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Notes From a Single Mom: Name Dropper—Keep the Married Name or Change it?

I never really liked my maiden name: Overman, a German derivation I always had a hard time pronouncing. Kids always teased me: “Hey, Underwoman, do you like being ‘over man?’” It made for good playground banter, I suppose. I would have rather inherited my paternal grandmother’s name, the Native American: King. Easy to pronounce. One syllable. Regal.

So when I got married, I was secretly thrilled about ditching the old name and moving up in the alphabet, from “O” to “A.” I like being first (who doesn’t?), and my married name allowed me to be Numero Uno in many alphabetic situations. Besides, “Armitage” has a nice ring to it.

So when the ex asked me to give his name back, it threw me. He got remarried and now there are two Mrs. Armitages. I understand his point of view, truly I do. Through marriage, he has given his name to two different women. On paper, it looks like polygamy. And since I’m no longer married to him, why should I be allowed to keep his last name, right?

Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. See, my name has been my identity for many years. As a writer, it’s also my established byline. After carrying around this legal appendage for so long, “Lynn” has grown quite attached to the name that follows it. Giving “Armitage” back would be like losing a limb. Or, like returning a wedding gift so many years later. It just wouldn’t be right.

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But being the curious sort, I looked into it. Apparently, people change their names all the time. According to the Name Change Law Center, there are more than 3 million name changes every year in this country. For under $200, you can do it yourself, without a lawyer. Simply go online and type in “name change kit” to access plenty of resources.

My children’s stepmother has decided to play a different name game altogether. She has asked them to call her “mom.” That just burned me. First, the latest Mrs. Armitage wants to strip me of my last name. Then she wants to share a coveted title she’s never earned. OK, now she’s trespassing. Thankfully, my oldest daughter said, “I feel funny about that. It doesn’t sound right to call her ‘mom.’”

And that’s exactly it. The real reason I’ve decided to keep my married name is because it’s my children’s name, period. I’m their mother, nobody else. We share a bloodline, living space and an impenetrable bond. It’s only right we share the same last name. Besides, it would be too confusing to have different last names—on paper, in school, in social situations. I don’t want them having to explain our divorce for the rest of their lives.

So Armitage it is, and Armitage it will stay. And while anyone can call me “Lynn” if they like, there are only two people in the whole world who can call me, and no one else, “Mom.”

Freelance writer Lynn Armitage is an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin. Her husband isn’t around anymore. But his last name is.