Take ownership of your name

Theresa Bruskin

Last week would have been my mother’s 25th wedding anniversary. Twenty-five years ago, my mom looked forward to this day, thinking it would be a milestone in her marriage and that she would have the life she imagined. But things didn’t turn out that way.

Divorcing my father was one of the greatest gifts my mother has ever given me. It showed an unfaltering loyalty to her children and a fierce courage in the face of the unknown. If she accomplishes nothing else in life (which won’t happen, because the woman is unstoppable – she graduated from college with honors while leading three kids through a rough divorce), in my eyes she is already a hero.

I thought she would want to take back her maiden name and shake the Bruskin off her, but she decided to keep it because it was more important for her to have the same last name as my sisters and me.

This is part of my mother’s legacy. It’s my family’s legacy, and it’s my legacy.

I used to imagine someday changing my last name to something I felt a stronger connection to or marrying and taking my husband’s name.

But I didn’t realize at the time how taking on your husband’s name means giving up your personal history and your family legacy for his. I am a Bruskin because keeping my name means honoring my mom’s courage, because even though it’s also my father’s name and he means nothing, it’s my sisters’ name and they mean everything. My name is who I am, and every little thing I experienced by being a Bruskin, whether its family issues or alphabetical seating at school that always sat me near the same two bullies, made me who I am today.

I once saw a 200-year-old painting of a woman hanging in an art museum in Washington, D.C. The painting is enormous and incredibly lifelike, but the name of its subject is nowhere to be found. Beneath, it merely read Mrs. So-and-so. Her likeness could hang there for eternity, but all we know about her is her husband’s name. Her identity is forgotten, but his lives on.

The practice of wives taking their husbands names carries on the tradition of the patriarchal idea of family and a man’s ownership of his wife. A woman has her father’s name until he gives her to her new husband, and she takes his name. The whole thing reeks of ideals we consider long gone, and yet the tradition continues.

My name and my family legacy are no more or no less important than anyone else’s, and I’m never going to give it away to take on one that isn’t mine. Marriage is about combining your lives, not one life dominating the other.

I don’t mean to offend anyone who has taken her husband’s name or plans to. Everyone’s choices are his or her own; no one can or should judge them. I just think that looking forward, it’s important to recognize that our family legacies, good or bad, are as much a part of our histories as anything we accomplish or achieve. By understanding this and taking ownership of our names, we can choose to honor our family legacies or change them. Either way, they are ours.

Men have had this control over their identities for ages. They carried on their fathers’ and grandfathers’ names and their “lines” have been recorded in history books for centuries. It’s about time women had the same power.

Even outside the heteronormative or traditional boxes of marriage, this remains true. If I never marry and the issue of actually choosing to not take my spouse’s name never comes up, everything I’ve said will still matter.

I know this all seems inconsequential because in the grand scheme of things, it’s just a name, right? But it’s about taking ownership of our identities and for me, creating my own legacy, regardless of the parts of the past I’d like to forget.

Theresa Bruskin is a senior political science major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected]