Chasing the Last Wave: Reclaiming My Name
Although I have been absent from the Lawyers Club Blog (LCB) for some time, I have nevertheless been chasing my own last wave on the path to realizing my true, feminist self. My journey recently culminated with a legal name change, as reflected by my new last name. I have come to think of my recent experiences as “reclaiming my original name.”
When I married young decades ago, I took my husband’s last name without giving it a second thought. That is what women (or at least the vast majority of women) did at that time. That married name became my professional name as well as my personal/family name. At one point, I recall pondering the question of why women continue to take their husbands’ names, a tradition rooted in patriarchy and property rights, as we lawyers know. It is, of course, more convenient for couples/parents and children to have the same last name, but why in heterosexual marriages do couples always assume the man’s last name? (I recognize that some couples join and hyphenate their names, but that can be problematic in many ways.) If men took women’s names in equal share, then the practice of a shared last name would seem fairer and more in line with my feminist thinking.
When I found myself starting a new chapter of life in San Diego (no longer married), I began to think about not retaining my married last name. I was not eager to retake my maiden name (which I had been using and continue to use as my middle name), as it is not the easiest name to spell or pronounce. Moreover, that name harkens back to who I was at a much younger age, and I’m not that person anymore. I then began to think about taking an entirely different last name. I read an article about women divorcing later in life and taking a new last name entirely of their own choosing. One day it came to me that I would take my mother’s maiden/adopted last name of “Wescott.” I had always loved that name and when I mentioned the idea to my mother who just turned 94, she felt honored and thrilled.
And so I began the legal process of petitioning to change my name. After filing the petition and arranging publication, I was required to appear for a court hearing on a Friday morning calendar. While I was not sure what to expect at the hearing, I found a diverse group of people changing their names for various reasons and a judge who treated the proceedings as wholly celebratory! I walked out of her courtroom feeling happy and complete, and feeling like I had somehow reclaimed my original name. The process of then changing my last name (and email) on numerous accounts and in every place that my name exists has been a time consuming one, but not as daunting of a task as I had feared. The process proved liberating, and it is now essentially complete.
We assume many different “names” and titles during our lives, and many are temporary. Often it is necessary to let go of one form of name or one chapter of life in order to move on with life in a deeper way. Letting go of my former last name and assuming a name once held by my mother has allowed this new chapter in my life to take hold in a much deeper way while allowing me to reclaim something I had thought lost.
As we chase the last wave of feminism, I hope we will figure out a better solution for “naming” ourselves, our spouses and our children, so that we can all retain our original name.
Molly Toronski Wescott, who serves as the Assistant Dean for Career & Professional Development at USD School of Law, is passionate about advancing women in the legal profession.