Last week I shredded an old identity: quite literally. Into my small, black, paper shredder went the Social Security card of a one Natanya Haviva Green. June 14th, on my wedding day, I became a member of the Bittman clan and–since the mail arrived last Tuesday–I am now a card carrying Bittman.
These days, nothing a woman does is without a narrative of sub-text; it doesn’t feel right to gloss over my transition from one identity/family to another without acknowledging the particular name-change quandary I–and the women of my generation–face.
In these modern times of choice, a woman doesn’t just change her name. She chooses to, just as chooses not to hyphenate their names or keep her maiden name. I’ve been reading one editorial after another about the blowback women (and men) have received from each of these choices, it’s clear that no matter what option one chooses, there is so, so much at stake.
I encountered the realities of name changing as a small child when my mother married my stepfather. To honor her family of origin, or to comply with her feminist leanings (I’m still not sure which) I became that kid with the long hyphenated last name. But soon, out of convenience, the seemingly endlessly-syllabic Natanya Reuben-Green became simply Natanya Green. My little 7-year-old self was pleased. I have a feeling that I also craved the singularity of belonging completely to my new father and his family. Eliminating the thorny hyphen-name was my way of smoothing out the formation of my new family of origin.
It’s thought-provoking to consider how deeply I wanted to belong to my father as his new daughter when so many feminists argue that it is the very belonging that is the fount for patriarchal discord in the first place. Truly, I am not my father’s property; my often surprising life choices are sure to prove he had little control over what I chose to pursue. However, belonging to a family (by birth or by choice) is a deeply primal human need. I felt that desire thread through my veins before I had words to describe the cravings. Belonging makes me happy; it fulfills a core need.
Yes, but why not hyphen your names? Why couldn’t he take your name? Why didn’t you choose a new name together? Of course, these were all options available to us. But none were the right choice for me or for us. It was my choice to marry my husband. He asked for my partnership, and I chose to be his partner. To my mind, I conducted a radical act of my own making. I was able to choose my own future, unlike so many of my lady ancestors. To take my husband’s name as my own link’s us, and seals our fate as a couple. I am pleased to know my children, my husband, and I will all share a family name. That identification is important to me.
There are situational realities that made changing my name even easier. 1) I absolutely adore my husband’s family and I am honored to join them, 2) his parents have life values that mirror my own and I am proud of them as people; I liked the idea that choosing their name was a way to honor them too.
Having already lived through a name change once before made the process feel less life altering, and more life affirming. It is commonplace for people to change their names (I know plenty of people who have chosen first names for themselves). As a woman (and a human), I will always live under the shadow of an unequal world. But making a “traditional” choice does not mean that I did not wrestle with its meaning or consequences.
Ultimately, I am now a Bittman and I am proud, honored, and thrilled by it. Looking ahead, it offers me a chance to mark the end of a major chapter and the opportunity to get to know my new self in the decades to come. To wit, this week, I’m a new woman!
All photos by Heather Elizabeth Photography