Name of His Own
By Camille Minichino
Maybe it's because we were both nearly 40 at the time of our
engagement, but my husband decided to keep his own name when we
got married. At first, I was a little hurt. I thought it meant
he was unsure of his commitment to me, that he was embarrassed
to be part of my family.
Dick tried to explain that it didn't have anything to do with how much he loves me; it's just that he's been a Rufer all his life. "My name is part of my identity, Camille," he told me. "Like my mustache." He reminded me that his friends and colleagues know him by Rufer, and that all of his technical papers are under that name.
"You can always be 'formerly Rufer,"' I said. "And it's not your name anyway, it's your father's."
I went through all the reasons why he should change his name. At the top of the list was convenience. How would we fill in the "So-and-Sos" on our welcome mat? And what would we do about the telephone book listing? Everything from return-address labels to sealing-wax monograms costs more if you need an extra line of type.
Deep down, I worried a bit that our friends would think I was less a wife if my husband didn't take my name. Didn't he share in the dream of having a fancy wedding, taking the name of his beloved, and becoming forever untraceable through his high school yearbook?
We tried choosing a third name, unconnected to either of our immediate families. My list included Ferraro, DiMaggio, and De Niro. I couldn't seem to give up the ethnic thing. Dick's list leaned more toward Bond, Richard Bond. Even von Bulow seemed more acceptable to him than Minichino. What was wrong with his sense of marriage as a union of two people under one common, ruling name, as in the house of Tudor? So what if the ruling name happened to be mine?
Dick countered with how complicated Henry VIII's life would have been under my conditions: Henry of Aragon, Henry Boleyn, Henry Seymour, et al. I had to agree with him there.
We talked about other solutions, like using a hyphen. But I've always hated slashed or hyphenated phrases. They remind me of the sixties, with all the student/activists and priest-social workers. These titles seem contrived/hasty and unthought-out to me. And a hyphenated marriage name has a tenuous ring to it, as if to say, this relationship is held together only by the edges of one short, thin line.
Dick and I do puzzles together, so we considered an anagram, working out all the names we could get from Minichinorufer, using only nonrepeating letters. We came up with jaw-breakers like the Chuneiform Family and the Humorinfec Residence. We pictured a gold Christmas card imprint with these names. We didn't think so.
Then we entertained the thought of using a number instead of an alphabet name. We're both technical professionals, so the idea wasn't entirely absurd. I've always felt that numbers guarantee a more personal calling card than a name. I know so many Marys and Toms, I have to use an epithet to clarify who I'm talking about, like Mary the surgeon, or Tom the nurse.
With an infinite number of digits available, we can all be uniquely labeled. Our family could be Camille and Dick 193537, 1 suggested, combining our birth years. That idea didn't get very far, I'm afraid. Numbers always get bad press.
Lots of people deliberately change their names to establish a new identity. Entertainment personalities, fugitives, people in the federal witness protection program, religious converts. My friend's son Danny majored in Tibetan studies and now wants to be known as Ramadanisha to signify serious pursuit of his adopted culture. And last year, Kathy, an old college friend, sent out notices that she wants to be known by her indigenous name, Hila. (She uncovered some roots while visiting Israel.)
Changing one's name can be better than New Year's Eve as a way of starting over, shucking old habits, and even evading creditors. Actually, I tried once myself to undertake a whole new persona with a new name. As a Catholic nun for several years, I was known as Sister Anthony (thus trying a new gender, too). Eventually, however, my old self pushed through the saintly moniker and I became just plain Camille again.
So, although I really wanted us to be the Minichino Family, I realized it wouldn't do much good to persuade Dick to turn into a different person just for me. Ultimately, he'd probably just resent me for it.
After 19 years, I'm quite satisfied with our two-name arrangement, even though it's confusing sometimes. There's always some explaining to do on application forms when we buy a house, or sign up for dancing with the local Couples Club. At times like those, though, I smile proudly and say, "Yes, we're really married; he just wanted to keep his own name."
Camille Minichino is a physicist and teacher. She lives in San Leandro, California.
This article appeared in Ms. Magazine for November/December 1996