A Titular Mess

Yes, I know. It’s Independence Day and I should be posting about freedom, liberty or at the very least, barbecues. But instead, I’m going to write about titles.

Most of you who know me understand that I’ve been a cradle feminist. I was a feminist before I even knew was feminism was. Really, because it was simply about my sense of fairness: egalitarianism. Growing up with a physician for a mother in the mid-sixties, I heard my share of, “she can’t be a doctor; she has to be a nurse.” But Mom was a doctor and didn’t listen to the naysayers who said that nursing was the only profession for a medically-inclined woman. This constant battle instilled in me a hatred of gender roles. Don’t tell me what I can or cannot do because I’m a woman. And if my husband (or any male for that matter) wants to break male gender norms, more power to him.

Now getting back to titles. I remember when the title “Ms.” was created. Though I was a youngster, I thought it only fair that if men don’t change their titles after marriage, women shouldn’t either. (I also tried to join the National Organization for Women when I was about 9 or 10. I wanted the ERA passed, badly.) So Ms. I was, when others tried to call me “Miss.”

Fast forward to May 14, 1988 and I got a new title, “Dr.” Right after this, I moved to LA to start my residency. Moving in to my apartment, I had to sign up for long distance service. I chose MCI. In speaking to the guy to set up the account, he asked me whether I was “Ms. MyLastName or Mrs. MyLastName.” (Now this isn’t even correct since Ms doesn’t mean the same as Miss.)

“I’m neither,” I responded. “I am Dr. MyLastName.”

“Well are you a Miss Dr. MyLastName or Mrs. Dr. MyLastName?” he asked testily.

“I’m Dr. Dr. MyLastName. Why are you even asking me this? You wouldn’t ask a man these questions?”

“Well, fine SIR,” he said nastily before he hung up the phone. I immediately called MCI and reported him. It pissed me off. Don’t define me as a woman by whether I am married or not.

OK, so after fifteen million years of dating every clod on the planet, I met AdoringHusband. We got engaged on my 39th birthday in Paris. As we planned the wedding, registered and did all that nuptial jazz, people I’d encounter would ask me what my married name was going to be. To me this was a no brainer. My married name was the same as my unmarried name…i.e. the name I was born with. Why in heavens name would I ever change it just because I was getting married?

That whole name change thing never ever sat well with me, as I have mentioned before. Even as a kid I could see that it went against the whole egalitarian thing. And then the wife becoming a possession of the husband? Yeah, right. Not for this chick.

I still remember the face of the UPS guy delivering wedding gifts right before the wedding.

“So what’s your new name going to be?” he asked.

“Liana MyLastName,” I replied simply.

“No, your married name. What will it be?” he tried again.

“Liana MyLastName.”

Finally it dawned on him. “You’re not changing your name” he said aghast.

“No. Why should I?” I replied.

“Well, that’s what you do.”

“Nope, that’s not what I do. Though I want to be a wife, I never ever wanted to be a Mrs.” He looked perplexed. This obviously was more than he could comprehend. So I raised my fist in the air and chanted, “Down with the patriarchy! I am not chattel! Long live the vagina!” after which he slowly backed his way to his truck. Confusion replaced by panic.

At our wedding reception the DJ wanted to know how to introduce us. I told him, “Introducing for the first time as husband and wife, Dr Liana MyLastName and Mr. AdoringHusband HisLastName.” Luckily he didn’t give me any flack. I guess when you are wearing the big white dress, people don’t want to mess with you.

However, after the wedding, honeymoon and all that died down, a few people, like my cousin Cookie sent me letters addressed to Mr. & Mrs. HisLastName. I immediately e-mailed her to ask why she was sending letters to my husband’s mother at my house. She was like, “I thought you would be excited and thrilled to be called Mrs. HisLastName.”

I was like, “Why? Is there a prize that goes with the name?” (And before you guys say the prize is my husband, please realize that my husband said that I could call myself “peanut butter” as long as I became his wife. So the name and the husband are independent.)

She was flummoxed for a moment. Then she replied, “Well I always wanted to be Mrs. So-and-so.”

“Well Cookie,” I said slowly, “I just wanted to be AdoringHusband’s wife, Liana Mylastname. I’m nobody’s Mrs.”

We got married in 2003. You would think that this wouldn’t have been so hard for people to understand in this day and age. I know that many women want to change their names, but I’ve never been one of them. I have a name and since it has worked for me for 39 years, why would I suddenly flip the script and change it? It is part of my identity.

After 3 Christmas card mailings, I’ve finally gotten everyone in our world to understand that we are not Mr & Mrs, but Liana and AdoringHusband or Dr. MyLastName and Mr. HisLastName. Great. A triumph! Yet last month when I received my first mailing from our adoption agency, it was addressed to Mr. & Mrs. HisLastName. I sighed a heavy sigh. But I was cool. I just explained in the letter when I wrote back that we don’t go by Mr. & Mrs. HisLastName. We prefer Liana MyLastName & AdoringHusband HisLastName, thankyouverymuch. I thought, over and done, right?

Last week I received another letter from the agency confirming our training session. The envelope says, “Mr. & Mrs. HisLastName.” I sigh even harder. Realizing that I have to call them for another reason anyway, I dialed the number. The woman I spoke to was great and handled my other issue efficiently. Yet then I sought to broach the title/name problem.

“I wonder if there would be some way to indicate on my file that I’m not ‘Mrs. HisLastName.’ We would both prefer to be written to as Liana MyLastName and AdoringHusband HisLastName. Would that be possible?”

“Aren’t you married,” she queried.

“Yes, but I don’t use the title’ Mrs.’ I’m Dr. MyLastName, if a title needs to be used.”

“How about Mr. HisLastName and Mrs. MyLastName?”

“Well that isn’t exactly accurate…”

“You are married, right?”

“Yeah but not to myself.”

“Unfortunately that’s the best we can do.”

“OK,” I began, “but let me ask a question. You have gay couples here who adopt. How do you address them?”

“As Mr. and Mr. or Ms. and Ms.”

“So why can’t we be Mr. and Dr.?”

“Oh we can’t do that. We only have Dr. and Mrs. but not Mr. and Dr.”

At that point I realized that the battle was lost. There was no real way around the inanity. I’ll just stay Mrs. MyLastName, married to myself and maybe my husband.

Some of you are probably saying to yourself, why is she making such a big deal about this? It’s just a name. True, but it is my name. And as much as I don’t enjoy answering to Leona, Linda, Luana, Leanna and all the other names I am called that are not my name, I don’t want to be called Mrs. when I’m not one. It’s a big issue for me, and that’s my prerogative. I’m not saying it is as big an issue as AIDS, world hunger, and the war in Iraq, but it is important to me. My sister-dear is the same way. “The name I was born with will be on my gravestone,” she assures me calmly. My brother’s wife, however, changed her name with no urging from him. But she was in her twenties when she married him so Jade and I gave her a pass. And after all, she carries a gun for a living. Don’t want to mess with that.

In any event, I’ve probably made myself notorious in the agency. I’ve no doubt been branded a trouble maker. “That’s the woman who doesn’t want to be called, ‘Mrs.’” they will say behind my back. I’m probably not going to get matched with a birthmother/baby because I don’t want to be called, “Mrs.” Shit. That’ll really suck.