The Name Game, Part I

I have a confession to make: I have been looking forward to changing my name since I was a little girl… well, at least since kids in my class discovered that my last name contained a four-letter word and was therefore worthy of mockery. So around sixth grade. Junior high is not kind to the Dickers of the world.

As I’ve gotten older, tougher and wiser, I have embraced my family’s name and have become unfazed by any jokes people may throw my way. There is a long, fine line of Dickers before me, and I am proud to be part of that lineage. I’m sorry, are you giggling? Did I say something funny?

Sisters Dicker

We will always be the Sisters Dicker

For the last few years, I’ve gone back and forth on whether I would change my name or not after I got married. The independent feminist in me said I should keep my maiden name to show I am still my own person with or without my husband. The family-oriented part of me wanted me to hyphenate or take my husband’s name to show unity between us and to make things easier for when we have kids someday.

Well, it turns out I don’t really like the way “Dicker-Burgess” or “Burdicker” or “Dickurgess” sounds. Plus, DMV employees already get testy with me for having a super long name. If I became Gillian Elena Mei Po Dicker-Burgess, they might kill me with their angry, soulless eyes. I decided to make the full change to become a Burgess.

I went to the Social Security Administration and the DMV last week to change my name officially, and I got a lot more emotional about it than I thought I would. I’ve had this name for 25 years, and it has served me well. Brian came with me to both places, waiting patiently and holding my hand in depressing, crowded, fluorescent-lit offices. We went out to lunch to celebrate after Social Security legitimized my new identity as Gillian Burgess. As we toasted over Karl Strauss beers, I told my husband that I’m happy I did it. And I meant it.


Welcome to the Burgi

Changing my name was a hard personal decision, one I thought about a lot before I took the plunge. If I was surprised by my strong emotions on the matter, I was even more surprised by the stronger reactions I received from friends, acquaintances and even total strangers (beyond the expected “wow, it’s going to be awhile before I get used to your new name”).

A few:

  • It’s archaic to take the man’s last name and you should keep yours.
  • You should definitely hyphenate.
  • I think it’s nice when the woman goes the traditional route and takes her husband’s name.
  • I’m going to change my name, too, when I get married.
  • I would never change my name.
  • You’re a terrible feminist and you might as well kiss your freedom goodbye because you are now your husband’s property.

Maybe that last one was more implied than stated outright, but I can read between the lines.

I respect everyone’s opinions, but this experience made it very clear to me that a decision that is good for one woman is not necessarily good for every woman. Taking a new last name or not, having children or not, being a stay-at-home mom or a working mom, traveling the world or settling down and buying a house, all the gray area in between– these are all choices we get to make as individuals. No one can make them for us. And that’s what both thrills and terrifies me about being a woman.

Coming soon… The Name Game, Part II: A How-To Guide to the Tedious, Obnoxious Process of Changing Your Name


1 Melia { 04.09.09 at 10:41 pm }

Loved this post, because I of all people can relate! I remember when you called me to say that you were engaged, and one of my first questions was, “Are you changing your name?” You said, “Are you kidding?”, and I said, “Silly question!”

Now that it’s actually happened, I’m more emotional about it than I thought I’d be, too. It’s weird that your changing your name would affect me at all, but when I see “Gillian Burgess,” I feel like I did when I watched you walk down the aisle, and when I hear you say “my husband.” It makes me a little verklempt that you’re all growns up!

I think that as a woman, it’s smart to go with your instincts on changing your last name or not. As a 6-year-old named Max once advised me, “Sometimes it’s good just to do what you want to do. Sometimes that’s the best thing.”

God knows what I’ll do when the time comes. As a writer, I’m using the byline “Melia Dicker,” so I think I’ll stick with that professionally, at least. And as we’ve established, neither Schwindicker nor Dickaman is an improvement. Dicker-Schwindaman might just make the Baby Jesus cry…though it would make Deutschland happy.

2 Lisa { 04.10.09 at 7:35 am }

I think the whole namechanging thing is going to depend on what Mr. Lisaface’s last name is. Obviously if it’s something like “Crank” (hehe) I might not want to be a Campo-Crank. Or a Crampo.

Basically what I’m saying is that I judge guys based on how much I like their last names. Haha, no. Though, perhaps this is why I like the Irish so much. Always with the cool last names.

3 Gillian { 04.10.09 at 7:45 am }

Melia – I know! We’ve been trying to get rid of our last name for so long, and when it came down to it, it was a really tough call. I definitely get you on the writer’s byline, too… but Dickaman has such a nice ring to it! I love your miniature sage, Max. So wise.

Lisa – HAHA, me too! I totally judge based on last name, and that would have been the deciding factor. If Brian’s last name were Ide, for example… oh who am I kidding? I would totally hyphenate to be Gillian Ide-Dicker. Katie Ide, it’s not too late!

4 Ide { 04.10.09 at 7:53 am }

I have to admit that I probably fall into the less-understanding-friend category on this. As more of my female friends choose to change their names I’ve found it easier to deal with, but it seems like so many change because “that’s just what you do.” I respect my friends’ right to make this decision for themselves, but that line of reasoning really bugs me.

That said, I’m really joyful that you made the decision to change your name because I know you did what felt right to you. I know that you didn’t take this name change lightly, and it a way that makes it braver than the route I’m planning on taking. It was hard for you to let you of this piece of yourself, and part of me knows that I’ll never change my name simply because I don’t want to go through that emotional process.

Part of feminism is recognizing that both men and women should have the freedom to live full, healthy, happy lives. That includes respecting decisions people make regarding their own well-being and identity. Choosing to change your name doesn’t make you a “bad feminist.” There was a time when it wasn’t even a choice to make; it’s so awesome to me that women can truly go with their gut on this rather than what society dictates.

This take on feminism is something I try to keep in mind every time I’m tempted to judge someone else’s choices. If we all made an effort to recognize everyone’s right to do what makes them happy, we wouldn’t so much rude, unsolicited advice throw our way every time we make a major decision.

5 Crank { 04.10.09 at 10:06 am }

Who’s to question the judgment of someone who lives in Hawaii? Clearly, you’ve figured out something the rest of us haven’t, and we should all be taking orders from you.

Also… are you saying you’re not going to use Dickurgess for anything at all? My mid-life crisis can’t be too far off, and I need to keep a pretty good list of band names at the ready.

6 Gillian { 04.12.09 at 8:38 am }

Ide – Thanks, love. I am with you on the definition of feminism. A few years ago, women didn’t have options when it came to these kinds of decisions, and it’s pretty amazing that men and women can figure it out together instead of just doing what is required by society.

I need to remind myself a lot not to judge other women’s decisions as well. I especially catch myself doing it when it comes to having children. I see someone who is younger than I am having babies and my immediate thought is, “Oh my god, you’re too young! You should do this and that and that before you’re tied down with a kid,” when really what I mean is “I am too young. I have all these things I want to do…” I need to be more respectful because we don’t all have the same life plan or timeline. Though 16 is always too young, Jamie Lynn.

Crank- I love the reasoning. Yes, Brian and I are clearly more evolved than the rest of the world. You shall be too when you and your lady move into our spare room.

I really think you should start the band Dickurgess. I think it would be a national sensation. I can already think of a song list…

7 David Shackelford { 04.17.09 at 10:33 am }

Neither my cousin nor his fiance wanted to hyphenate their names, and they wanted a single last name to symbolize their new life together, so they flipped a coin for it. He ended up changing his name to match hers, and they’ve lived happily ever after.

You’re lucky you don’t live in Japan, where names are permanent and carry all sorts of legal implications.

8 Gillian { 04.20.09 at 8:48 am }

Oh, I love your cousin’s story, David. That’s so awesome and progressive. In Japan, name changes are really permanent? Yikes, that is crazy! I guess they take that “till death do us part” thing seriously. What would celebrities do?

9 Changing Your Name Is a Choice { 02.12.12 at 6:06 pm }

[…] of saying goodbye to a name that they’d had for at least a couple of decades (Gill has written beautifully about how challenging this process was for her). They had their reasons: they liked their […]

10 dk { 02.13.12 at 2:22 am }

Ide-Dicker is clearly my favorite. Dickurgess is runner-up.
Nice post from years ago, your sister’s post led me here and I am glad it did. I had not really ever thought about the emotional attachment to a name because I had never been asked to change mine. The thought experiment of doing so leads to rabbit hole after rabbit hole of issues, fear, anxiety, emotion and social implications. Good for you for fleshing out what was important and making your decision on your own terms. Plus, now I am used to you being a dirty Burgess :)

11 Gillian { 02.13.12 at 3:21 am }

Hahaha, long live the Ide-Dickers! And Dickurgess is just so terrible, it’s wonderful. Thanks, DK :) It took a lot of thought and soul searching before I made my decision, and I respect other women and men who go through the same process. It’s not easy, and there’s no right decision that works for everyone!

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