Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Reclaiming my true identity

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WHAT'S in a name? It depends who you ask.

I've had a rather long name for 10 years.

When I got married, the thought of replacing my last name with my husband's last name never entered my mind. It's the luxury of growing up in today's society. Women everywhere (well, almost everywhere) can thank everyone from Simone De Beauvoir to Gloria Steinem to our mothers and mentors for the right to choose to be whoever we want to be.

I am Deborah Bowers. No amount of paperwork, romance or ceremony will change that.

Thinking back, I thought it would be romantic to add my husband's last name to mine. That was do-able. I would still be me, with the addition of the name of my life partner. Sounded like a plan.

The first year of being 'Deborah Bowers McIntyre' was, admittedly, fun. I had new credit cards, new business cards and a new identity in general.

I got a kick out of signing my newly elongated name and having one of the biggest bylines around.

My rather tall husband has another theory. He thinks I enjoyed my new name because of what he calls "short person syndrome." The running joke was 'My name is taller than I am.' It went over well at parties. Really. Perhaps you have to be 5-foot-2 to fully appreciate this.

After a few years into my rather long name, the novelty had definitely worn off. My two last names had become a royal pain in the butt.

I became tired of saying, 'No hyphen, just a space. Yup, that's right, no hyphen.' And signing a credit card slip had become a combination of calligraphy skills and performance art.

In the act of trying to make all names fit on one tiny line, I somehow lost my first name in the process. At first, 'Deborah' was shortened to 'Deb.' Soon after, I became known as 'D' Bowers McIntyre in signature form. Where had my first name gone? What was next? Would I eventually become just McIntyre? I think not.

Then I started wondering why women were the ones who changed their names. If marriage is a true partnership, why don't couples forego their original last names and create a new communal name, together?

I don't have a background in psychology, anthropology or sociology (or any of the 'ologies,' for that matter), so I decided to do some research on the historical reasons for women adopting husbands' names. My oh my, did I find a lot of information and varying opinions.

One of my favourite discoveries from the über-feminist camp is the meaning of coverture -- effectively, a woman becoming a man's property after marriage. Ay caramba. Whopping amounts of patriarchal customs were built upon this concept. The definition is extreme by today's standards, but it certainly gets to the heart of a married woman's identity crisis.

We've all heard some women say that they decided to adopt their husband's last name because of their current or planned children. While I try to respect all opinions, I still have trouble with understanding this reasoning.

Kids look at their parents as 'Mom' and 'Dad,' independent of last names, don't they? Come on. It's hard to imagine a child freaking out about Mommy and Daddy having different last names unless an adult planted some strange idea in their head.

Hindsight being, well, hindsight, I never should have changed my name. Although my Type A personality took a vacation on this particular issue, I recently decided to take action.

"Better 10 years late than never" is my new slogan. I know; it's not exactly catchy. Perhaps a twist on one of Steinem's famous quotes would be more apropos: "A woman needs a man's last name like a fish needs a bicycle." Just a thought. It needs some tweaking.

Like the first name change, this one has its pros and cons.

The cons include the tedious paperwork duties. Now, I find myself becoming tired of saying, "No, I'm not divorced. I just want to lighten the load. Yup, that's right, no McIntyre."

But the pros include being Deborah Bowers once again.

In addition to the department of vital statistics now giving me frequent flyer points, I feel lighter, invigorated, empowered.

I feel like... me.

Deborah Bowers is a Winnipeg writer enjoying the freedom of her 'new' name.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 3, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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