Miss, Mrs., Ms…Reclaiming What You Missed

I’ll never forget how excited I was to change my last name when I got married. I started transferring everything, beginning with my driver’s license and Social Security card, just days after my nuptials. Inside of 30 days, my credit cards, magazine subscriptions, student loans, email addresses and personal stationary had all transformed. I had triumphantly evolved, from a Miss to a Mrs.

My husband’s last name, I believed, sounded way better paired with my first name than the one I was given at birth. It rolled off the tongue with such lilting perfection, and this marital moniker was a daily reassurance that my legal union had been preordained by some pantheon of nomenclature gods. I relished meeting new people, when I was introduced as Mrs. So-and-So. Sure, I knew it wasn’t 1950, but I was proud to be married. Proud to take my husband’s name. Proud to share such an honor with his family and proud he had shared their legacy with me.

As time and marriage waxed on, the definition of Mrs. continually evolved. Naturally, I’d always regarded my title as more than just superficial. Modern woman or not, countless intricacies, responsibilities, compromises and complications accompany the merging of your identity with a man who is expected to relinquish none of his own. For those who are, or have been married, this statement requires no further explanation. For those who have never taken the “plunge,” here’s a CliffsNotes synopsis:

1. If you take your husband’s last name, people ask you why you didn’t keep your maiden name … or at least hyphenate.

2. If you retain your maiden name, or hyphenate, people badger you about why you would dare eschew this long-standing tradition.

3. No matter how close you are with your immediate family, repetition brainwashes your self-identity. You eventually cease to become whatever you were called when you were a Miss, even in your own subconscious.

4. You get new initials.

5. The transformation reaches completion. Your Miss identity is forgotten, not just to you, but to everyone excluding the person who organizes your high school reunion. Marital health and balance aside, you spend your days considering what’s best for the marital unit, not just “you.” You make decisions for the good and betterment of this triangulated unit that has three named vortices: Mr., Mrs., and Us.

Ergo, emerging from the Mrs. chrysalis changes much more than how your signature looks. Because you took your marital commitment seriously, you allowed this metamorphosis to twine its way from your brain, to your heart and through your soul. And let’s get serious, even if you kept your maiden name, you were still a Mrs. and much of this still applies to you.

So, fast forward to your divorce. My divorce. I had a child and many people said, “You should keep your ex’s last name so you and your son will still have the same last name.”

OK, ask anyone, I was a fiercely loyal, loving, steadfast wife. But the suggestion that I keep that prick’s last name? Are you kidding me? Hell no. No way. I wanted my independence back. I wanted “me” back. My son knows who his mother is. He’d know I was his mom if I changed my name to Zoltara McGuilitcutty. So, when my husband divorced me, the first reclamation of my old self came in the form of becoming Chrystal Caudill again. And truth be told, it felt amazing … for an infinite flurry of reasons. But, as I look at the cover of my novel, sign restaurant receipts, identify myself in my outgoing voicemail greeting or introduce myself to strangers, one specific, prismatic reason emerges from that flurry:

I didn’t lose her. She never went away. She was there, waiting, knowing that as soon as I was smart enough to recognize the legacy that I’d been given at birth, the honor that my own family shared with me, I’d matriculate again and I’d receive what I like to call my Master’s degree. My Master of Self … in other words: my Ms.

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