Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mrs. Wakeman

When I got married, I decided to take my husband's last name. I know this might seem unenlightened and unempowered to some, but it made sense to me. It didn't have anything to do with losing my identity as a Davis (believe me, I'm as much a Davis now as I ever was), but more to do with wanting to form a coherent family unit. I wanted my husband and I to have the same last name, because a last name identifies a family as a unit. Sure, we could have both hyphenated our last names, but then our children would have been stuck with extremely long last names and what would they do if they grew up and married the children of equally enlightened parents and ended up hyphenating already hyphenated names? My poor grandchildren would have four last names and my poor great-grandchildren would have eight! One of the options on the marriage license was to invent a new name combining both of our last names, and we actually discussed this option for a while. In the end, we decided that we didn't want to sever ties with both of our families by making up a new last name. (Or maybe we just couldn't decide between Wakevis and Daveman.)

I still have a hard time signing my name. When I learned to write cursive, my name was Davis, and everything I signed until I was 23 years old was signed Davis. It's not easy to teach an old dog new tricks, especially an old dog who hasn't written anything in cursive other than her name in almost ten years. Plus, Wakeman is a whole two letters longer! When I sign my name, it usually comes out "Jule Ann Wake(scribblescribble)". But I can't change it now, it would throw off all the signature cards I have given to my banks!

Probably the weirdest thing about changing my last name was being called "Mrs. Wakeman". Before I got married, I was neither a Mrs. nor a Wakeman, so it's like an entirely new identity. And it just feels so formal. When I was teaching Sunday School in Toronto, I had my kids call me "Mrs. Jule Ann" because it just seemed more personal to me that way.

The first time I ever really felt comfortable being Mrs. Wakeman was when I went to Mexico two years ago for a work project. The pastor's kids had been trained to call everyone by their last names, and when I tried to tell them it was okay to just call me Jule Ann, their mother corrected me and told me that she doesn't want them to get in the habit of referring to adults by their first names, because some of the missions organizations that they work with are very traditional and might be offended by it. So, I allowed the children to call me Mrs. Wakeman, as awkward and formal as it seemed to me.

But those kids were so friendly and loving to me, I quickly forgot my original impression that the title of Mrs. Wakeman was cold and formal. With one of those precious children curled up on my lap or giving me a hug or running up to me to show me something cool, calling out to me, "Mrs. Wakeman, Mrs. Wakeman!" with love in their voices, all of the formality melted away and I came to cherish the name.

In December, my husband and I moved in with my in-laws. And, every once in a while, when I answer the phone, someone will ask me, "Is this Mrs. Wakeman?" The first time it happened, I surprised myself, because without even hesitating, I answered, "Yes," even though it should have been obvious that they were asking for my mother-in-law, not me. But I am Mrs. Wakeman now, and I'm comfortable with that.

To avoid confusion, though, when someone on the phone asks me if I'm Mrs. Wakeman, I now ask them, "Which one?" (Or maybe that just creates more confusion...)

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