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.