Singleminded: What’s in a Name?
Why I chose to keep my married name after getting divorced.
When my friend, Anna, got married five years ago, she chose to keep her maiden name. Anna is French-Canadian with an Armenian background. In those traditions, women hold on to their names for a lifetime. Anna is very happily married and definitely not considering separating from her husband.
I was excited to take my husband’s name when I wed. I often stumbled over my own alliterative appellation. Two names beginning with S did not roll off my tongue easily. I also liked downsizing from three syllables to one. Solomon is frequently misspelled with at least one of the o’s becoming an a. Surprisingly, Yem can be spelled incorrectly too — Wem, Yam, Yen. The possibilities are almost endless.
One of the first questions my attorney asked when I began divorce proceedings was whether I wanted to keep my married name. Without hesitation, I said yes.
It was my name almost as long as it wasn’t.
At the time of my divorce I was married for almost half my life. I was a newlywed when we moved from California to Massachusetts. We were starting a new life in a new state and I was forging a new identity. My friends and colleagues knew me only as Susan Yem. They had never met Susan Solomon. I would always remain a Solomon. I abandoned my middle name of Lilli and used Solomon in its place. (I wasn’t really a fan of Lilli.)
As a writer my byline was updated from Susan Solomon to Susan Solomon Yem so that friends and editors, who knew me as a single woman, would still know that I was the author of the book or article they were reading.
It’s my children’s last name.
I suspect that people create their own narratives when they meet moms whose last name is not the same as their children’s. Well, at least that’s my tendency. I am proud to be identified as the mother of my children and I do not want anything to confuse that.
In an ironic twist, two of my children are using Solomon as their last name – my daughter and my oldest son. When I hosted my daughter’s college friends at a dinner near her campus, they all thanked Mrs. Solomon. “Mrs. Solomon was my mother,” I corrected them. They responded with puzzled expressions. See what I mean about confusing people!
It’s my professional name.
My business card reads Susan Solomon Yem so the people I interact with professionally will not anticipate greeting a small Asian woman when I schedule meetings. (I am 5’8” and Jewish.) More than one boss has asked if he has to call me Susan Solomon Yem when introducing me. I’m Susan Solomon Yem in print. I’m Susan Yem in person.
I do enjoy the looks I get when I walk in a room of people anticipating someone who is quite different from me. Inevitably they ask, what kind of name is Yem?
I do not want to deny those years when I was married.
While mine was a difficult marriage, there were many years of satisfaction. My ex-husband and I built a life together. We created a home and raised five children. I hold those memories dear. Family photos that include him adorn my living room. I am the person I am today because of our years together.
I still like being called Mrs.
When Ms. came into common usage after the publication of Ms. Magazine in 1971 it was the default title for a woman whose marital status was unknown. In more recent years people have started to assume that Ms. is used to identify a divorced woman. Not necessarily, according to Emily Post, the acknowledged authority on etiquette. Ms. Post tells us, a divorced woman who chooses to keep her ex-husband’s name can use Mrs. or Ms., but if she reverts to her maiden name then Ms., not Miss should precede it.
Nowadays we’re rarely identified by our last names. In doctor’s offices, supermarket check out lines, and insurances companies, we’re all on a first name basis. I work in a school, where students still need to address adults as Mr., Miss., Mrs., or Ms. and I like being called Mrs.
My friend, April, divorced two years ago. She is in the process of adjusting her last name. During the first year, she continued to use her ex-husband’s name. This year she has created a hyphenate of her maiden and married names and next year she will drop the back end and use her maiden name only. That’s a little too complicated for me. Just call me Mrs. Yem.