So I’m engaged. It happened when I least expected it, the timing couldn’t have been any more perfect, and the man who’s now my fiance couldn’t be any more awesome. I finished one chapter in my life -- grad school -- only to be immediately thrust into the next: engagement, and eventually married life.
I’m 31. Which means I had a whole lot of living that happened before I met my fiance and before we decided to hitch ourselves together. I was a dancer. A teacher and choreographer. I worked in print and digital media and regular old radio. And in the last three years, I’ve been a fashion designer, fashion writer, greeting card designer and illustrator. My name -- Veronica Miller, sometimes Veronica Marché Miller -- is attached to a string of articles, blog posts, NPR stories, xoJane pieces, drawings, cards and clothing that span the better part of the last decade.
Which is why, when we started talking marriage, my fiance was utterly befuddled by the one thing I told him I’m set on doing after we’re hitched.
“You’re going to change your name?!”
Mmhm. Yep. I’m that girl. I’m the woman who is ready and waiting to become Mrs. ______ once Dr. Fiancé and I jump the broom. This is confusing to him and others. For all my feminist ranting and independent-woman fist-pumping, one would think I would be grasping to my given name from here until eternity. But… nah. Not so much.
I’ve turned this over and thought this through, again and again. And the answer always ends up the same: I’m going to be changing my name. The reasons, I’ve realized, are as much personal as they are cultural, and the two greatly overlap.
The personal? The down-and-dirty, honest-to-God truth is (warning: mushy stuff ahead) I absolutely adore this person, and I hold a particular reverence for our relationship. This relationship is where I’ve become a fine-tuned, enhanced version of myself -- not because my partner is some kind of guru or teacher or life coach, but because loving someone fully requires me to show up in way I’ve never done before, and his love, in return, extracts the very best of me.
This is not easy. Being present for another human in this way is challenging. And I mess up and falter and completely blow it sometimes, but here’s the magic sauce: Regardless of the errors I may make, this relationship is where I feel safe. I’m comforted, nourished and encouraged even when I’m not at my best, and forgiven when I’m at my worst. This relationship is where I can express the fullness of myself -- whether I’m channelling my best Duffy at a karaoke bar or crumpled at my desk, crying from defeat -- without worry of judgment, ridicule or apathy.
This is where the personal meets the cultural. Maybe even the political.
I am a Black woman. And Black women live a world where we constantly have to be on guard, because our personhood is almost always under assault, even in feminist and progressive circles. When I air my grievances about racism among feminists who say they’re interested in equality, I’m told I’m being divisive. When I travel to certain neighborhoods in certain cities, I have to constantly consider where I walk and how I dress in public for fear of being accosted. And daily, when I get online, I face headline after headline about injustice and assault befalling a woman who looks like me: a black girl whose sexual assault became a meme; 64 THOUSAND black American women and girls who are missing without a peep; mothers being jailed for trying to take care of their children the best way they can; art-goers sexually mocking a sculpture with a body like mine; other groups of people declaring themselves the “natural allies” of Black women and essentially instructing us to shut up and take it because no one else will watch out for us.
Where is the safe space, if not in supposedly inclusive online communities or with groups who say they have my back but aren’t really willing to show up? Where can I be me, without people speculating on the social ramifications of me simply existing, without someone saying I’m being “hostile” by airing my grievances and true-to-life concerns?
As Whitney Teal wrote here last year: “This constant defense of character, this unending refrain on why you are worthy and human, is stifling.” And crippling. And crazy-making. And likely contributes to the depression and diminished mental and physical health of scores of Black women.
I, like many Black women, feminist-identified or not, find solace and take pride in the relationships most intimate: with family, with children, with girlfriends, sisters and partners. The inability to grasp this is why many are still scratching their heads over Michelle Obama naming herself “mom-in-chief,” and over Beyonce naming herself “Mrs. Knowles-Carter.” In my view, those acts of self-naming seem more than reasonable -- they’re self-affirming, somewhat instinctive and protective. They show an ownership of one’s own narrative. They make complete sense to me.
For me, at 31, my safe space is in my home. My ally is my fiancé. Solidarity is with my partner, irrespective of strangers who insist (but don’t demonstrate) that I can find it with them. Which is why, when I choose to assume his name, it’s not to brag to the world that I “belong” to somebody, or to further the system of patriarchy, or to somehow erase who I was for the 28 years before I met him. It’s me taking pride and comfort in the fact that I’ve found a place where I can be me, and a partnership where I’m truly supported and celebrated as a woman, black, creative and proud.
I’m choosing to become Veronica, The Future Mrs. _____, without apologies.