Sunday, July 29, 2012

What's in a name?

Settle in, make yourself comfortable, and get ready for a long, bumpy ride. Let me remind you, I am certified to teach Social Studies and Science, not Language Arts, so I apologize in advance for the mistakes I make. I have been contemplating writing a blog post about this topic since I began my blog almost a year ago. It's something that I have thought long and hard about for several years. I want to explain the reasons behind hyphenating my name and why the decision was so very important for me. This is more for my benefit than anything, but I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts. Feel free to let me know what you think.

I want to preface my story by saying that I am writing about my opinions and personal beliefs. That being said, I respect other people's choices and opinions because I am thankful we have that freedom. I am obviously in the minority with my choice and I'm cool with that so I understand others will disagree with what I say. As a Christian I believe first and foremost in love and tolerance and hope to portray that through my writing. Now, where do I begin?

I’ve always had a tendency to argue, and to do the opposite of what I’ve been told to do. Second child syndrome, maybe? I have never liked the idea of doing something, “Just because.” So, when I was little and my parents would give me the, “Because I said so” excuse, it didn’t fly with me. I like to know why things are the way they are and why people make the choices that they do. I learned a lot about myself while wedding planning – mostly that I am very thoughtful in the choices I make. I research all the options, and have to know I have seen every option before making a decision. I definitely did this when I planned the wedding, so it only makes sense to do the same for the marriage.

I grew up in what I would consider an egalitarian household. My parents had equal say-so in our family; neither one had more power than the other. No one was ever expected to do something just because of an old school scripted gender role. I didn’t grow up in a household where my father expected to come home from work to a spotless house and be served dinner on a silver platter. They both worked so why should she come home, cook dinner, serve him, and clean up after him, just like she would a child? I’m not saying you shouldn’t do things for your spouse; I’m just saying one person shouldn’t be put on a pedestal at the expense of the other. Both my parents did thoughtful things for the other because they wanted to, not because they had to. I can’t begin to tell you how thankful I am for that and that is how I want my marriage to be. To me, marriage is not about two halves making a whole – it’s about two people coming together and making each person their best self.

I’ve always been extremely close with my dad and that has had a profound impact on my identity. Several years ago Dad and I started working on our Watts family tree. If you haven’t done any genealogy research, I can’t encourage you enough to do so. We learned so much about our family that we would have never known if we didn’t start digging. Am I proud of everything we found? No way. If you dig hard enough you will find things you wish you wouldn’t have. For the same reason I believe in history, I believe in genealogy. Let me explain. To truly know yourself and know what you want out of life, you have to know where you come from and what your ancestors have been through.

What does this have to do with my story? Bottom line: It breaks my heart that it is nearly impossible to trace my female ancestors because they are virtually non-existent. So many documents say, “Mrs. John Watts,” or simply, “the wife of…” Their former selves totally disappeared when they got married. Why? Why do we have to throw away part of our identity in order to join with a man in marriage? I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those women, but does history recognize them? No, basically they had no importance other than giving birth to the next generation of men. Even their gravestones list their husband’s name before their own. Sometimes when I’m reading through the information I’ve gathered, I daydream about what those women were like. What did they look like, sound like, think, feel, believe? They were real, just like me. They played just as important of a role as their husbands, but history doesn’t tell the story that way. This is why I love teaching Social Studies. My students (and my kids) will learn a different side of history than I learned. One that tells the stories of and to all peoples – not just the white man.

During my time at UGA I was lucky enough to get into some great classes that truly changed my life. First and foremost, Women’s Studies. You guessed it, those “crazy” Feminists in the UGA Women’s Studies department got to me! I am still obsessed with my professor, Nichole Ray. She was phenomenal! Hands down the best teacher I ever had and the best class I ever took. Don’t let the name confuse you – it wasn’t just about women’s rights. It was about equality and issues in gender, race, class, and sexuality as social constructs. We discussed everything from politics, healthcare, LGBTQ, minority rights, stereotyping, sexual violence, marketing, body issues, and so much more. Every class made me feel confused, uncomfortable, and sometimes downright mad! I couldn't get enough. As a teacher that's what I want for my kids - I believe the best learning comes when you are forced to listen to what you don't want to hear. I challenge you to do the same. If you only converse with people of your same opinion where will you get? Nowhere – that won’t help you grow as a person. My education professor Jim Garrett always told us, "Uncomfortable is good. I want you to be uncomfortable. Learning happens when we get uncomfortable." I couldn’t agree more! Similar to what I said before about genealogy, I believe you can’t truly fight for what you believe unless you have explored all the other options and heard all the other arguments. Challenge your opinions – it will either change your mind or make you fight even harder for what you believe in.

I know this post has been all over the place and I apologize. I’m going to try and bring it all together to make my point. This post is supposed to explain why I decided to hyphenate my name when I got married last month, and I haven’t even mentioned my husband. Chris and I dated for over seven years before we got married. We literally grew up together and went through several major life events together before getting married. I’m so glad we dated for so long because I know we have created a strong foundation for our marriage. Chris is well aware I’m a Feminist who feels very strongly about her beliefs and he is secure enough in his identity to be with me.

When it came time to apply for our marriage license Chris and I had “The talk.” I had been torn for months and was still unsure about what I wanted to do. I’d discussed my thoughts with so many people: my parents, sister, friends, teachers, mentor teacher, my Italian family, church friends, etc. It seemed like I’d had this conversation a million times and I was still torn. I’d prayed about it, researched it, and read arguments on both sides. I’ll be honest, Chris was leaning towards me totally taking his name and I was leaning towards totally keeping my own. What was I supposed to do?

Let me spell out my argument for you:
·       I have had my name for 22 years and I’m pretty fond of it, why should I change it?
·       Why don’t men change their name if it’s about being “united?”
·       Why do I have to change my name to prove that I made this commitment?
·       What do we benefit from my taking your name?
·       In many other cultures women have and still do keep their birth name.
·       I am not property. Name-changing is an outdated tradition based on outdated principles.
·       It is something I want to do to honor my female ancestors.
·       I feel it is disrespectful to the millions of women who were treated as property and didn’t have this choice.
·       There are still millions of women treated as property, mistreated, and even murdered based on their gender around the world.
·       I am already marrying you – this is how I want to keep my connection to my family that I am very close to.
·       I do not love you any less by keeping my birth name. It’s not about love. It’s about equality.
·       I have spent years learning where I come from – why abandon that?

Arguments I personally heard from other women:
·       It’s tradition. (I’ll give you that – I love me some traditions, but I’m not sure this one is for me.)
·       It’s just what you do. (Why? That’s the point. Remember what I said about “Just because?”)
·       It’s theChristian” thing to do. (How does not changing my name make me less of a “Christian?”)
·       You should be leaving your parents and joining with your husband (I am. What does that have to do with my name? Isn’t that what the marriage certificate, vows, and being married part are for?)
·       It will be hard for your kids. They will be confused. (Then I’ll let them read this blog post.)
·       You will regret it after you have children (Doubt it, but if so I’ll change my name.)
·       People will think you aren’t married (But we are so… who cares?)
·       Either way you are taking the name of a man: Your husband or your father (Good point, it’s a lose-lose if you look at it that way.)
·       “I just want to have the same name as my husband. I love him.” (Okay, good. You should change your name then. I’m cool with that. But, don’t act like that means you love your husband more than I love mine.)

This is by no means an exhaustive list – just the most frequent arguments I gave and received over the past couple of years. In the end we compromised – isn’t that what marriage is all about? As you can tell by the signature on my blog my new name is Cari Brianna Watts-Savage and I’m very happy with it. I feel like those two little words separated by a hyphen give the world a little glimpse into my mind and who I am as a woman. To me they say, “I am the same woman I was before I got married. I am proud to be my parent’s daughter and my husband’s wife.” Okay, maybe I’m a little dramatic but I told you it’s important to me. To answer the question I always get, “What will your students call you?” Don’t worry, I won’t ask my middle schoolers to call me, “Mrs. Watts-Savage.” That’s just brutal! I’ll be Mrs. Savage – it’s more appropriate for a Social Studies teacher anyway, right? I don’t mind being called Mrs. Watts, Mrs. Savage, or Mrs. Watts-Savage. It doesn’t offend me either way – that’s the best part: I get to be all three of those women. Isn’t that awesome?

For anyone who is afraid of marriage, commitment, or losing yourself – you can be married without losing yourself. That’s what this is all about. A good marriage should encourage you to be yourself. I’m so thankful I have that in Chris, and I am so thankful our sons and daughters will have a father who encourages them to be themselves. I thought long and hard about my decision and I wrote this blog post to encourage other women to do the same. I don’t denounce those who choose something other than what I chose. All I’m asking is you think about what you’re doing – don’t just do what you’re expected to because it’s “Traditional.” It’s a big deal, folks, don’t take it lightly.

Lastly, if you think that women’s rights aren’t an issue anymore, you’re wrong. Women have come a long way over the last century, but we still have work to do in our country and especially around the world. But, I’ll save that for another blog post! I could go on and on…

If you’re reading this sentence, you made it through the post—Congratulations!  I hope that all my little anecdotes came together, made sense, and made you think a little bit.  I’d love to hear your thoughts (in agreement or disagreement) so leave me a comment.


  1. Cari Watts(-Savage), :)
    You are fabulous, this is fabulous and I love that I'm not the only person in the world who doesn't want to drop my own name! I'm glad you waited so long because your thoughts did come together perfectly and I'm glad you got it all hashed out in your brain! Way to make a stand, lady. I love you!
    Love, Chelsea gossip.

  2. Cari Watts-Savage, I am so proud of you. Although I was one of the opinions against not changing your name you have made me see the other side. You are so strong and I am so proud of you for not being afraid to speak up for you. Even though I will have to say I was more than happy to change my name from Higginbotham to Watts 30 years ago. Love you bunches!!! Mom