Changing My Last Name

A friend recently asked me about the thoughts that went through my head as I was considering last name options when I got married. Many others had asked me why I hyphenated after I got married and there’s a lot went into the decision making process.

I grew up with the notion that all little girls would one day become a Mrs. Somebody Else’s Last Name. For some time, even into my adulthood, I still believed this old time tradition applied to me but when I was actually getting married, I had to reconsider. What did changing my last name after the wedding mean?

I deliberated over my options for a short time. Mrs. Jennifer Abernathy or Mrs. Jennifer Louie or Mrs. Jennifer Louie-Abernathy? The first option seemed so blah. Who’s Jennifer Abernathy and where is she from? Is she an Abernathy by blood? Who knows? She doesn’t seem blonde like the other Abernathys…And Mrs. Jennifer Louie? Well, that’s just Jennifer Louie with a married title and that too seemed boring for me. My thought was if I was going to get married, I should probably show I was married and that meant I couldn’t keep the same last name I already had. Otherwise, how would people know I was really married? And then what about the children? I had heard that women having a last name that was different than their children’s was an issue at many schools or when traveling if the last names didn’t match. I wouldn’t have time for that crap and red tape. “Officer, these really are my children. I’m not kidnapping them…Right, they don’t look like me because they are half white.” This possible scenario didn’t look appealing and as a worrier, I envisioned sitting at the airport alone with my kids worrying that my last name was going to be an issue at the security checkpoint.

Louie tattoo

Louie (Left), Lightning (Right)

The third option was looking really good. Louie is the last name I got from my dad and if he gave me nothing else, he gave me my X chromosome. His X chromosome made me into his little girl and I’ve always been a daddy’s girl. He’s greatly influenced who I have become. I’m a hardworking, strong person and Louie is a strong last name. Louie means thunder in Chinese and I believe my bad temper is synonymous with rolling thunder. All of my brothers, cousins, uncles and dads also have terrible tempers so they too cause rolling thunder when they have a flare up. It’s as if we had to live up to our surname though I’m sure there are Louies out there who are even keeled. I just don’t think I have any mild mannered people in my family.

I wanted to treasure my past, my culture and my lineage. Those things have made me into who I was/am. Louie doesn’t necessarily define me but it represents me. Louie is Chinese and I’m Chinese. I want the world to know I’m Chinese. It’s kind of that simple. I felt that changing my last name to Abernathy would take away a part of my identity and would hide who I was, in a sense that if someone read Jennifer Abernathy in an email, they’d think I was a white girl, not a Chinese girl. This did not go over well for me in my head. I’ve been Chinese my entire life. Why would I now pretend I wasn’t just because I was marrying a white dude?

After weighing my options, hyphenating seemed like a good compromise between full on Abernathy and simply keeping Louie. I could keep a part of me while adding a little bit of Steve and show I was indeed, married. Hyphenating might actually show I’m married more easily. If you read Jennifer Abernathy or Jennifer Louie without a title, you wouldn’t know one way or the other. With the hyphenation, you can immediately assume I was married or if not married, at least unique.

Hyphenation in general has worked for me but it doesn’t mean it hasn’t come with inherent complications. Adding the hyphen has increased my last name by a whole ten characters. When I have to spell out my full legal name with my middle name, it’s super long and doesn’t fit in most forms. However, I hardly ever have to write out my full legal name. I think only my passport and driver’s license show my middle name, which I decided to keep because again, it was given to me by my grandparents and it’s a Chinese word. I’m Chinese damn it. I don’t mind writing out Jennifer L. Louie-Abernathy but even that doesn’t fit on most credit cards. If I do have to include my name with a closing salutation, I usually write Jen Louie-Abernathy.

No one really calls me Jennifer on a regular basis except maybe at the doctor’s or at the pharmacy. This is where the second complication arises. Am I listed under L or A? Is “Louie” your first name when you say “Louie…Abernathy”? When explaining my name, I do have to say four whole phrases: “Louie”, “Hyphen”, “Abernathy” and “my last name is hyphenated”. Then the other party almost always without a doubt will look at me puzzled and I have to repeat what I just said so they can identify me in their records. If I’m being referred to and they don’t ask for the spelling of my name, I will surely show up with an “s” instead of an “e” in “Louie” as in “Louis-Abernathy”. Now, that looks white as shit.

Our children will have Steve’s last name, Abernathy. They will be his children so of course I’d want them to have his last name. Plus, that’s what Steve wants and he won’t budge on this one. Maybe one day you’ll see little baby Abernathy crawling around. Until then, it’s just Jen Louie-Abernathy and Steve Abernathy in this little clan.

I’m glad I hyphenated and have no regrets. I’m still a Louie in my heart and when I speak Chinese, people often ask for my surname. Again, the answer is still Louie. On our third year anniversary, I got new tattoos of my surname Louie in a Chinese character and the character for lightning. I used a certain kind of calligraphy so that the characters look like they were written with a paint brush and some of the strokes look like thunderbolts. “Thunderbolts and lightning, very very frightening”…now that you know what Louie means, I’m sure you’re frightened.

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