Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I Do, I Don't - Taking a new husband's name
A forty-something friend of mine is going to remarry soon and she asked my opinion on changing her last name. Her soon-to-be husband wants her to take his name. As she was married once before she has been there, done that, and undone that and isn’t sure she wants to go through the hassle again. On the other hand, she isn’t sure she wants to hassle over it with her man as they begin a new life together. My response was “don’t change.” But, that’s just me. My two daughters recently married and they both took on their husband’s names. I don’t think women of today should lose their surnames to a tradition that is, in my opinion, outdated and unnecessary.
I married for the first time in 1980. I hyphenated my last name just like Farrah Fawcett-Majors did. I liked the independence the new trend allowed. Then I got divorced and had to undo it all in the courts, on legal documents, my mailing labels. When I remarried my husband asked that I take his name. We compromised and I left out the hyphenation (which I’ve since reinstated). Truthfully, I wish I had just kept Gioia and left it at that. It is a big, huge pain to carry two last names as well as an attitude like mine that gets peeved when people automatically assume saying Acres is adequate.
I have several reasons for harboring this opinion. First, I was born a Gioia. I am not a Reynolds (first husband) or an Acres. When a woman takes her husband’s name I believe she loses her identity. I know my mother-in-law doesn’t mean disrespect to me when she addresses mail to “Mrs. John Acres”; she’s from a different generation but it irks me to no end to be lost in that title. Of course I love my husband and am mighty proud to be his wife; but I am still me, not a reflection of his “ownership.”
Another reason I insist on using Gioia is much more symbolic. My dad, Joseph Gioia, died before I was old enough to know him. He committed a heinous act when he took the life of his wife, my mother, in a moment of alcohol infused rage, otherwise known as a crime of passion. In his remorse and perhaps fear of incarceration and probable execution, he took his own life. For years his name and that of his family was sullied by the story.
One of the few photos I have of my dad, Joseph Gioia
It wasn’t until I began to investigate what might have inspired a man who, by all accounts, adored his wife and family to do what he did, that I discovered the “pat” answers were anything but. There was more to the story than what the Batavia Daily News headline, Father of Four Accused of Murder and Murder Suspect Takes Own Life reveals. Through my research I have discovered that my father was not the monster he was made out to be; there were many mitigating circumstances that led to that tragic moment in time.
My feelings for and about my father are complicated: I want to love him but I never knew him and how can I ever forgive him for what he did? Holding on to the one thing he gave me (his name) that can’t be taken away is one way I feel I can honor him.
It also is my ticket to getting to know him and my history. In the town where I was born and where the “incident” took place, there are many people who remember. I count on my last name to open doors in order for me to gather all the information I can about my parents. I wrote a few articles published in the (Batavia) Daily News that spurred several readers to come forward and share their memories of both my parents and the aftermath of their deaths. I treasure those offerings as they provided me with more evidence that Pat Oberlander and Joe Gioia really did exist.
For me, holding on to one’s birth name goes far beyond the feminist reasons to maintain identity. So perhaps I’m not the ideal person to ask, “Should I take my husband’s name?” The decision to do so is personal and can only be made by the individual for reasons that make sense to them.