To Change Or Not To Change — My Name, That Is
The wedding industry is a business of traditions. Since getting engaged, I’ve put a lot of thought into which of those traditions are and aren’t for Andy and me. For example, for almost a year I struggled with whether or not I even wanted a wedding versus a quick, efficient stint at City Hall. I asked myself: “Do I actually want a wedding or is society telling me that I want one?” For the record, Andy has no preference and from the get-go has told me it’s up to me and whatever I feel I want. After marinating with the options, we’ve finally decided on a fun, non-traditional celebration surrounded by 100 or so of our favorite, most loved people. That'll be next September! :)
Another tradition is one I’m faced with answering to already. I’m often asked if I plan on changing my name when we tie the knot.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve disliked my surname. Joynt is the sort of name where, at least half the time, I’m met with double-takes and suppressed giggles. In my adolescence I remember fantasizing about having a “pretty” last name; a friend’s last name was Stratton and to my 13 year old self, that was surname perfection.
Yet, despite all that, my answer to whether or not I plan on changing my name is a resounding: “Nope”. Here are my two cents on why…
1. My name, my identity
Plain and simple, for my 32 years on this earth, I’ve been Sharleen Joynt. There’s something to be said for a lifetime of introducing and presenting yourself to the world with your name; every degree earned, every friendship forged. For anyone—especially a man (who would likely never conceive of changing his name)—to disregard the connection a person could have to their name seems thoughtless to me.
I love Andy and have zero doubts about him and our relationship; it strikes me as irrelevant that my name should have anything to do with that. Further, Sharleen Levine (beyond reminding me of “Julia Gulia” from The Wedding Singer) just sounds foreign to me. It’s not me.
And you know what? I’ve learned to love my name. I love that I am the only Sharleen Joynt on the planet (it’s true!). When I was young and wanting to fit in always, having a weird, unique last name may not have been my jam, but now I value that uniqueness.
2. It’s complicated
For something that’s expected of women as a societal norm, you would think the process of taking your husband’s name would be—if not romantic—at the very least, simple. Over the years I’ve heard my name-changing girlfriends bemoan the pain-in-the-ass rigmarole of paperwork they endured—especially those who ultimately got divorced.
Thankfully, in our world of Seamless, Uber, and Airbnb, “there’s an app for that.” HitchSwitch streamlines the name changing process into 3 steps and makes it as painless as one could realistically hope. They wrangle all of the necessary forms and complete the paperwork so that all newlyweds have to do is sign. Again, I have no intention of changing mine but I support any woman's decision to, so it’s about time there’s a with-the-times option like HitchSwitch even if I personally don’t think the reason itself is with the times!
3. Professionally speaking
While this isn’t a main reason, it’s a factor. I’ve been trucking away at my career for over a decade, long before I ever met Andy. Every professional accomplishment, big or small has been as Sharleen Joynt. Every singing programme, from the least consequential concert to the Met roster to last week's audition sign-in list at Nola Studios, had my name on it. I'm nowhere close to being a big deal, but a number of colleagues, agents, and past and potential employers may have come across my name and I'm registered in all those brains as Sharleen Joynt. Changing it could make no difference, but it could also have consequences I might never even know about. It's a risk.
4. Our family will be just fine
Some folks believe a shared family name is essential for a family's sense of unity. I objectively understand that, but my personal opinion is that if you’re loving and supportive parents who instill the right values in your kids, your family will be just fine. I have an example near and dear to my heart: my older sister Meileen never changed her name when she married Martin 12 years ago. She’s now both a doctor and a super mom to four gorgeous, bright kids (who took Martin’s name) and believe me, none of them have any family identity issues!
I can't help but wonder if the "family unit" rationalization comes from a place of discomfort with a foreign concept; after all, it's an argument that hasn't been proven. A family where the mother kept her maiden name has as good a chance of being a great family unit as a family sharing the same surname could be wrought with disunity. Again, I can totally see the appeal of everyone sharing the same name, but I still think it's the people who make a loving, unified family environment, not the name.
5. Is it sexist?
That word! Calling something "sexist" can so quickly spiral out of control and sound super harsh. A dear male friend who I discussed this with rolled his eyes at the word in this context; he felt I was picking an unnecessary battle and that I was being contrarian just for the sake of it. But hear me out! I totally get the reasons why a person would want to change her name. However, notice how I couldn’t write “change his or her name” in that last sentence. It never has been and never would be expected of a man. In fact, it would be scoffed at as completely absurd. I highly recommend this Huffington Post article on the subject; Reflective Bride outlines this better than I ever could.
My own mother took my father’s name. My sisters and I thus did the same. It’s what was done. But many traditions now deemed sexist and/or discriminatory were too “what was done” at one point. That argument isn’t reason enough to cling onto or eschew any tradition. I guess what amazes me is how at most turns, my opinion on the matter has been met with some degree of side eye. My hope isn't actually to change people's minds about this, but rather for people to view it through a lens of acceptance rather than judgment. It’s what works for you, I say!
I know a changed name isn’t hurting anyone, and ultimately the least sexist and most progressive thing of all is allowing the woman her right to decide what she does with her name. Lucky for me, since I feel so strongly about this, Andy puts my happiness ahead of tradition; he couldn’t care less whether I take his name or not. And after asking around (and reading this Q&A), I realize that I really am lucky he feels this way.
I love hearing your thoughts! Do you agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments below!
P.S. This post was sponsored by Hitchswitch but all thoughts and opinions are my own.