Huh. Apparently I’ve been a trendsetter, or at least ahead of the curve, just by making decisions about my name 24 years ago. Who’d’ve guessed?
An article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on July 14, 2013 analyzed the decisions women make about changing their names after getting married. (You can read “The Modern Way for Women to Create a Married Name,” if they keep the article online.) Reporter Nara Schoenberg writes that 25% of married women take their husband’s last name but make their maiden name their legal middle name. Very few women in history followed this practice, but there were some notable ones, like Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The women’s movement in the 1970s made it a bit more common (Hilary Rodham Clinton is mentioned), but hyphenated last names were more popular in the ’80s and ’90s. The current statistic of 25% of women keeping their maiden name as a middle name along with their husband’s last name is a marked rise.
As Theresa Jarosz Alberti, it was nice to get a little validation from the Sunday paper! It made me think back to my own decision-making process on this matter.
I remember my mother making a comment about my decision to arrange my name this way, surprised that as a feminist I’d take my husband’s last name. But I think I’d actually made the decision informally about my name back when I was a pre-teen: I knew I wanted to be a writer, and some of my favorite women writers used the maiden name + husband’s name formula, especially Maud Hart Lovelace and Laura Ingalls Wilder. That’s what women writers did with their names, and I was going to be a woman writer too.
Some additional logic went into my decision, too. My maiden name is Polish, not easy to spell or pronounce, and I was tired of continually having to do that. Alberti is simpler, and it didn’t take me long to find out the beauty of having an A name– over the years, I know I’ve gotten certain opportunities just because I was at the top of the list. In fact, a friend of mine who changed her whole name several years ago was so impressed with this fact that she gave herself an A last name.
I liked Alberti– it was appealing to me. If I really hadn’t liked my husband’s last name, or if it had been strange, I don’t think I would’ve taken it. I knew I didn’t want to hyphenate– that would be too complicated for me. I wanted to retain some of my own name– Jarosz was a part of me. My original middle name was Marie, which wasn’t really meaningful to me. I was okay with giving that up. And even though I’m a feminist, I liked the idea of having the same last name as my husband and kids.
I did it for me, because it felt right. I did it to emulate my writing idols. It works for me.
And I like having a choice in the matter. Living in a historically rigid patriarchal system has meant that for hundreds of years women didn’t feel like they have a choice. I remember growing up that my mom would get mail addressed to Mrs. Jerome Jarosz, and that bothered me. “Why are they calling you his name?” I’d ask. “You’re just an ‘s’!” It was a common name tradition at the time, and one that seemed to me to eliminate a woman’s identity.
Even though, as the article states, 90-95% of women today still take their husband’s last name, at least today there is the question floating out there for women to answer– Will you change your name?
Speaking of changing your name, remember that friend of mine who changed her name– first, middle and last? It was very interesting to go through the experience of witnessing someone do that– at first, her new name seemed strange to me. In my mind, she was still Elizabeth, not Serena, and I fumbled through calling her by the new name. It just didn’t fit. But after many months, suddenly it did. It clicked into place, and now it seems strange that I ever called her anything else. This whole naming thing is a very intriguing business. Just the fact that we name our children at birth and it shapes their identity in the world and in our minds…
As for me, I just hope to get Theresa Jarosz Alberti on many more books, so I can follow in the footsteps of my women writer heroes!