What’s In A Name? Politics Gets Personal At Bedtime

“Sing me one more song, Mama,” Sadie implored from her bed as I stood up to leave.  I could see a sliver of my bed from her open door, and it beckoned me like the Promise Land beckoned Moses (or was that Noah? or was it Jesus? Why can’t I remember anything about the Bible?) “Oh, alright,” I sighed and grabbed her bedpost to steady myself as I lowered down to my knees so I could look into her eyes.  “What do you want to hear?”

Sadie’s face scrunched up as it always does when she does her best thinking.  I was expecting her to say, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” or “Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me.”

I waited.

She made a little humming sound, which made me think of old fashioned juke boxes that whir when they are finding the song you just paid a quarter for.

“What’s your name?” Sadie finally said.

“I don’t know that song. Is that something Daddy made up?” I asked, racking my brain to think of what song from Jeff’s Seal-Sting-Paul Simon collection could possible be called “What’s your name?”

“No, Mommy, what’s your name?” Sadie repeated, exasperated.

While there is a fine line between stalling at bedtime and having a conversation, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe it would be worth squatting down for.

“You know my name is Christie.”

“Yes, but Mama, what’s your other name?”

“You mean my last name? Sweetie, you know my last name is Tate.”

“How come it’s not like mine and Daddy’s and Simon’s?”

Oh processed cheese spread on a Ritz cracker!  She was asking me to tell her why I don’t share her last name.  I didn’t know she would pick up on that so soon. Is this how Angelina felt when Zahara asked her why she wasn’t married to Brad?

I had a decision to make: I could give her my understanding of women’s history, including the parts where women used to be chattel, or I could keep it more simple.  I decided no matter what happened, I was not going to utter the word, “patriarchy,” because I was too tired to go there.

“Mama already had a last name when she met Daddy, but when you and your brother were born you didn’t have one yet. So you got to have Daddy’s.”

I could see Sadie staring at me with that scrunchy thinking face again.  I didn’t want to talk down to her, but I also wasn’t prepared to explain what it meant to me to keep my name (and identity) to a three year old.  My three year old.  She didn’t care about politics; she wanted to know why one of these things was not like the other.

“How about Elmo’s song?”  Sadie said, suddenly breaking the reverie.

“Sure, I can sing that,” and I gave those “la la la’s” some extra gusto for my baby girl.

Once I made it to my pillow-topped Promise Land, I closed my eyes and wondered how other people sort out the personal and the political, especially when their kids look them in the eye and say, “Why, Mama?”

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29 thoughts on “What’s In A Name? Politics Gets Personal At Bedtime

  1. Since I had been in TV and radio when I ran full force into an awful marriage, I kept my last name for that entire year and a half my marriage lasted. Made everything much easier after the divorce (no getting new social security cards for me!)

    When I got married again 7 years later I decided I wanted to take his last name to symbolize that I was ready to be half of a new identity. Though I half thought God had a sense of humor for giving me the new last name “Purkey” when I decidedly was not perky.

    Whether you’re trying to hold on to your identity or forging a new one, the whole last name thing is such a personal decision. I think you did a great job of thinking on your feet. I would still be trying to stammer out an answer.

    By the way, when you are ready for the whole sex talk thing, let me know. I still have the STD slides from when I taught sex ed in the schools. You’re welcome to borrow them. :)

  2. OMG this is so good. I love your writing, Christie, no matter what you’re talking about. P.S. My maiden name is Smith, for realsies. Yeah, so, my married name is Lunt. Um. Don’t get sloppy with the L? Also, my poor daughter. I asked John if we could take MY name when we married but he was opposed to John Smith and I can’t figure out why. Anyway, names. They are complex. And sometimes, awkward. I thought your answer was perfect.

    • I am dying because you are so flipping funny. “Don’t get too careless with that ‘L’!” Priceless. You’ve got good energy, my friend. John Smith has a familiar ring to it….If we have more kids, which we probably won’t, I will give them my last name.

      FIST PUMP.

  3. I didn’t change my last name when we got married either. Only for me it was more of a laziness thing than anything else. There was so much going on with the wedding and moving and work and do I really want to change my name? and you have to fill out *how* many forms? so I just figured I’d tackle this issue later.

    Ms 4 hasn’t ever directly asked me about it but she’s apparently accurately gleaned my motivation because once her friend asked her why her parents had different last names and she said, “Mommy doesn’t like paperwork.”

    • That’s funny! I totally told Jeff if I decided to change he would have to do the paperwork because I am both lazy and bad at it. I would end up signing up for the armed forces, I just know it!

  4. I love this and that was a most excellent answer. My maiden name is Feyerabend. When I had my choice of suitors, I went with the one named Longo. It seemed sensible at the time.

    • Love that maiden name! I once dated a guy whose last name was “Sugar” because I thought Christie Sugar sounded so stripper-y and alluring. I didn’t work out, what with him living at home at age 35 and totally in love with his mother. I might have taken his name had it worked out differently.

  5. uh, I think you handled this well… I still havent had the TALK with my 15 year old… you think she will settle fpr Elmo’s World when THE topic comes up again?????

  6. Once again, you and I are cut from the same cloth. Legally, my name is hyphenated, but I struggled with even that. Professionally, there is no doubt that I am Saye. My oldest has asked about why I go by Saye on my book and stuff and I told him the EXACT SAME THING you told Sadie. Then he asked, why didn’t Luke and I take your last name? Don’t get me started!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Why do last names have to die with the girl? Isn’t that basically reinforcing that to bear a son is worth more than bearing a daughter? WTF? As my husband will tell you – since he’s heard me rant about this to no end – this issue REALLY gets under my craw! And what the f*ck is a craw anyway? Love you!

  7. This conversation is one of the two reasons I decided to take Reuben’s last name (after years of arguing about it with him). Oh, and his name was shorter and prettier than my maiden name :) I still miss my last (now middle) name though.

  8. I was too young and naive to even think of keeping my own surname when I got married in 1980. But I do have a question about the hyphenated names – how many generations can you do that before the length of your name precludes you ever again filling in a form of any kind?

  9. When my son asked me about this (I think he was 6, not 3), I told him that sometimes people change their names when they get married, and sometimes they don’t. He thought for a moment, then said, “so maybe when I get married I’ll change my name to Ward” (which is the last name of the little girl he has a crush on). Thatta boy!

  10. Alice, I love your answer. What’s with me thinking about chattel and patriarchy? I am not so clear on age-appropriate answers! And your son is hilarious!!! He’ll take his partner’s name. You are doing something SO RIGHT there! ;-)

    • In all fairness, I think it’s harder with girls (not something I have to worry about). My boys think it’s only natural that they would have their dad’s last name. But I also think your answer was perfectly age-appropriate.

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