Formerly Known As
14 Oct, 2011 - J.G.C. Wise
Well, not exactly. It will still exist in all of my historical academic and vital records. If any of my previous employers didn’t burn all proof of my existence in a therapeutic inferno, then they will also be able to vouch that Joshua Cacopardo did in fact legally exist. And then there will always be that pile of business cards I once dropped on 58th Street after three too many adult beverages turned my messenger bag upside down. But apart from these unsuspecting keepers of history, you will never again find this name misspelled on any mailing, magazine article, or unjust citation from the City of New York.
But the motive behind my personal rebranding isn’t what you’d expect. I’m not entering into the witness protection program, though I hear the benefits package is outstanding. I’m not converting to a new religion, nor am I running for office. I didn’t even have a hallucination following a tribal dose of Costa Rican ayahuasca, telling me that my old self needed to be severed from the new age, mystical me. Hell, I’ve never even been to Costa Rica. But that’s not the point.
The point is, my impending name change is not the result of something that would either fascinate or impress people, and in fact my decision has already lost me the respect of two or three individuals who will likely find themselves in the company of half a dozen others before this is all said and done. This article is especially for them.
So what reason could I possibly have for willingly abandoning the identity that has connected me to countless friends and foes over the course of the last twenty-nine years? It’s simple, really. I’m getting married.
For those who find themselves confused, let me begin by clarifying: I am not a woman. I am a healthy young man marrying a healthy young woman. I have no more doubts about my identity than the rest of the twenty-something Brooklyn population. I have no daddy issues that might inspire me to change my name out of spite, and my soon-to-be wife did not strong-arm me at the pinnacle of a feminist coup. In fact, when the name discussion came up post-proposal, I think she was rather surprised that I offered to take her name following our nuptials. Once we decided to go this route, I subsequently presented my list of qualifications to our closest family and friends. Predictably, it was a mixed response. It is because of this mixed response that I felt compelled to share my reasons with you, the Rest of the World. (That, and I want you to know where to find me when the name Cacopardo removes itself from the interwebs, or whatever this thing is called.)
Let’s start with the easier pill to swallow: the practical. While I cherish my Italian heritage and find myself a bit wistful over the loss of a name to attach to it, let’s all be honest: Nobody, however well-educated, seems to be able to spell or pronounce Cacopardo. Most people suffer the same frustration with their names from time to time, but most people aren’t writers. In the world of publishing, your name is — and I’m feeling just a little nauseous using such marketing terminology — your brand. If you want people to be exposed to your work, then you need to make sure that people can find it. This is difficult to do when your name — the only tie to said work — is misspelled by friends, colleagues, and even the occasional editor.
Thus I decided a long time ago that I would eventually operate under a pen name in an effort to make sure that my bylines weren’t among the laundry list of obstacles to my success as a writer. In the past I’d considered using my mother’s maiden name or just making up a name altogether, but when it came up that Stephanie was rather attached to her last name, I began to wonder if taking her name wouldn’t be the best thing for both of us. After all, her name is an actual four-letter word in the English language (no jokes, please; this is a family magazine) and taking on an actual name instead of a pen name would ensure that I don’t forget who I am the next time I’ve been at a cocktail happy hour for too long. And let’s be honest: making Stephanie go from a functional four-letter last name to the more cumbersome “Cacopardo” doesn’t really say, “I love you,” as much as it says, “If I’m going down, you’re going down with me.”
Another reason for my unorthodox decision is that many of our friends have gotten married over the last two years and in liberal Brooklyn, women don’t simply defer to tradition without reason. Consequently, the stress of choosing a name was added to the list of pre-wedding stressors for many of these couples, and frequently, it took the spotlight. Like Stephanie and me, most of our friends didn’t like the idea of hyphenated last names, but for them, the agreements stopped there. Men and women alike had valid sentimental reasons for wanting to keep their names, and I frequently heard fears about losing one’s identity through a name change. Stalemates lasted for the durations of their engagements — one couple has now been married for over a year and still hasn’t settled on a common last name — and when they finally ended, the compromises seemed more like concessions. The beauty of matrimony was getting bogged down by the stubborn retention of “who I am” which loses sight of the fact that whatever you may be called after your wedding, you will be a changed person. “Who I am” becomes, by the very nature of marriage, “who I was”, and that goes for men and women alike.
At the risk of digressing slightly, there is another piece to this for Stephanie and me, which is that we are Christians. The answer to “who I am” is ultimately always found in Christ, not in a name. That said, my decision has regrettably found the most contention in the church, of all places. It seems that for as many individuals who support this decision, there are an equal number of people who believe that a real Christian man passes his name on to his wife, staking claim to her life and body like the good ol’ days while she glories in accepting it, thankful to him for saving her from the dreadful existence of an old, forgotten maid. About this, I have rather a lot to say. I’ll do my best to be brief.
I confess that I do not know where the practice of a woman taking a man’s name came from, but I can say this: If the church is indeed, as some have suggested to me, the authority that decreed a woman shall take a man’s surname after marriage, then that is all well and good, but we cannot then say that this is the Christian thing to do. It remains either denominational or cultural, but it is not doctrinal. Unless I am mistaken, the Bible — which ought to govern the church — does not say that a woman must take a man’s last name in marriage, and since the Bible is presently the only Christian authority we have apart from the Holy Spirit, we’d do well to mind it rather than speak for it under the pretense of being “the church”. Furthermore, we must not forget that while the church has done wonderful things for the world, it has also done many terrible things, guided by men’s greed and lust more than God’s love. We should always take pains to remember that as we seek to understand what it is that God is telling us versus what the world is telling us. That a church decrees something, alone, does not make it authoritative.
I’ve also heard the argument that the Bible indicates that a woman should take a man’s name because God named Adam, but Adam then named Eve, which suggests the practice of a woman taking a name given her by a man should continue in marriage. I think this is reading too much into things. First of all, Adam named Eve; he didn’t rename her. And while he may have named his wife, we can also deduce from the text that Eve named their first child, who interestingly happened to be a man. This suggests both that a woman may name a man as legitimately as a man may name a woman, and additionally, that if the Creation Story indicates a woman must take a man’s name in marriage, then it also indicates that only women should name children since that’s how it happened the first time around. Perhaps most significant, though, is that none of this has anything to do with renaming anyone, which I argue makes it all a relatively moot point.
What seems more important to the Biblical writers than who takes whose name is the idea of “one flesh”, and while a common last name is one of many important ways to symbolize this concept in marriage, it is not something clearly defined by the Bible. What we have in America (note that most, though not all, other cultures do not practice name reconciliation or if they do, the method is not a heated point of contention) is a cultural tradition, a mark of the clear separation between men and women, born out of patriarchal societies that were, let’s be honest, not altogether kind to women throughout the majority of history. That people seem to think that taking my wife’s last name should be in some way emasculating as a man and a Christian just goes to show how deeply rooted that oppression still is in our culture, even if we’ve come light years from it in the interim. Wearing a dress to my wedding would be emasculating; taking my wife’s name is merely unusual.
It’s laughable to me that in a culture where women can vote, work, run for office, lead in the church, and pretty much do just about anything else that men traditionally prevented them from doing in the past, it is somehow still unacceptable for a man to take his wife’s last name. A name doesn’t make a man; his actions and his heart make him who he is. In a culture that has made so many strides towards acceptance, it’s shameful that we’ve yet covered so little ground in the very institution (the church) that ought to be subversive in Christ’s name in the first place. In that vein, along with the interest of participating in progressive culture and not merely ideas, I’m proud to take this step forward in redefining not simply how we think about marriage, but also how we think about ourselves.
Loyal readers, dearest friends, and unfortunate web-surfers who just happened to stumble upon this article, I am pleased to present to you the newest evolution in my identity, the name by which I shall be known until the end of this life: Mr. Joshua Gregory Cacopardo Wise, or simply J.G.C. Wise. Has a nice ring, no? Pretty sure I can get used to it. Here’s hoping that you can, too.