I Changed My Name When I Became a Mother, Not a Wife

27 years ago, my husband married "Lorraine Duffy," and that's who remained his wife until our son was born.
Publish date:
March 23, 2016
motherhood, marriage, last names, taking his last name

After seven years of marriage, my dream of motherhood finally came true. I wanted my first child and I to share an emotional bond right away, right down to our monikers. On the practical side, I needed there to be no doubt that I was his mother. I had been warned by some already-seasoned mom friends about the antagonism they'd experienced having a different last name as their child. They'd heard things like "we didn't know who Jake's mother was because you guys don't have the same name."

As I was new at the parenting game, I heeded everything I heard. In my professional life I added my husband Neil's surname, hyphen-free. In my personal life, I dropped my maiden one altogether.

I'll admit it took a little getting used to. Sometimes I'd start to introduce myself to another parent, get as far as "Duf..." then immediately blurt out "Merkl," or in business, introduce myself to a new client with my original name, then after an awkward beat or two, tack on my married name.

Sometimes people would look at me funny, and say, "what?" as if I had been starting a new sentence with a word they'd never heard of. I eventually became more poised at making new acquaintances, but what can I say? I had been who I was for almost three decades prior to my wedding.

27 years ago, Neil married 29-year-old "Lorraine Duffy," and that's who remained his wife until Luke was born. He didn't seem to mind, and never commented on my decision either way. As an attorney, he dealt with many married, professional women who kept their names. I wasn't doing any he wasn't already used to. In fact, no one, from my family or in-laws to friends or co-workers ever questioned my choice.

This surprised me a bit because I come from a large, Italian family, on my mother's side, with New York City roots in the Bronx. Look up the word "old-fashioned" in the dictionary and you'll see my family's portrait. A couple of close girlfriends, who were already married had taken their husband's names, and the ones who were engaged were always talking up what their new monograms would look like. Even in the Manhattan ad agency I worked at, which you'd assume would be filled with progressive creative types, only had one other married women who'd kept her single-life name.

It seemed though that everybody who knew me accepted my decision to remain "Duffy" because they were very aware of my dedication to my profession, and keeping my ID (where all my professional equity was) just seemed like something I would do.

Right now, it would probably be cool to shoot my fist in the air and say that continuing to be addressed as though I'd never walked down the aisle was me taking a stand for feminism, but I wasn't trying to make a point; at least, not that one. Even though no one challenged me, I wanted it out there that as much as I loved Neil and wanted to share my life with him, I drew the line at sharing a name. The idea of it seemed less like something that would make us more of a couple, and more like something that would turn me into somebody else.

Neil and I had dated for seven years before our wedding. For me, it was love at first sight and from that day on I'd always felt as though we were one. Making our relationship legal was enough for me; I didn't need to fold my identity into his. I wasn't looking to reinvent myself as a "Mrs."

I actually liked it when he introduced me to colleagues as "Lorraine Duffy." It made me feel independent, proving to other professionals that I was with him because I wanted to be, not because I needed to be. Even though it wasn't really true. I did need him, because I needed to not go through my life alone.

As an only child growing up in a predominantly Irish neighborhood, where all my friends had a number of siblings, and even though I had a large extended family, I still had a lot of "me" time. If nothing else, I learned how to entertain myself, mostly with sedentary interests like reading, writing, drawing, and listening to music. I did not go away for college, and when I moved into my own tiny Manhattan apartment, I lived solo as well (My studio was so small that not even a goldfish, let alone a roommate, could have been accommodated).

By the time I said, "I do," I had spent more time alone than anyone needs to in a lifetime. I guess I could spin my post-grad years to sound like an episode of Sex And The City where I gush about how my single and fabulous life was filled with going out, traveling, and cultivating my career, but although I did those things, for me, being unmarried made me feel very vulnerable, lonely, and often anxious.

When Neil and I tied the knot, not being called "Merkl" helped me mask my enormous sense of relief that I had exchanged vows with someone and was part of something bigger than myself. Referring to myself by my former name allowed me to convince others, but mostly myself, that I had valued my single life (as an unattached woman is supposed to do, lest one is accused of belonging in the 1950s) and was trying to hold on to a piece of the perceived freewheeling existence that once was my day-to-day.

When Luke came into my life, I was finally secure enough to let it be known I was totally dependent on my relationship — that of the one with my son and eventually my daughter, Meg; so much so, that I changed my job title to stay-at-home mother.