Accepting unacceptance.

Christina here…

When Christopher and I got engaged, he asked if he could take my last name, Stephens. I agreed.

Christopher’s parents were not amused, to say the least. His mom believes it is wrong for him to change his name, and believes it reflects poorly on him that “no one in his entire family” wants him to change his name. They see his name change as “extreme” and are very hurt by it.

Several family members from Christopher’s side of the family chose not to attend our wedding because Christopher changed his name. We took great pains to avoid the whole name issue during our wedding so as to not ruffle any feathers while still making our wedding “ours”. Christopher’s grandmother took him aside for nearly half an hour during our reception to lecture him about how he shouldn’t “betray his family”, leaving me to wonder why my new husband vanished when he was supposed to be giving a speech.  Another of his family members stormed out of our reception when a guest (giving a speech) called us “Mr and Mrs. Stephens”.

That Christmas we were un-invited to his family’s annual Christmas party (we have since been invited back).

I assumed the name change issue had died down. I was wrong.  Apparently, Christopher’s family accidentally forgot to send us a Christmas card, and his dad sent us an email about it (which I am reprinting with permission from dad)

I assume by now you have received your card. If not, it will be arriving shortly. Please note that the tardiness of the card is mostly on me. Mom gave it to me to mail before she left for the Ozarks, a week trip with Julie to work on the Journey to Bethlehem script. I thought for sure I mailed it but when Mom came home she found it under a pile on the counter. Sorry about that. Also sorry about the name. Mom will never acknowledge your new name. Same with Nana and Aunt Susie. Don’t ask me why. You will forever be her little boy and her little boy is named Chris Cobb.

Christopher responded:

I definitely assumed that Mom and Suzie and Papa, at least, would never get over the name.  I’ve pretty much resigned myself to never hearing my real name from them.  Christina and I, and everyone else who sees or hears about the situation, is just laughing at them.  Of course, it’s still pretty massively disrespectful to deliberately and knowingly use someone’s incorrect name, so I’m really not sure how much longer I’ll be putting up with it.

Dad responded:

I’ve never said anything to you about your name change. I figured since it was your name, it was your choice. But please don’t confuse silence with concurrence.

I was very hurt by this choice. Not because of the “legacy” of the name. My own father couldn’t even wait around until I was born and never showed any interest in a relationship with me or your aunt. But because it IS my name. The name I passed on to you. I’ll be honest. I want the name to live on after me. When you were born, you fulfilled several dreams for me. Fatherhood and a son to pass the family name on were among them. Now it falls onto your brother to fulfill that.

Again, it is YOUR choice. But your choices will always have consequences. You are not the intelligent young man I think you are if you did not realize how this decision would be received by the more traditional members of your family.

I agree that they should use your legal name, not your real name. Because in my mind, your real name is Cobb. That’s what you had for 28 years. Legally it’s Stephens and that’s what you want, so that’s what we should use.

But if your family members don’t use the name you want them to, then it’s time for you to put on your big boy pants.

Accept it. If it’s going to change, it will change slowly. By feeling “massively disrespected” you are placing the same importance on a name as they are.

You are just choosing a different name to place the importance on. Remember, as hard as this may be see, this is not personal. This is simply a disagreement with a choice. People will not always agree with choices you make. That’s life. If you feel that Mom calling you Cobb is a reminder of her disapproval of your name change; her seeing your name as Stephens is a constant reminder for her that you made that choice. It doesn’t change the way we feel about you. You are and always will be loved as only a son can be. Don’t disrespect that just to make a point. I’ve accepted it and moved on. Do the same. Failure to use your chosen name doesn’t reflect well on their part. But stomping your foot and yelling “disrespect” doesn’t shine for you either. You can’t force us to see that you are right. Don’t hold our relationship hostage just to make your point. Only by maintaining that relationship, can we get past all this. And we will get past this.

So let me get this straight: Chris decides to change his last name. Then, his family goes to great lengths to convince him not to change his name, members of his family decline to attend his wedding, and he and his new wife are un-invited from the next official family holiday gathering. Yet Chris is the one disrespecting his family’s love? Chris is the one holding his relationship with his family hostage? He didn’t stomp his feet and yell “disrespect” – he wrote it in an email.

Dad-in-law, from my perspective, it’s the other way around. Chris accepts you. You do not accept him. Yet you want him to accept your unacceptance. You want him to accept his mom’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge his legal, real name.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s her prerogative.

You’re the one both begrudging him for “placing importance” on a name, while simultaneously stating that Christopher has all but crushed your dreams of having “a son to pass the family name”. Your legacy as a man will be written in the DNA of your children and grandchildren, not in their names.

Christopher is not the one who needs to put his “big boy pants” on.

Learn more about Christina and follow her @ziztur.

P.S. Thanks, Dad-in-law, for letting me publish these emails! You deserve some serious credit for that.

Update: Christopher is in the comments section, answering your questions!

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