My Third Wife Changes Her Name: Gender Issues, Ex-Wives, and Surname Conflicts

 

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The Blended Family Wedding of Kristina Katayama (L) and William Bass (R) with vows to their children (Morgan, Kate, & Talia) and with their Community.

I married Kristina this past 11 July 2009. She was the great love of my life at that time. We have been together over 7 years, ever since late 2001, as I write this essay. Kristina is a vibrant and dynamic woman, bold, sexy, intelligent, professional, and passionate. She lives full out as a Postmodern Age human being. We married ourselves privately in May 2005, became officially engaged back in November 2005, and intended to celebrate with a public, legal wedding in the summer of 2006. We felt too busy with careers and children, however, and lived as if already married. And in 2009 we finally did it. Up to our Wedding Day, she used her father’s family name, “Katayama,” as her own. And after our wedding she insisted on changing her name. Or, to be more accurate, adding my surname to hers.

“What?” I asked incredulously. “That’s old-fashioned culturally-ingrained male domination of females. I don’t own you. I’ve fought against this kind of bigotry my whole life.”

I had more to say, too. “I LIKE the Japanese sound of ‘Katayama.’ Mine is an “Olde English” name. I like the global feel of Bass and Katayama being together as a couple. It supports Euro-Asian-American planetary integration! My name is short and monosyllabic. Yours is long and lovely with four syllables emphasizing the same vowel. And don’t you dare hyphenate! That’s a monstrosity!” Blah blah blah.

My first wife Margaret had taken my surname when we were both in our early 20’s. We felt we were supposed to. I was ambivalent but didn’t like hyphenations. This was back in the early 1980s. Margaret took my name grudgingly, too. It didn’t help matters that she didn’t like the rest of her name either. She was a troubled person back then and in the 3rd summer of marriage left me for another man. It was a crushing blow followed by a devastating divorce. She went back to her maiden name of “Manuel.”

A few years later I met Gwen Hughes while in grad school and eventually we married. It was now the late 1980s. We would stay together for almost another decade and a half. We had one daughter of our own and adopted another. Surnames for all of us were a constant topic of conversation. Gwen and I were fierce believers in gender equality, at least before the law and within our society. We were adamant marriage was a stand for two adults choosing each other from a stand of love and commitment. Not politicalized family arrangements for power, wealth, status, and privilege. Not male ownership of the female, or the reverse either.

Gwen toyed with the spelling of her first name “Gwendolyn” and various nicknames. We debated using her middle name of “Valentine” as her surname, dropping the “Hughes.” We most definitely did not want the clunky-chunky hybridization of “Hughes-Bass.” How would we “tell the world” we were now a couple and one family? Ultimately we agreed to keep our respective surnames. I would not take her surname. That implied female domination over the male. Quite frankly most people were conditioned to assume upon meeting “Mr. & Ms. Hughes” that “Hughes” was actually my surname and that Gwen had simply done the traditional Western thing and took “my” Hughes as her surname, too.

A few times we’ve met a small number of couples that chose the truly alternative actions of jettisoning their surnames and creating new surnames. To them it represented freedom from all sorts of cultural conditioning. They came together with intention to create a new surname that represented uniquely them. One couple’s surname was made up from their favorite science fiction book. Another couple named themselves after endangered snowy owls. The problem with such a rare display of creative courage was that every body else automatically assumed whenever they met these couples their last names were the husbands’ family names. These people constantly had to explain over and over that no, they made up a new name only to endure everyone else going, “That’s weird.”

There is just no way to get rid of the surname conundrum unless you do as some cultures do and that is for each person to have only one name. Even if one took their mother’s surname that name was really the mother’s father’s surname. All surnames in a patriarchal culture are thus at some point the man’s name. The reverse holds true for matriarchal cultures. Some Spanish-language cultures blend both surnames.

So when Gwen and I had two children each child got four names. There was a first name and a middle name with two unhyphenated family names. We joked that each child had the freedom to mix and choose their names, especially when they became adults. And with each daughter having “Hughes Bass” as their last two names it was clear “Bass” would be the family name. No weird hyphenation. We had heard of people with pre-existing hyphenated names marrying each other to wrestle with such horrors as “Sally and Jack Smith-Jones-Cunninghamthwaite-Marquez.”

Once to my distress, my oldest daughter’s name was accidentally hyphenated on her birth certificate. We didn’t realize it at first. It wasn’t any of the on-site health care staff. Some bureaucrat took it upon his or herself to add in a little “correction.” Someone made an automatic assumption that “Hughes” and “Bass,” being the last names of her parents, must thus be hyphenated into one last name for the child. It caused a bureaucratic nightmare with social security, filing for taxes, schools, and applying for a passport. I finally went to court, meaning time away from work and having to pull Morgan out of school that day, and paid $150.00 to have the damn hyphen legally removed. That was one expensive dash!

We adopted our second child, one of Gwen’s nieces to help resolve a family dilemma. That was even more expensive. Our adopted daughter came into the world with merely a first name spelled a certain way and a last name. In the legal machinations of the court we kept those names but added my sister’s name as that child’s middle name as her first name was of yet another of Gwen’s seven sisters. We did it to unify both halves of the family. And we gave her my last name “Bass” for the surname. So like her older sister she ended up with four names.

Eventually Gwen and I grew apart, chose to divorce, and went on in different directions but stayed friends and co-parents. Our names stayed the same as if nothing had ever happened. Our children still had their two family names with mine as their official surname.

So when Kristina married me she took my last name, “Bass.” It’s an Old English name once spelt “Basse.” It meant, “short of statue, red-haired, and hot tempered.” I confess at various times I’ve exhibited all three traits. There were plenty of tall Basses and blonde Basses and cool-headed ones, but I got the original three. Apparently many of the olden Basses were a mix of shipbuilders and farmers, although if one goes back far enough all branches of both my parents are primarily a mix of Celtic and Germanic ethnic groups from all across Europa. “Katayama” is Japanese for “shoulder” or “face of the mountain.” At first she added it on to her original surname as “Katayama Bass.” Her ancestors were a mix of samurai warrior clans from southern Honshu and fishermen-farmers from northern Shikoku. After awhile, however, Kristina simplified her full four-word name to “Kristina Bass.”

Why did she do this? Not for any submission to classical patriarchal tyranny. My wife felt it very important to her that everyone in our family shared the same surname. She desired the energetic container I held for the family. And we were a post-double divorce blended family with different last names. She wasn’t going to change her name and leave her daughter behind. Kristina wanted unity and she wanted harmony with that unity. We both surrendered to a cultural and social norm, and we did so with a deliberate intention.

Kristina herself came from a broken household. And as an adult she married “too fast” a charming man who eventually for reasons of his own left her for another woman. And he left Kristina pregnant. Kristina never officially took her first husband’s name, but unofficially she did and many people knew her by that last name, “Barker.” So did I at first. After he left her she expunged it.

Ah, the drama of human relationships. Soap operas swollen with real pain. And we often try to hide it from embarrassment and shame. We all do.

I helped deliver their daughter in a homebirth just as I had helped deliver my first daughter with Gwen. For her child’s surname Kristina refused to use “Barker” at all and legally had “Katayama” established as her daughter’s family name. Now, over seven years later and remarriage, my stepdaughter was the only one with a different last name in our household. Kristina got her ex-husband’s permission to change it, although legally she didn’t have to. But she sought consensus, especially as he was back and had been back in his bio-child’s life for some time. Off to court the three of them with, two ex-spouses and their offspring to take my last name.

I felt weird. In fact I resisted this maneuver at first. It made me very uncomfortable. I was not legally adopting my stepdaughter, although I would’ve loved to do so. Adoption was not possible anyway with her bio-dad more involved over the years. I did not want to be seen as stealing another’s child. And, to be honest, I had shouldered the bulk of the work in raising her with her mother.

Per ruling of the court at the behest of both parents, my stepdaughter kept her mother’s maiden name of “Katayama” and had “Barker” added to it to include her father and ended with “Bass.” Wow. Three family names. But only one last name. Mine. Yes, a five-word supername is a mouthful for a little girl, even for an adult, but it meant much to all the rest of us. A certain healing for all involved, a letting go, a being with what is, taking action to move forward to a new place of integration and harmony. I felt honored.

I feel honored my new wife and stepdaughter took my family name as their new last names. I feel a certain bashful awkwardness, too, as it goes against my egalitarian stand of men and women (and women and women and men and men, for that matter) being free to choose their own surname. In the early days of my conscious evolution, however, that meant to me the freedom to keep their name and not change it based upon cultural conditioning and social pressures. Now it is simply the freedom to choose. The freedom to take any name one wants, to make one up, to mix and match, or the freedom to keep the name one has or add another to it.

Such freedom, however, comes with a certain responsibility. There first had to be agreement between at least four components of broken families. There was the financial cost of taking time off work, going downtown to the courthouse, and paying the court costs and legal fees to have the names changed. In our Wedding Ceremony, Kristina and I declared our vows not only to one another as wife and husband but also to all our children and stepchildren. The vow to all three daughters was for many the most moving part of the whole wedding. These are vows we committed to honoring every day, even when we mess up. And we do.

Someday we will die and our names will go up on some memorial. Maybe. And eventually everyone who knows us will also die. At some point the memories of stories about us will fade and then the stories will stop. Even the bones shall return to dust or be burnt and scattered as ash. All that remains shall be our names. For we are who we are, and someday we will be what we were. We have names, and someday we will have had names, and…we are not our names.

The Three Bass Sisters: Talia, Kate, & Morgan. Saturday, 11 July 2009. Wedding Photo by Carol Ernst.

The Three Bass Sisters: Talia, Kate, & Morgan. Saturday, 11 July 2009. Wedding Photo by Carol Ernst.

Postscript: With great sadness I share our marriage and partnership did not survive the economic upheavals and financial losses of the Great Recession. The grim bam-bam-bams of one crisis after another pulled us down into depression. I became especially engulfed by melancholia. All this led to the unraveling of our marriage and the death of dreams we once shared of growing old together. We had so much in common, and there were, of course, other factors.

Kristina and I agreed to separate, and I moved out on 31 March 2012. Currently we navigated our divorce. This Valentine’s Day of 2013 thus is one where we returned to the bedrock of self-love.

What Kristina chooses to do with her surname remains to be seen as she has successfully established herself in business as Kristina Katayama Bass. Despite whatever any of us end up naming ourselves or being called by others, we must remember again we are not our names.

Postscript 2: Attempts to reconcile failed in August of 2013. By the following September Kristina was clear she wanted to divorce. Our marriage legally ended as our divorce was finalized on Tuesday 2 July 2013.

 

William Dudley Bass
15 September 2009
27 March 2012
14 February 2013
20 March 2015
12 August 2016
Seattle, Washington
Cascadia

NOTE: Originally published in my earlier blog, Cultivate and Harvest, @ http://cultivateandharvest.blogspot.com/2009/09/my-wife-changes-her-name.html. Then it was revised and reposted here on my new blog this March of 2012. On Valentine’s Day 2013 I added in the Postscript. Thank you.

 

Copyright © 2009, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you.

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