Changing My Name on Marriage Totally Annihilated My Identity

wedding marriage identity
| Opinion > Love and Life

Everyone’s experience of weddings and marriage is different, but for Kimberly, a name change compounded all the warning signals and red flags.

“So when and where do you want to get married?” he asks, over the phone from his Navy station in Washington to my home in California. I don’t find this presumptuous and unromantic: I’m simply glad to be able to marry him, because it means he can’t break up with me yet again so easily, and I can finally be with my on-again-off-again One True Love.

I am 20 years old, and I am in love. I think I am wise beyond my years, but in reality am incredibly naïve. I believe that people are basically good, and that I will be able to pursue and achieve anything my heart desires, as long as the person I long for is by my side. I don’t see red flags, only purity and light and the goodness I know must be locked deep inside this troubled man.

I don’t think I should have to give up my name, my identity, for anyone. I make this abundantly clear. I send him articles on the subject, about how archaic it is and how the tradition began, articles written by women who agree with me. I’m looking for a way to get my fiancé to understand how I feel about the subject. It doesn’t seem like he particularly understands how anybody feels about anything, except for himself. That’s all that matters to him anyway.

He argues with me about changing my name, unwavering in his stance that it is nonnegotiable. One of his arguments is, “My dad won’t respect me if I can’t even get my wife to change her name.” I wonder why, as a grown and married man, he cares what his dad thinks about anything. I can’t remember if I actually asked him that.

But I am 20 years old, and I am in love. I cannot even fathom that life will go on and I will find love again if I do not cling to this person as though my very life depends on it. I want to get married in Las Vegas, with an Elvis impersonator officiating, perhaps a drive-through wedding. He wants to get married in a church. We ultimately get married in a small chapel with our families present.

I am adamant that I do not want the officiant to pronounce us “man and wife” because this implies that I am less than him. He does not agree; why must I defy tradition? Why must I make such a big deal out of everything?

Shortly before the wedding, I slip on the stairs, toes crunching underneath my foot, and end up with a broken big toe. I must shop for a dress that I can procure in a week, and try to find flats that I can wear with a broken toe. I end up with white canvas sneakers and a poofy, sequined princess dress altered to be the exact right length when worn with them. I actually like the shoes, but I hate the dress. I tell him I want a sapphire ring, but he insists on a diamond because, again, it is tradition. I do not see the ring until my wedding day. Objectively speaking, it is a very nice ring.

When we arrive at our new home and begin to make everything official, my hand coils around the pen, an odd grip learned by a left-hander who was forced to switch to right-handedness in kindergarten. Penmanship has never been my strong suit, and when I sign my name, my capital cursive Y looks strange to me. The whole name looks odd, of course, because I am 20 years old and this is not the name I have been using for as long as I could write. I begin again, printing my uppercase Y, and think it’s an aesthetic improvement. I will stick with this convention for as long as I am forced to use this name.

This is the beginning of the legal name change process, and there’s no turning back now. I think about how much I do not want this, and proceed anyway. I’ve already agreed to do this. This is not my name. It is the name of my new husband, an awful name I had witnessed him receiving much grief and bullying over as far back as middle school, when I’d first met him. This is not me.

I begin receiving mail addressed to “Mrs. His Name.” This upsets me, and he doesn’t understand, because that’s who I am now. Not me, not my own person, just an extension of himself. I am Wife and I am expected to fulfill the role to his expectations, beginning with accepting the total obliteration of my own identity. I am to do as he says, tend house, and not associate with the other Navy wives.

I stand in a long line at the Social Security office and fill out my paperwork. I go to the DMV and do the same. I go to the base with my husband and fill out many more forms after I’ve completed this. I have to initial a lot of paperwork. I realize my initials are now KY, and realize I don’t want to be known as KY. I want to be myself, but I can’t, so I start using my middle initial on everything. I get a military ID with my new name on it, and the word Dependent, because that is what I am now. I give up any aspirations to work or do anything other than be a dependent, a stranger to myself using a strange name.

The marriage lasts three years. My identity is chipped away at, bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece, until I am empty and hollow and there is nothing left of me. Not even my own name. I become afraid to have an opinion differing from that of my husband, afraid to even think it, as though he is some omniscient being who can read my thoughts. I fear the consequences for such an infraction.

When I tell him I’m done for good this time, he cries. When I tell him I’m not changing my mind this time, a switch flips and he flies into a rage. I leave afraid for my life after he graphically threatens me with murder. I have to break into the apartment through the window to get my belongings a few days later, after I’m certain he has left town, having taken my key from me the night I fled. I go to the rental office and tell them I am on the lease and they give me a key to use on return trips to gather the remainder of my belongings.

He moves multiple times during the six months it takes to finalize the divorce, and I have some difficulty getting the papers served. Eventually, I am successful. I go to the Social Security office and wait in line to get my name back. I go to the DMV and change it there, too. I sign and initial and at last, I am me again.

I slowly rebuild my sense of self, my hopes and dreams and goals, and it all begins with a name. It takes time, as with all things worth doing, but I am successful.

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