November 15, 2011

A Memorial for my Maiden Name

A week after I said “I do”, I stood in line at the DMV holding my driver’s license in one hand and my marriage license in the other. My wedding ring was still new and shiny. I still had my honeymoon glow but when the young lady called me to the desk, my feet had suddenly been cemented to the floor. My heart began to beat fast and tears welled up in my eyes. When I finally made it to the desk, with a knot in my throat, I told the clerk, “I’m here to change my name…” Though I managed to hold it all together for the picture (didn’t want a bad picture on my new license), when I got to the car I began to cry. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was absolutely ecstatic about marrying my husband and becoming Mrs. Nicole Lester but in this moment, I realized that I would never be Nicole Bird again.

You may be thinking that I overreacted to this transition but after changing my name at the DMV, bank, Social Security Office, all of the local utility companies, insurance company, work email, personal email, work badge, cell phone company etc., I was emotionally spent. I felt like I was slowly erasing ME…deliberately!! Knowing that my husband only had to change his address didn’t make it any easier!

I was two months short of my 30th birthday when I got married and for 30 years, my last name was more to me than a way to be identified by the government. It was the catalyst for my first fist fight in grammar school (with a name like Bird – I was a target), it was a part of my tag line for my run for student body vice president (If you want to be heard vote for Bird!), it was the name that I put on my first book, it was my nickname, it was a connection to my family, it was who I had been for almost 30 years! Then I realized that it wasn’t just my last name that I was mourning but I was also mourning who I had been. Though I was excited about starting this life with my husband, I didn’t necessarily want to leave Nicole Bird behind. I liked her. She was strong, independent, intelligent, beautiful, creative and fun. She went where she wanted to go, made and spent her own money, answered to no one but God (and maybe her mother), and made her own choices. Though she was still some of those things, now she was being replaced by this woman who had to compromise, share her hard-earned money, share her space and her social agenda. But this is what Nicole Bird signed up for, right?

I would be lying if I said I got over this quickly. The mourning process lasted a while. I had to get used to having two first names instead of one quirky last name. I had gone through plenty of signature pages because writing Nicole Bird was so heavily indoctrinated in my muscle memory that it took a couple of tries before Nicole Lester made it onto the page.  I had to get used to answering to Lester and not looking around the room like, “who are they talking to?” The transition wasn’t easy and I’m sure my husband experienced his own level of mourning but over time, it got better. Knowing that I’m connected to such an amazing man and that our child shares our name makes me proud. Knowing that the Lester name is connected to the legacy we’ll leave together makes the transition worth it. Though I smile from time to time when someone from my past calls me Nicole Bird, I’m extraordinarily proud to be Mrs. Nicole Lester! So I had to say, “Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust” to Nicole Bird. Though I’ve grown up a bit, those wonderful parts of her are still with me. I learned that it wasn’t the name that made me, but it was me that made the name and I know Nicole Bird would be proud to know that!

Signed…Mrs. Nicole Lester!

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  1. Caz

    What a lovely, honest piece! Thank you for sharing you with us.

  2. Worokya Duncan

    I really understand this here! It took my a year to change my name. I have an African maiden name, and although I didn’t have a relationship with my father, I had/have a STRONG tie to my name. I have it hyphenated on legal documents, but I only go by Duncan because our children do :). I feel you though. Great article. You do a great job capturing what so many women feel.

    • Thanks for sharing. It took me a year as well because of my strong tie to my maiden name. I use my maiden name as my middle name now because my dad didn’t have any boys and didn’t want the family name to die with him. Alisha Curry Walker

  3. LiquidSunshine

    Great article & sentiment. I think getting/staying married would be a lot easier if women shared their true feelings about the transition as you have. Thanks for making it clear that the name doesn’t make you, it’s you who make the name! What a great outlook – keep up the good work! #zizination

  4. Kennetra Lawrence Eades

    I like LESTER for you. Love having you as new family member. You made a wise choice, but I still use my maiden name after 5 years. It just works so well for me, but I’ll be changing it next year :'(

  5. Mrs. Scott

    Changing my last name was bittersweet. My last name was a connection to my family that is disconnected, full of different religions and lifestyles. It was my identity for 29 years and I felt like God prepared me for that day because I was eagerly looking forward to moving forward. It was like God was saying; here is a new and fresh start from past hurts, a change in family dynamics, a pillar for a strong foundation of marriage etc. Everything that I prayed and hoped for (individually and collectively as a family) was about to happen in a great way bc God said so. When I changed my name I rejoiced.


  6. Marquis

    That was sooooo good. Good thing is, I moved up in the alphabet roll call! (yay me!)
    Funny thing is, I think more people are mourning the lost of my name more than me! This was a great reflection. If more women, especially, those who are single, had a chance to really wrestle with this before they even get in a relationship, it might help them to be a little more confident in who they already are and who they are to become even after marriage.

    Great job!

  7. Naomi

    Thank you for being so transparent. As a s single woman who longs to be married, I never thought about how I would feel to let go of my maiden name. I always say that I will drop it. But to be honest, I NEVER thought about how it would actually make me feel. This was an interesting perspective.

  8. logicalthinker

    You did not have to go through this emotional event at all. You could have just kept your real name, the one that your parents honored you with. They gave birth to you; your husband only married you he did not earn the right to name you. He probably wouldnt have changed his if you had asked and not felt a bit of guilt about it because it should be a non-issue. This tradition is demeaning to women and is unnecessary for marriage. I am truly sorry that this society puts so much pressure on young women like yourself. Women can be happily married without changing her name, they are not property.

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