really confusing for us. There definitely is definitely plenty of time to keep talking though in case we decide on something we like more, but for now we’ve decided that we’re both pretty happy with the idea of each of us keeping our names as they are and not changing them at all. The only issue that potentially leaves open is how we name any kid(s) down the road, but I’ve already told Sylvia that I currently feel very strongly that she should decide how family names get passed on when that time comes.

I have a thing that I always repeat to myself anytime it comes up, and that is that blood may be thicker than water, but family is thicker than blood. My father, aunt, and grandmother were abandoned by my biological grandfather when my father and aunt were very young. My grandmother, tough as nails lady that she was, didn’t stand around doing nothing about it and went on raising them the best that she could and eventually she met my grandfather and remarried. My father and aunt were given the choice to be adopted by him and they said yes, shedding their birth names and taking up new ones under his family name of Riley. When I was born as a Riley, I had no blood connection to my grandfather’s family, but we are all family and like I said before, family is thicker than blood.

All of this history has essentially left me with the strong desire for family ties, but without all of the potential issues that may come up from maintaining a family name/blood lineage. This is doubly so as I don’t know really much about my family bloodline other than there’s some French on my mom’s half. I laugh because I might not even be Irish either, which would possibly make my name completely wrong from a cultural perspective. If it comes down to it that Sylvia wants to pass her family name on through any kid(s) someday, I’ll be happy with that because we’ll all still be family. It might make things a bit more sticky having a different name from any children if the fearful era that this country is in right now continues to get worse, but I don’t think it’s right to make a decision about a family name to make our lives easier with the government.

You know, it may come to pass that all of the discussions that Sylvia and I have turn to something very much typical or something entirely different, but I do know that neither of us will be convinced to change something about ourselves without having the discussions that are needed to build that foundation we need to be secure with our decisions and I can’t emphasize just how secure that makes me feel.


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