According to Chloe Angyal at the Cut, I’m a “situational name user”—i.e., a married woman who changed her name legally but uses her maiden name professionally. Angyal uses Beyoncé’s “Mrs. Carter Show” tour as a jumping off point to discuss the fact that the statistics—which show that fewer married women are keeping their maiden names than at the high point in the ’90s—don’t include situational name users like me, “the everyday Beyoncés.”
When the actual Beyoncé announced that she’d use her married name for her solo world tour, Slate’s Aisha Harris wondered if this was “a step back in the ongoing debate about “Beyoncé-as-feminist.” Indeed, when I told some of my older colleagues, ones who married in the ’90s, that I was going to take my husband’s name, they were mildly horrified. But my reasoning for name-changing had nothing to do with the patriarchy. As Katie Roiphe pointed out in an essay back in 2004, “Our fundamental independence is not so imperiled that we need to keep our names. The statement has, thanks to a more dogmatic generation, been made.” I changed my name for aesthetics (you try going through elementary school with the last name Grose), and at the time, I thought, convenience: I knew we were going to have kids, and I thought it would be easier if all of us had the same last name. But I continue to use my maiden name in professional circumstances (see byline above).
Angyal does a good job of pointing out the fact that changing your name in a half-assed way like I did can actually be a logistical nightmare, rather than make your personal life easier. I thought that changing my name on my marriage license was enough for the DMV, but I didn’t realize there was a middle name loophole. My marriage license and tax IDs have Grose as my middle name, but a surly lady at the Kings County DMV told me that I had to keep my original middle name of Ebenstein on my driver’s license. The result? According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, my initials are J.E.W. (Can’t wait for the monogrammed towels!).
When I add up both sides of the ledger, I’m still glad I took my husband’s name, and it’s for pretty idiosyncratic reasons (though possibly similar ones to Beyoncé’s). Because my profession is so public, I think of my maiden name as my public face. It’s almost a mask, really—it allows me to be a particular person that I can keep somewhat separate from my personal self. In this age when tweeting and Facebooking are part of the job of being a journalist (or a singer), it’s important for me to feel like I have a private identity that I don’t have to share. Perhaps Beyoncé is using “The Mrs. Carter Show” to prove the same thing—that she has many facets. She’s played with identity in this way before, notably with her old alter ego Sasha Fierce.
As for me, there’s one more benefit to having two names: When I hit the next stage of my career as a trashy romance novelist, I’ll have a ready-made pen name.