What’s My Name?

What’s My Name? March 27, 2018

Sometimes we wake up and realize that the little things aren’t really little at all. As the end of my marriage drew closer, one of the things my kids asked was if I was going to keep their last name. Their father’s last name. The name I’d wrapped around me, embraced, taken on as mine … The one that took me on. There was something deeply symbolic in them not wanting me to disconnect from it too soon. It was a separation that I think they would have perceived as a separation from them if I were to do it right away. They’d already lost so much and the breaking of this familial tie would feel like a break with them, as my son explained it to me. Unable to fix or save the marriage, it was the least I could give them. So I agreed not to change my name and I kept my word. Legally, I am still Munoz. On social media, I have started the shift back to Vallee. But letting go of Munoz has felt as if I were letting go a part of myself and so I’m here … Lost somewhere in between trying to figure out who I am, who I’m supposed to be, and why this moniker meant so much.

When I was pulling Grey Matters together, I gave great thought to how I wanted to shape it. I thought deeply about what I wanted to talk about and what I wanted people to know about me. To most people this isn’t a ‘thing’, but I’m fresh out of a 16 year marriage and the name that I took in marriage as my own meant something to me. It was a representation of the commitment we made to God and each other, the dreams we had of creating a family together, the promise to work through all things that came our way.  It’s not as simple as shedding it or giving it back, but the name I took isn’t really ‘mine’ anymore. I’m not the person I was before I took his name. I’m not the person I was after I took it either. 

My ‘maiden name’ feels so foreign, like a person I used to know, a person that once was, a person that never really got to fully ‘be.” Do I commit to taking back a name that had been passed down from man to woman, woman to man in an ode to a patriarchal system that I long desperately to break free from, that I no longer wanted to be a part of or uphold? No matter what name I take, I’m taking a name that belonged to men before it belonged to me. There’s no name that feels like an accurate representation of who I am now.

When I filed the divorce papers, they give you the option to automatically go back to your pre-married name when the decree is final. I opted out of that. I was looking at my married last name as a commitment to my children, a hard earned investment in the work that I’d done for the last 15 years. Even if it’s not who I am anymore, in many ways I earned keeping it. I built my activism, my work, an organization with that name. I was a Munoz for many years and letting go of that has been painful. Not just because I’m letting go of the married part of who I was, not just because I’m letting go of the idea that I’ll be able to keep the relationships with family members that don’t really talk to me that much anymore. If I’m being really vulnerable, I knew that letting go of Munoz would also mean letting go of part of my identity. As many do, I spent my marriage pouring into who I thought we were going to become together. I keep reflecting back on how much of my heart went into building that and how hard I worked to make it happen. 

But there’s this unexpected thing happening within me … There’s this freedom I’m finding in starting over. I don’t know why it’s come as a surprise, freedom always finds me. It’s not the first time I’ve had to walk away from one thing in order to save my life and create another. But, omg, there’s this magical, powerful thing that happens with a wiping of the slate. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been terrifying at times, but there’s a genuine joy and a curiosity about who I’m becoming and meant to be apart from the life that came with him and the name that defined me for so long … I want to know who that person is and about all of the things I can accomplish after it. Meg Munoz will forever be a part of who I am, but becoming Meg Vallee again in a way I never knew is an adventure I’m finally ready to take. 

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  • jekylldoc

    It’s true. Taking a new name is the beginning of creating a new identity. I am a man who hyphenated my last name with my wife’s, to emphasize that we were creating a joint identity. The shift was more than a little troublesome, but I have never repented of it. I like the identity we created, and I like the public symbolism of it every bit as much as I like wearing a wedding ring.

    Of course we didn’t wipe the slate clean, since our old family names were part of the new one. But we did move to other continents a time or two, so I know about the freedom and the burden of wiping the slate clean.

    Thanks for the insightful post about your experience.

  • Andrea Graham-Melville

    My husband did the same thing, and I admire him for going against the patriarchal trend and doing it. We gave our son the double-barrelled surname as well, and he enjoys knowing that we’re the only Graham-Melvilles in the world. It is HARD for a woman sometimes, to be expected to give up her whole identity when she marries! I admire any man who is willing to meet his wife halfway in that regard.