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Column: Out with the old, in with the new name

The feminist in me would be so mad at the rest of me, if the rest of me didn’t feel so darn good right now.

A few short weeks ago, I was walking down the sandy aisle of a beach in Costa Rica to say my “I do’s” to the love of my life, Dan. It was the best day of my life, and I felt like the luckiest gal in the world. I still do.

Everything was perfect. There was just one thing that I had to get comfortable with before the big day – my name.

For 33 years, I had always been Marie Nitke. From my birth certificate to my driver’s license, that’s the name that has always identified me. It’s the name I learned to write in preschool, and it’s the name I’ve been writing ever since, down to that last grocery receipt I just signed yesterday. People say that name, and I automatically turn my head.

Getting married presented me with a choice – keep my name, or change it.

Changing it is a big deal. Aside from the legal hassle – which is almost enough in itself to make a paperwork-hater like me think twice before doing it – there’s the emotional connection (“But... that’s my name”).

The name Marie Nitke has always been different enough that, no matter where I went in life, I was always the only one. Sure, a lot of people get the pronunciation of Nitke wrong, and I often had to spell it out more than once to assure people that it wasn’t really Nitschke or Nietzsche or Neitzke, but it’s been mine. It’s served me well, and I’ve liked it.

So, keeping the name would preserve that sense of self and identity it has carried all these years. It would also be a lot simpler, saving me a bunch of dreaded paperwork and a trip to the DMV.

Plus, let’s not forget, it would make that feminist part of me proud. I do usually enjoy punching patriarchal traditions in the proverbial gut (“Oh, you want me to give up my identity to take on that of my husband’s? Take THAT, sucka!”).

That’s my inner voice of empowerment speaking. Usually, I listen to it.

This time, however, I went another way. Instead of thinking of a name change as a loss, I started thinking of it as an opportunity.

No one ever demanded that I change my name. Nowhere is it written in law that I have to. Nope. That decision was left solely to me. And, given that freedom, I decided I was ready for a change.

I feel privileged that, after 33 years, I get the chance to try on a new moniker. It feels fun to me, and refreshing. True, anyone can change their name at any time, legally, but most people don’t unless they have a good reason. And now I have one.

And that makes me feel lucky. Downright giddy, really (“Look at me! I’m in love, I’m in love, and I don’t care who knows it! [OK, I stole that line from ‘Elf,’ but that doesn’t make it any less true]).I’ve found a wonderful life partner, and I’ve got the new name to prove it. Not only do I not mind taking his name, I’m more than happy to do it.

No disrespect to any woman out there who’s chosen differently. The decision is a personal one, and in my opinion there is no right or wrong way to choose. You want to keep your name? Great. You want to hyphenate your last name with your spouses’? Cool. You want to change your name to I. M. Happy? Go for it.

But for me, Marie Johnson was the way to go. That’s me now. That’s why the name of this column can no longer be ‘Nitpickin,’ as it’s been since my first days at the Focus about three and a half years ago. Instead, it’s changed to something more fitting for who I am today and will be in the future – ‘Johnson’s Journal.’

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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