20 Jan The Guilty Admission: I Hate My Name
It’s true. I hate my name.
Not my first name. I love the name Aliya. It used to be unique. Until Aliya the singer came along. Then it seemed like every third girl I met was named Aliya. Still love it. I like the way it sounds and I think it suits me. And I love my middle name too. Although I only use my initial, it’s still a special part of my name. And my last name? King. How could you not love that?!
It’s regal. And of course, I’ve always wondered if I’m in anyway related to the Reverend Doctor.
So, my birthname: Aliya S. King. I love it.
It’s the butchering that happened a few years ago that I HATE.
Here’s the thing. I got married at 32. And by then, I had been Aliya S. King for so long, I couldn’t imagine being anything else. I never discussed with TheHusband beforehand whether or not I would change my last name. I actually didn’t give it much thought at all.
When we got back from our honeymoon, I looked at my post-wedding checklist. Get added to his health insurance: Check. Send out thank-you notes. Check. Go to DMV and get name change…
I went down to the DMV with my marriage license in hand. But the entire time I waited my turn, I wanted to run out kicking and screaming.
I didn’t want to change my name.
My husband’s last name, let’s call it HisLastName, is perfectly fine. It suits him and his family, all lovely people.
But I’ve never felt like Mrs. Aliya HisLastName. It’s just not me. I’m Aliya S. King.
I think this pull is felt by writers in particular. We see our names in print and become attached. Even the intense emotion of joining forces with someone you love in a legally binding act doesn’t necessarily change how you feel.
I’m Aliya S. King. Not Mrs. Aliya HisLastName.
But still…I stepped up to the counter and handed over my documents.
“I just got married,” I said. “So…I guess I’m changing my name.”
She shuffled my papers, stamped some stuff and then asked me to sign a form. I looked down and then shook my head.
“Wait. No, this is not right. I want my name to be Aliya King HisLastName.” I said. “No hyphens please. Just Aliya King HisLastName, you know, like Sarah Jessica Parker.”
“You can’t do that,” the woman said. “You have to be either Aliya S. HisLastName. Or you can hyphenate it and be Aliya S. King-HisLastName.”
“Hyphens are whack!” I said. “I can’t have a hyphenated name. I want to use King as my middle name.”
The woman rolled her eyes at me.
“That would require a true legal name change through the courts. Are you gonna submit this paperwork or not?”
For some reason, I have no clue why, I submitted. And I got my license back a few minutes later.
There, in print. Laminated forever and ever:
My name was now Aliya King-HisLastName.
It doesn’t have a ring to it. And as a writer, I’m very particular about names. Zora Neale Hurston wasn’t hyphenated! Cheo Hodari Coker isn’t hyphenated. It just didn’t feel right. And looking at it made me unhappy.
In the years since, it’s only gotten worse. The hyphenated name is complicated and confusing. I go to the pharmacy and there’s always drama. My insurance card says that my last name is King-HisLastName. And sometimes they use King and sometimes they use HisLastName. I’ve been in doctor’s offices, schools, banks and countless other places, waiting my turn to be served. They call out “Mrs. King-HisLastName” and I just sit there waiting for them to call my name. Until I remember, that IS my name. Ugh.
When we bought a house this summer, I was ticked off to see that the official deed to the house was made out to Mr. and Mrs. HisLastName. That’s not me! I wanted to yell out. I’m Aliya S. King!
Why does it bother me so? Is it really a big deal?
Professionally, I will always be Aliya S. King. I worked hard to establish that byline for ten years before I got married. So changing my byline was never an option. And TheHusband agreed that I should keep my name for work.
And then, I had a kid. And I labored over what her surname should be. I knew I didn’t want her to have the hyphenated drama I was going through.
But on this, TheHusband wasn’t budging:
“Her last name will be HisLastName,” he said. “And that’s final.”
I was expecting a boy and had a first name already picked out. And then, she decided to be a girl instead. So we were stumped for a first name during my entire stay in the hospital. But I knew, no matter what, that her middle name would be the last name I’d always known.
So she’s now known as TheOtherGirl King HisLastName.
It worked out for her in the way I wish it had worked out for me. In fact, I often think of going to the DMV and changing my name back to just plain old Aliya S. King. TheHusband teases me and says I’ll never do it. And he’s right, I probably won’t. But I’m still bummed every time I pull out my license or credit card and someone calls me Mrs. King-HisLastName.
In many cultures, including Korea and Chile, the woman does not change her surname after marriage. In some Latin cultures, it’s common to combine your surname with your spouse’s last name to create an entirely new surname. (Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, was born Antonio Villar. When he married Corina Raigosa, they combined their surnames. But now they’re getting divorced. How’s that for complicated…Will he go back to Villar? Or will he combine Villaraigosa with a new wife’s last name? I just gave myself a headache.)
My literary agent’s name was Ryan Harbage when we first met. After marrying, he hyphenated his surname with his wife’s and now they’re the Fischer-Harbage family. A word from Ryan on how he decided to merge names with his wife:
I suggested we take each others’ names because it seemed like the right thing to do. It just never made sense to me that women have to take their husband’s name while the husband doesn’t have to change his own. When I went to the DMV in Brooklyn to get a new license, the women working there showered me with praise–the woman behind the counter processing my paperwork called all her colleagues over and they made a big show of whooping it up and telling me how sweet I was. It was the closest I’ve ever come to feeling heroic. And probably the most pleasant visit to the DMV that I’ll ever have.
But I guess now I understand why men don’t change their names. Aside from ten minutes (ok five) of adoration at the DMV, its a lifelong pain in the ass.
Ryan’s a sweetie. But I definitely think it would be even more complicated to have me and TheHusband share a hyphenated name. It’s all so confusing. And while I think I’d prefer my name to just be King, the truth is more complex.
When I take TheOtherGirl to daycare, I don’t mind at all that I’m referred to as Mrs. HisLastName. For better or for worse, I appreciate the respect that title affords me. And I appreciate that I have the same last name as my daughter. We’re the HisLastName family. And I’m okay with that.
If I do it make it to the DMV, I will change my name. But I’ll change it in a way I think TheHusband wouldn’t expect. I won’t change my name back to King. I’ll just kill the hyphen and be Aliya HisLastName. So much simpler that way. I’ll be King in the world. And HisLastName at home. No hyphens.
But on this blog, in my work, wherever I am a writer first, I’ll always be Aliya S. King.
I’d love to hear from my Dear Readers on this one. Ladies, if you’re married, how did you handle this? If you’re not married but planning to be, how will you handle this? Did your profession affect your decision? I see my girl Shani is now Shani Parrish. But Thembia Mshaka, married to the awesome T-Mor Morris, is still Ms. Mshaka. Mimi Valdez, editor-in-chief of Latina, added Ryan to her name but with NO hyphen. (Lucky girl.) Serena Kim is still Serena Kim. But is she Mrs. HisLastName at home? I have no idea. And fellas, I need you to weigh on this too. Does it matter to you if your wife changes her last name? Let me know your thoughts…