Why I’m Changing My Last Name

Monday, April 28, 2014 0 No tags Permalink 1

Those who know me well can attest to the fact that I’m an ardent feminist. So much so that I used to be Director of the College Feminists at Northwestern University. In fact, on our very first date, one of the things that initially attracted me to my fiance was his blunt affirmation that he was also a feminist (if you ask him, he may deny this happened but I assure you it did!).

This is one of the biggest reasons why I feel extremely compelled to change my name after marriage. Does it seem paradoxical? Well, let me explain.

My current last name is “Fayman” which has an unknown origin. My family moved to America in 1989 and the office decided to spell it this way, even though it’s pronounced differently in Russian. My grandfather things perhaps this name comes many generations back from Germany or Bavaria, although there is a good chance it underwent transformations generationally since my family was Jewish. My mother also had to change her maiden name to make it sound more Russian…her last name was “Fine” which was not fine considering her family suffered a lot of anti-Semitism and changed it to “Faynov;” the American equivalent of changing your last name to “Smith.” What’s the broader point? I feel no connection to my last name because it’s one of persecution.

My fiance is also Jewish, but he is the last line of his family: Garber. When his grandfather escaped the Nazis in Russia, he returned back to his hometown in Ukraine to find that all 12 of his siblings and mother had died… almost the entire family had been killed by the Nazis. He was one of the last remaining members of his family.

So when my fiance and I discussed what our family name should be, he shared this story with me with a bit of a leading question. While he said he was indifferent to the decision of whether I would change my name, he knew he couldn’t change his. It was important to him and his family to keep the name going since almost a whole generation had been wiped out and he was the only one left to carry on their legacy. I had never really felt a connection my last name for the above reasons, so I decided it would be best for me to change mine. As a feminist, I was excited to have the option of picking what felt the most comfortable and right for my new family.

And while I totally understand when women and men get married and have different last names, it was not something I wanted to do. Getting married to me means starting a new family, even with just two people, and a new family means sharing a name. While I’m not a huge fan of all the patriarchal garbage that comes with changing my name (ie, being Mrs. Husband’s Name) the choice and historical context matters most.

Today is Yom Hashoah- Holocaust Remembrance Day. By taking my future husband’s last name, I am acknowledging our shared history of persecution and anti-Semitism. I will carry it with me for the rest of my life, remembering that discrimination and death for arbitrary reasons can always be around the corner. It’s my way of honoring and remembering that memory…and keeping it alive so that we will never forget.

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