Denver Bar Association
March 2011
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My Maiden Name: Till Death do us Part?

by Becky Bye

 

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Becky Byehen I was barely a toddler, my parents divorced. While the divorce was probably traumatic, I am lucky to recollect only a small portion of those moments. I have more memories of relentlessly chasing the neighborhood cats and trying to keep them in the townhome my mother and I temporarily occupied. To my chagrin, I was not allowed to kidnap the neighbor’s cats. For those few early catless years of my life, my official legal name was Becky Kolomensky.

Two years later, my mom remarried and my new father legally adopted me. Soon thereafter, at the age of 6, my name changed to Becky Bye. When we received the final, official adoption papers, it was bittersweet. I was relieved to share the same name as the rest of the family; however, I also resented the new name, because other children at school often teased me about it on the playground. Of course, rarely did any child escape from arbitrary teasing between the ages of 5 and 15, but nonetheless, I was teased. I still remember children saying, "Bye, Becky Bye" or "Becky Bye-Bye" or "Bye-Bye Becky" in a mocking tone.

Besides the name calling, I grew frustrated with the rest of my name. My legal name was Becky Bye. Not Rebecca. No middle name. Just Becky Bye. My mother never provided a satisfying reason for overlooking a middle name and choosing a first name more commonly used as a nickname.

Often, when I had to write or state my full legal name, people emphasized that I needed my full legal name, as if I did not understand instructions. At my high school, college, and law school graduations, I grew envious of the long, eloquent formal names the emcee would call, followed by a short-lived pronunciation of my three-syllable, eight-lettered full name.

I never seriously pondered changing my name until I became engaged. I realized that I had grown to love it more than I ever admitted. I felt that my name sounded perky, unique, concise, and quirky—in many ways, a reflection of myself. It was a name that remained with me for every major milestone of my life: the name on my school diplomas; the name associated with articles in my school newspapers; the name used on the masthead of law school journals; the name used in pleadings and briefs; the name on my passport used for life-changing international travels; the name I displayed in the byline for my articles in The Docket—a name I have written and spoken thousands of times and that I associate with my personal growth and identity.

As an adult, compliments on my name replaced the teasing I previously endured. When I use a credit card or introduce myself, people often compliment my "unique" and "fun" name.

Of course, I was surprised when my fiancé assumed I would change my last name to his. Early in our engagement, he sweetly observed that getting married would finally provide me with a middle name, as my maiden name could become my middle name. While having a three-word name sounded appealing, the new name would not have the same ring.

Perhaps if I married earlier, my sentiment would be different. I would not feel so attached to my name and its association with my life’s milestones. To argue my point to my future husband, I posed the situation to him from another perspective—I took his arguments about having the "same last name" and provided him the option to change his last name to "Bye." He realized that he was just as attached to his name as I was to mine. Thus, he resolved to marry the person he fell in love with, "Becky Bye."

Today, many women, particularly lawyers, keep their names when they marry for the same reasons. Others change their name or hyphenate. Occasionally, I see New York Times wedding announcements where a husband changes his last name to his wife’s or couples change both their last names to a hybrid or completely different last name. Regardless, I am glad to see that both parties in a marriage can tailor to their own needs and beliefs. I have my reasons for keeping my last name, and others have equally valid reasons for changing theirs. We are lucky to live in a time and a society where the fate of a last name stems from a personal decision, and not antiquated traditions derived in a time where women were regarded as chattel.

Also, I did eventually get cats through legal means. They share my last name. My husband was more than happy to let them keep their last name; he’s more of a dog person.


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