When Romeo and Juliet fall in love in Shakespeare’s tale of star-crossed lovers, they know that they are doomed. As members of two warring families, it is simply their last names that curse their love and stand as a barrier. Juliet, herself, asks the very poignant question, “What’s in a name?” She argues that a “rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”
That question of “what’s in a name” resonates with me this week as I ponder a conversation I had with a dear friend. For while that rose may in fact smell just as sweet if it were called a lemon, how would one know or associate the qualities to others if there weren’t a commonly recognized name?
This is a particularly relevant question for me. Now married for almost 10 years, the question of name was a big deal for me as we considered our wedding. Engaged in my 30s, I had already spent three decades with my last name. People knew me by it. My achievements up to that point were tied to it. It honors my dad, who only has girls. To change my name was more than just changing words on my driver’s license and business card. It would mean also cutting the familiar ties of name association that people held to me and a complete rebranding of myself. But what if I like my brand? What if it works for me?
The person with whom I had my conversation this week is a woman. To clarify, she is perhaps one of the most influential women in my life. She is smart and strong, and caring and brave, and successful. I consider her a mentor. She has been married more than once. Every time she married, she changed her name. And I think she is sorry she did.
I was sharing a story with my friend about an experience I recently had that I describe as “the best thing that happened to me all year.” And it was. This experience brought me joy and fulfillment, and it energized me around talents I quite honestly almost forgot that I had. And the reason I was presented with this opportunity? It was all because of name recognition. In fact, if I had changed my name when I married, it is very likely that the connections necessary for me to have had this opportunity may have never happened. That would have been a shame.
I know there are many women who would argue the benefits of taking their husband’s name. Some feel as if the name is a gift, offered to them in love; that when they assume it, they are solidifying the family unit. Others will question how a family is recognized when mom and dad have different surnames. In some families, there is a prestige associated with the husband’s name. And there are others who just think it’s the “right” thing to do. In fact, studies show that more than 90% of women still change their names when they get married and 50% of Americans think you should be legally required to take your husband’s name. Legally required. What???
Let me clarify that I take absolutely no issue with a woman who changes her name. I also take no issue with men who choose to take their wives’ names (although the numbers there are dramatically less). But I also don’t think that a woman is any less of a good, strong partner if she chooses to hold onto the name she’s spent a lifetime building. I also think that more women should at least consider the option of keeping their name before they walk down the aisle.
My mother used to always say to me that, if at the end of the day, I could look at myself in the mirror and be proud of the person who looked back, I was doing ok. I work hard to be that person. And my name is associated with that work. So, while Romeo, out of passion for Juliet, is very willing to reject his family name and be “baptized” as Juliet’s lover, I would argue that the real crisis in Shakespeare’s work is not the feud between families, but the eagerness to abandon who you really are in the name of love.