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Commentary

Taking his name? It's a very personal choice

Youhana

It started when rumors circulated last year that actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith were separating.

I mentioned their breakup to Jeff, who was my boyfriend at the time, as we walked into Kroger. The news surprised me, as I view Will Smith as a happy, friendly dude, and happy, friendly dudes stay with their wives.

Jeff was not so surprised.

"She didn't even change her name," he said. "She clearly wasn't that into the marriage."

Aww, (expletive).

And that is how my now-fiancé and I came to have the discussion on whether I would ever change my name after marriage, in the produce section of a grocery store.

Nationally, last-name trends swing. In the '70s, during the women's movement, the trend of women keeping their last names took off and peaked in the 1990s, when 23 percent of women did not change their surnames after marriage. But now the pendulum is swinging the other direction. By the 2000s, the number of women keeping their original last names fell to 18 percent and is currently at 8 percent, according to TheKnot.com.

I'm not one to go with the flow for the sake of the flow. I tend to have my own thoughts and reasoning. Yes, I might sometimes be guilty of going against the flow just to be ornery, but this is a topic I care deeply about.

I love my name. I find it poetic and lovely. I think "Youhana" is beautiful. And more, I'm attached to it. When I say "I do" in early May, I will have been "Jaclyn Youhana" for 30 years. It is my identity. It is the whole and entirety of me. "Jaclyn Youhana" is a poet. "Jaclyn Garver" wears a hard hat.

My diploma says "Jaclyn Youhana," as does my byline, as do the various journalism awards I've won.

I do not want children, and that is a fact that will not change in my lifetime, so I have no concerns about having the same last name as my progeny.

I'm one of the last Youhanas. My grandparents had my dad, followed by four daughters. My parents had me, and then my brother, Joey, who has PDD-NOS, a form of autism. He does not talk and will never be able live on his own. So he and I are sort of it.

The friends of mine who have changed their names have done so for a variety of reasons. One isn't close to her father, she hardly knows him, does not like him. Shedding her moniker was as easy as shedding a sweat shirt on a warm day in May.

My dad, however, rocks. He dances to "Baby Got Back" and goes to see end of the world/alien/asteroid/explosion movies with me.

When I get married, I will be allowed to see Jeff should he become ill, no matter my last name. When a friend told me she was giving up her last name – a beautiful Italian one that rolled off the tongue like ricotta cheese – for her wife's clunky Polish name with too many consonants, I had to ask: "Why would you do that?"

She did it to better establish the two of them as a unit. She did it so, should something happen to her or her wife, the other could claim to be a sister to visit the other in the hospital.

I say this with an extreme amount of guilt … but that is nothing I will ever have to face. It disgusts me, but I won't.

So, for me, a woman who will remain childless, who loves her family, who has established herself as a human being and a professional, who is entering into a monogamous heterosexual relationship, I can find absolutely no good reason to change my last name.

Except one.

Over our engagement, I have gone back and forth on what to do about this. Jeff is the first man I have ever been with who has caused me to even consider the possibility of losing "Youhana." For a month or two, I'd be certain I'd change it. Then for a time, I knew I wouldn't. I'm lucky – I love Jeff's family. I'm gaining some in-laws with big hearts, and I'm honored to become a part of their family. But then, I feel as though that thought is the same as giving my family two big middle fingers.

I talked to my mom about it.

"I always thought you'd hyphenate," she told me, a possibility that, no joke, had never crossed my mind.

Unfortunately, I find "Youhana-Garver" kind of clunky. Also, I feel like it's cheating, somehow. I should keep my name, or I should take his. The compromise only make sense to me if Jeff were to be a Youhana-Garver, too. Otherwise, I'm still the only person changing my name here. (I ran it by him. Didn't fly. Is it unfair? Of course. But I don't blame him. Were he to become Jeffrey Youhana-Garver or even, gasp, Jeffrey Youhana, his friends wouldn't let him live it down. It's unfair, and it's wrong, but society still views a man who changes his name for his wife as less-than. One day, maybe, it'll change. But that day is not today.)

But my mom's suggestion still stuck in my head. So I asked my dad.

"Of course you should change your name," he told me.

Huh?

"You'll always be a Youhana," he said. "Changing your name to Garver doesn't change that. But this is a new chapter of your life. You're starting a new family, and your name should reflect that."

So I thought about Jeff. I put up blinders and ignored everything else, and I just looked at him. What do I want for us?

I want the same last name as my husband. There is no question. There is no uncertainty.

I might make "Youhana" my middle name. I might not. I don't think it's important either way. What is important is that I will be "Jaclyn Garver." It's not something I'm jumping up and down about, but it's something that is right for me.

jyouhana@jg.net

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