I've spent decades protecting my last name like a younger sibling, defending it against confused teachers, frustrated government employees, and customer service representatives. I've whiled away hours of my life spelling it out over the phone: Z as in zebra, A as in apple, N as in Naples... I've had clerks question my true identity and received letters addressed to the likes of Mr. Drew Zondopela-Snard (or some highly creative variation thereof).
My full name is Drew Lenore Zandonella-Stannard. I did not master its full spelling until the ripe age of eight. At some point, Ms. Judy held me back from recess and suggested we practice my signature, tracing the cursive letters over and over again.
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But I didn't need to know how to spell my name in order to understand its true meaning. In 1984, the year I was born, two women having a baby was revolutionary. I was raised by two mothers, each of them fighting fiercely together to carve out a place for our family in a predominantly homophobic society. The pride I feel for my parents and our history is encapsulated in my name, one they chose for me before I was born.
My husband, Jacob, was the first man I dated who didn't care whether or not I kept my name when we married. In my previous relationships there had been a lot of back and forth about carrying on the line and being the only male heir. Though I'm still confused as to what, exactly, my ex-boyfriends were due to inherit and/or carry on, as none of them were actual royals and/or cast members on Downton Abbey...
The majority of my married friends have taken their husbands names. Many of them have confided in me after the fact that they went through a sort of mourning period for their old names, feeling like they left something behind. Some are happy to be rid of names they disliked their whole lives. Others are proud. But no one is ambivalent. When Jacob and I got engaged, one of my best friends texted me, joking that I should add the second hyphen. That seemed like a good idea until I actually said it out loud: Once a third last name gets added to the mix, your family begins to sound like a law firm.
People I'm not especially close to will ask, "Are you keeping your last name for professional reasons?" or "Do you not like your husband's last name?" or even "What happens when you have a baby?" Jacob, who remains my absolute favorite person (which is a lovely coincidence because he happens to be my husband), once suggested that we create a new name for our family, given that we have nearly endless letters to choose from. In return, I proposed giving our children only first names, like Cher or Prince (this did not go over so well).
These days, I receive more and more junk mail addressed to Mr. Drew Conklin, Conklin being my husband's last name. While Jacob and I plan for the future ahead, I find myself torn between retaining my individuality and wanting our family to be recognized as a whole. So how many hyphens can one house hold? I'm smart enough to admit that I don't have all the answers, so please don't ask what we'll name our future offspring. I do know that for me, keeping my last name honors both my family history and my path to creating a new home with my husband. For now, that's all that matters.