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The Thing About Keeping My Name That I Didn't Think of Until Now

Photograph by Twenty20

My kids and I have different last names. It’s not an unusual arrangement these days. Divorce, adoption, unmarried families and personal politics now all disrupt the longstanding “one family, one last name” norm.

In our family, our different last names are a matter of deliberate choice. My children have their father’s name, and I have the one I was given at birth—the one I chose to keep even after I got married.

The reasons for this naming arrangement are long and, frankly, boring: a mix of feminist politics and awkward hyphenations and family name heritage. And the results can be perplexing for some people outside of our family.

RELATED: Huge Mistake: I Kept My Maiden Name

Sometimes people fret over how to address invitations or holiday cards to our family. I don’t mind what they write so long as it isn’t "Mr. and Mrs. Husband’s Name.” Even if that ends up on the envelope, I don’t argue the point: My husband and I know full well that I didn’t submit my identity to his on our wedding day.

Some other people also worry about how their own children should address me. “Should it be Mrs. Oganowski” they ask, referring to my last name, “Or Mrs. Redding?” referring to my husband's and children’s last name. I tell them that they should do whatever makes them feel comfortable. I’m fine with kids calling me Kristen, but either last name works perfectly well, too. One is all my own, and one is shared by the people whom I love most in the world.

Nonetheless, all of these concerns lead to a deeper worry, both among friends and family and in my own mind: Isn’t it strange that I’m the only person in my immediate family who has my last name?

I must admit, the strangeness of this odd-woman-out situation troubled me for a while.

I must admit, the strangeness of this odd-woman-out situation troubled me for a while. But I’ve come to love my unique identity in my family.

I love that I have something that distinguishes me from my children. I love that part of my name—part of my public identity—is not connected at all to my motherhood.

I can relate this to something I experienced the other day. I was helping out in my 8-year-old son’s second-grade classroom, and the kids were collecting signatures in their yearbook. A few of them asked me to sign theirs. (Yes, I felt like the coolest mom on the planet.) One of them asked me, “Can you sign my yearbook as, ‘Alec’s mom’?”

But my different last name gives me a tiny piece of identity that’s all mine.

“Not Kristen?” I asked. “Just, Alec’s mom?”

“Yep,” he replied.

Despite all that was eyeroll-worthy about it, this was a sweet request. He saw me through the lens of his friendship with my son. And to this child, my identity was tied to my motherhood. To him I am, first and foremost, Alec’s mom.

This is how much of the world sees me—and other parents—too.

RELATED: I Regret Changing My Last Name

Invariably, our identities become intertwined with our children’s. For years, we might be “Alec’s mom” or “Maddie’s dad” or “Blue Ivy’s parents.” (Yes, I imagine that Blue Ivy really is that cool.) And this seems to happen more frequently for mothers than for fathers. In many ways, motherhood over-determines us. Between the needs of our children and the demands of our social expectations, there is very little room for mothers to carve out their own paths or forge their own ways—or identities.

But my different last name gives me a tiny piece of identity that’s all mine.

I may be “Alec’s mom” (and Miles and Eric’s mom, too), but that’s not my only name. Motherhood and marriage are not my only identities.

And at least for me, that’s something to be proud of.

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