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Wednesday 3 October 2012

Who am I? Your identity post-marriage, divorce, and name changes

Recently, I was called Mrs Galea... and I almost had to turn around and ask, "Um, who?"

I was at school, enrolling my twins into kindergarten for next year, and as I filled out the first of myriad forms for their entire school life, the school secretary asked me a question, punctuated by the whole 'Missus' thing.

I was in shock. I felt so... grown up.

Now, granted - I am 40. But I am not in denial about my surname, or being married - I've been married nine years. It's just that I am not often referred to as Mrs Galea. There's some background to it all...

Galea is my married surname - and although I adopted it on all things official [bank records, forms, all the legal stuff] - I had a chat with my husband when we first married about not changing my surname for my work. No disrespect, but Galea is... well, like 'Smith' for Maltese: a very common surname.

My maiden surname - Gagliano - is distinctive and unique... and there are not many of us!

I presented a good, strong 'case' at the time, to my new husband: "But nobody will know me if I change my name to Josie Galea. My industry knows my Italian, hard-to-pronounce surname! People won't remember a 'Josie Galea'!"

He was a tad disappointed, but once I told him I'd absolutely change all my records, all the important stuff to Galea, he was cool. [Interestingly, I changed my driver's licence over to Galea only when I was pregnant with our twins, however. It was such a waste of money to change it before that, I thought - I'd paid for a five year licence. And at four years married, I figured I should make it well and truly 'official', seeing as I was carrying his children and all].

"My name is my currency," I added to my not-changing-my-professional-name argument, just to make sure he really got what I meant. He did. We moved on from that quickly and happily, and he's as proud as ever when I show him my published stories, always with a 'Josie Gagliano' byline.

So: that's why I found the whole Mrs Galea thing weird. I do love getting official letters with Mrs Galea, and... I will admit: the other day I got my first letter from the school with Mr & Mrs F & J Galea and I loved it.

So, while my identity is a little all over the shop [let's not start on the fact that Josie is really, actually not my 'real' name] I most definitely know who I am and where I'm at.

And so, I asked my friends: after how ever many years you've been married, do you still find it weird being called a "Mrs"?

Helen said: "Yes I do I agree, especially the boys' school teachers. I'll say to them "just call me Helen."

My very much married, ex-editor gay pal Scott, who recently married his partner, said: "Hmmm, strangely enough, nobody's called me Mrs anything since we tied the knot ;-)."

I promised I'd refer to him as a "Mrs" from here on in. Love him.

My good pal Celeste declared that she never changed her name both times she got married. "I figured it had been my name for so long, why should I change it? It's my identity." Very good call there, Celeste.

Karen, who was married and is now very much in love and living with her Italian-born partner, added: "Thankfully, in Italy it is rare for women to change their surname. [I was born and I will die a 'Denaro'.] What really spins me out is when someone calls me 'Signora' or 'Madam'. Ummm, hello... in the first instance, I'm not my mum and in the second: well...I don't own a brothel!"

That made me LOL very much.

Veronica reveals: "When we were living with my in-laws, I once answered the phone to someone asking to speak to Mrs Marchione. I automatically said, "Hold on, I'll just get her for you". The funny thing was that it was me they wanted to speak to. It didn't even click that there was another Mrs Marchione in the house - LOL!"

Adds Gina: "My children's school here in London is quite traditional and teachers and staff only ever refer to parents by their surname. Personally I feel like my mother-in-law! But it's actually quite sweet as it trickles down to the children. I guess it touches on what I was taught growing up to respect elders. After being at the school for a year I find it quite refreshing in today's world that they do hang on to these traditions."

Yes, I agree there, Gina. Whilst I did a double-take when I heard Mrs Galea, I definitely liked it. It was like: here at school, I am a Mrs and a 'Mummy' and that's my identity. And I like that.

Adds Morena, who is a mother and a teacher: "When you're a teacher you get used to it very quickly. I still like hearing the occasional "Miss La Monica" [her maiden name] from past students. Makes me feel young."

Agrees Terese: "I suspect I won't get used to it until the kids start school."

I agree there, Terese. And in the meantime, I will pop up letters for orientation and school uniforms up on my fridge, and embrace the whole tradition I am slowly getting used to.

Adds my friend Fabiana, who got married at age 20: "I have been a 'Mrs' just over half my life - my maiden name sounds weird to me."

That makes total sense. In that instance, your maiden name-self would feel like a whole other lifetime ago.

And finally, Donna adds: " I used to love saying 'boyfriend' when he first became my boyfriend, 'fiance' when he first became my fiance, and 'husband' when he first became my husband. But 'Mrs Storey' just makes me feel like they are talking about my mum in law, not me."

Agree there, Donna. 'Mrs' followed by your husband's surname sounds so mum-in-law-y. Thing is, I will always be a 'Gagliano'... and I secretly love that my kids know how to pronounce my difficult-to-say surname. Anyone can say 'Galea', right? Ha.

What's your take on the whole Mrs versus Ms versus Miss thing? Guys, speak up, too!

[A photo from our wedding day below... where I was really, truly happy to be 'Mrs Galea'. Really!]:

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