All I want this holiday season is for people to stop calling me by my husband's last name
- Every holiday season, more than any other, I get called by my husband's name.
- I kept my own last name, because it is who I am.
Every year since I said "I do" to the man who understood me not changing my name, I brace myself for the seasonal flurry of mangled attempts to address me on mail and packages.
It's a generational thing, I tell myself as I open holiday greetings from a relative.
"Can you believe my parents still don't understand that I haven't changed my name?" I ask my husband when a parcel arrives addressed to someone who does not exist.
But the truth is I despise this pseudo arch-nemesis. I imagine her in pearls, cooking casseroles for her husband. She embodies everything I do not want to be, like an extension of another's identity, or an erasure of my own.
People also forget I'm a Dr. and not a Mrs.
I get called Ms. or Mrs. [Husband's Last Name]. Or, even worse, Mrs. [Husband's First Name, Husband's Last Name]. And for the record, it's actually Dr. Tanabe.
I've never been big on formalities. After getting a science PhD, I only got called "doctor" in jest by friends or when introduced before giving a talk. My family would joke that I was not a "real doctor." Sometimes, I'd even laugh along, despite the sting.
My degree took nearly a year to get to me; the first had the wrong Japanese last name printed on it. Holding it felt magical, as if I'd finally stepped into who I was meant to become.
Then one day while pregnant, our puppy annihilated it along with a box of other papers. Now it was slobbery confetti. I worried this was a harbinger of my own effacement, someone who had her career trajectory planned since 9th grade biology.
A few years later, I left academia when I could be neither the mother nor the scientist I wanted to be. I became a freelance writer.
In early 2020, with my youngest approaching two, I quietly thought about my work again.
Then came coronavirus
The pandemic forced me into over a year and a half of full-time stay-at-home childcare. Three and a half million women with school-age children left the workforce. I spent the brunt of my own isolated days bribing my oldest to sit near the computer during virtual school while catching my toddler as she attempted acrobatics.
When I wasn't caring for children, I was fielding my father's medical issues while he lay in a hospital bed a thousand miles away. When he was well enough to travel to me, I drove him to and from appointments.
As I become increasingly engulfed by the needs of others, I am unsure of who I am. As the edges blur, the bedazzled red envelopes addressed to a fictitious version of myself confirm I am no longer who I thought I was.
My husband would often tell me the unsolicited opinions of his work colleagues about me not taking his last name. "Doesn't that bother you?" they would ask. "I wouldn't allow that," proclaimed another.
I remember this when I wonder if it is wrong of me to correct others. I remember all the micro- and macro-aggressions that make me stop to consider if it is wrong.
It is too easy to accept minor transgressions as the norm, to ignore a woman's accomplishments, her title, her name. It's too easy to become complicit, to become part of the problem that is not acknowledging a woman's worth. At the absolute least, give us the respect of addressing us correctly. You can start with the holiday cards.
My daughter has the longest last name in her class, a hyphenated version combining mine and my husband's."Why does it have to be so long?" she pouts whenever she has to write it.
I tell her that when she's older, she can choose what she wants her name to be. I only hope others don't ignore her decision.
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