Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Divorcing? Time to Take Back That Name מתגרשת? הגיע הזמן לקחת את שמך בחזרה

I recently noticed that, instead of reverting to her birth name, a divorced acquaintance of mine chose to hyphenate her and her ex’s surnames (her children have his surname). When I asked her why, she replied, “For the kids”, i.e., I want them to feel that we share a surname. Another acquaintance, a victim of abuse during her marriage, kept her ex’s surname even though it quite obviously doesn’t even reflect her heritage. Same reason given: the kids.

Both of these women divorced when their kids were young. Clearly, when they were in the “eye of the storm” so to speak, and their kids’ worlds (if not their own) were falling apart, these mothers sought to retain some semblance of order and stability, which is understandable in such a situation.

Yet also clearly — yet nonetheless understandably — they were not looking ahead: They were only looking at the next ten or so years during which anyone — namely schools and Scout troops — were going to care about or relate to the family as a unit. As far as the bureaucracies are concerned, after the age of 18, those children are individuals in their own right; it is no longer relevant who their progenitors are, or certainly if they are linked by a name. They go on to live their lives, presumably for decades, and Mom is stuck bearing the name of a man she may detest. How logical is that?

As soon as a person is an adult, the rest of us don’t have any expectations one way or the other regarding her surname matching those of her parents; in fact, we don’t expect matching names at all. I therefore urge divorcing women who took their husbands’ names at marriage to take the opportunity to remedy a decision they likely now regret, and reclaim their birth names. Not only is it likely to feel liberating during what may be an oppressive time, but the message to one’s children is likely more empowering than it is destablilizing: We make mistakes, but while we can’t go back and undo our mistakes, neither are we bound by them; we can shed the trappings of those mistakes and start anew, which is not synonymous with severing our link to those we love.


  1. I have to chime in here, and you may not like my response since at one time we shared a surname.

    Quite honestly, I never liked the surname "Reiz." It is rarely pronounced correctly. When I was growing up in Miami, I was always Ruiz. If not, Ruiz, I was called Ritz or Rise. Heck, our family can't even decide how to pronounce Reiz. Some pronounce it Reez, some pronounce it Reese.

    My ex's surname is Altman. Simple. Jewish (although also German). I like the way it sounds. AND my daughter's surname is Altman -- although she recently said she wishes her surname was Reiz.

    When I married I dropped my middle name, which I never liked, and began using Reiz as my middle name. Thus I became Laurie Reiz Altman. Why change my name now? And what would I change it to?

    When I mentioned your blog entry to my boyfriend, he suggested maybe I'll eventually change my surname to Siegel (his name). Then he laughed and said, "Or maybe not, because you don't like birds."

  2. I see what your saying, but when two people decide to get married, they don't see it ever ending, just as you say. Therefore I feel giving your children his surname is a way to give the husband a bigger part in your family. If later in time you end up getting a divorce, there should be no regret. At the time of birth love was there and that's all that counts.

  3. Aha - I knew this one would generate comments! Laurie - I can definitely relate to the issues inherent in Reiz. I actually like the sound of it, but spelling and pronouncing it (others') was indeed a nightmare. However, it's short, which is an advantage for Hannah (see below).

    Since you asked ("What would I change it to?") I'll reply that if I were you, I'd change my last name back to Reiz, and Hannah's to Reiz-Altman: Three easy syllables. She can write it "R-A" for short. Nowadays with computerization, there should be fewer spelling issues / errors, i.e., you enter it once, and it's "in the system" as Reiz. Done.

    Smile, I do like "At the time of birth, love was there, and that's what counts". On the other hand, children bearing their dad's surname only says to me, "The only important thing for everyone to know is who sired them". It obliterates the mom's role, which by logic should be viewed as larger than the dad's, no?

  4. I informally changed my married name to my maiden name when Husband No. 1 began showing me his inner *mamzer* and I knew that there would be a divorce. Luckily there were no children. Afterwards, I legally took back my birth name, Saferstein. When I married Jay Newman, it was 1966; keeping one's birth name was unheard of. Now, 45 years later and still happily married to him, you're giving me the idea of taking my birth name back. It's quite a temptation. "Saferstein" isn't all that difficult; I had minimal problems with it growing up. My married name, Newman, is just as problematic; people ask, "Is that N-E-U or N-E-W?" "Is there one N or two at the end?" I tell them, "It's just like Paul." THEN they get it. I had no reason not to take Jay's name, so I just did. My daughter-in-law has established herself as an attorney using her birth name; when she married my son, she kept it. I have absolutely no problem with that. Their daughters' surnames are Newman. I asked Jay if he would mind if I took Saferstein back; he was appalled. So I'm keeping the Newman (we joke about Cousin Paul) because it's in my best interest to make Jay happy. When you've got a mensch, you don't rock the marriage boat.

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  6. Coming back here to tell about another case I know of (ficticious names). Joe Smith marries Mary Jones. They have two kids whose surnames are Smith. They divorce. Joe goes on to marry Sue Taylor and they have a baby. I asked Sue what the baby's surname is, and she replied, "Smith. It was important to us that all three siblings share a surname." I thought: "Hmmm. Good thing the older two sibs' surnames aren't Jones. Then your whole reasoning flies out the window."

  7. To Laurie above: Correct German pronunciation of "Reiz" is "Rightz" (as in "right" plus a "z" on the end)