My mother kept her maiden name and I didn’t lose my sense of identity

 

 

I’ll admit, I have a complicated name. I’m one of those people with two official sets of ID but that’s not the worst of it – my mother you see, kept her maiden name and so I also have a double barrelled surname, but not a hyphenated surname, because my mother argued, even back in the 70’s, that her and my father were two separate people, with two separate names. The government however did not agree, and made my mother make her maiden name one of my middle names.

So for the first few years of my life I was Louise Marguerite Woodruff Sanz. My mother however stood by her maiden name, never becoming a Mrs Sanz and sure as hell never answering it to it. In primary school I remember her refusing to answer my friends when they would refer  to her as Mrs Sanz. As far as she was concerned it wasn’t her name. She preferred everyone to call her by her first name, which believe it or not, even my teachers preferred than having to address her as Ms Woodruff  – her actual legal name. It was that look of discomfort I recall the most. That educated, regular people would prefer to call my mother Mrs Potato than by her maiden name. It was the sort of thing 1970s German dissidents did, not middle class mothers from Brighton.

Contrary to the popular rhetoric I even hear bandied around today, I didn’t grow up as a rudderless child, without a sense of place or identity because my mother didn’t share the same name as my father, I actually did ok, more than ok really. To be honest  I was more affected by the knowledge that when my father immigrated to Australia, he was made to change his name from Miguel to Michael, because Australian’s couldn’t pronounce Miguel. My father was forced to change his name because apparently the Australian tongue struggles with the letter ‘G’. Tell that to all the Gerry’s, Gerald’s and Greg’s you know.

I was always insanely proud that mother had her own name (she was also a vegetarian – I didn’t know Mexican food came with meat options until an ill-fated trip to a Taco Bill in the late 90s). She explained her choice to keep her maiden name as ‘easier’. It was on her driver’s license, all her legal documents, to change it would be too much of a hassle. And then what if my father and her got divorced, more paperwork, but most importantly, it was her name. She’d had it for 25 years when she met my dad and it wasn’t something she was willing to part with it.

As I got older, I got more emboldened to move my mother’s name out of the ‘middle name’ abyss it had been relegated to and put it into everyday life. At 12 I was signing my homework off as Louise Marguerite Dymphna Woodruff Sanz, much to the horror of my teachers, who constantly felt the need to raise this in every parent teacher meeting – again more concerned by the incorporation of my mother’s maiden name, than the latest addition – my Confirmation name – Dymphna, Patron Saint of Incest Victims and the Mentally Ill.

By the time I was a teenager and had started writing soppy teen memoirs for other teenagers to act out on stage, my mothers name was now part of my surname, even though, legally it was still my middle name, that is until the law changed and no longer did it need to be hyphenated.It was free. I was free. My brother and sister never really seemed fussed, they liked being Sanz’s. It didn’t bother them, which only made it cooler, cause it now meant in my family I was the only Woodruff Sanz, that, along with my teen moustache set me apart from everyone else in the world.

Things however got complicated when I was granted a Spanish Passport. My name was changed to Luisa Margarita Sanz Woodruff. You see in Spain, the mother’s maiden name comes after the ‘family’ name. Given I had a Spanish Passport before an Australian one, it was now my only official form of ID, aside from Double Dare Champion Card from 1993 and so when I got my driver’s license I went in with my spanish passport and to this day, 16 years later, that is still the name on my driver’s license.

As I writer nothing gave me a stronger sense of satisfaction than to play with all my names as I signed off a ‘Written by’ credit. There was L W Sanz, L Woodruff Sanz, Louise Brandis, Mrs Jonathan Brandis, Louise W Sanz, LMW Sanz, Louise M Woodruff Sanz, LMD Woodruff Sanz. The possibilities were endless but then I started doing stand-up and introducing Louise Woodruff Sanz proved troublesome.

If I’d thought the pronunciation of ‘G’ was hard for people try W’s and S’s and Z’s. After a while, to make things ‘easier’ I shortened it to Lou Woodruff Sanz. It was still too hard for MC’s who were often distracted by mic stands, warm beer and the glamour of stage life. So I went with Louise Sanz. Nup, still too complicated. And so it was with heavy heart it went to Lou Sanz. Like a vegas headliner and just ambiguous enough so as not to reveal my gender before coming out on stage. It was inevitable then that confusion began. People were now getting frustrated, concerned even betrayed. Was the writer Louise Woodruff Sanz the same as emerging comedian Lou Sanz? Was this a Jeckyll and Hyde kind of thing? Was she transitioning? What the fuck was going on!? Who did she think she was!? And even though I was following a long line of people with stage names, mine was not because I didn’t like my name, it was because I wanted to make things easier on everyone else. After all that struggling I went back to Sanz because it made things ‘easy.’

But of course legally, I’m a Woodruff Sanz, so now I have alias’s. I have files that say ‘Lou Sanz, legally known as Louise Woodruff Sanz, also known as Luisa Sanz Woodruff.’ It can sometimes make getting things like credit a little complicated as nothing sounds dodgier than listing all the names your account could be under. Everyone just wants me to make it easier on them, change my name so that don’t have to press the space-bar more than they’d like .

A friend of mine though pointed out that when I get married, things will get easier, because well, you know, if you decide to have kids it’s important they know what family they belong to. That we all share the same name, so it’s only natural that if I chose to have kids with my partner we’ll have to have the same name.

‘You’re right’ I said, ‘but I worry about all the paperwork my husband will have to go through. He’d be better off keeping his own name. It’s easier.’

‘You’d make him change his name?’ she asked, not amused by my killer come back.

‘If your main concern is my hypothetical families unity and sense of identity, then it shouldn’t matter whose name we use.’

She was stumped…I knew why, when there are articles on the internet titled ‘How to let people know you’re keeping your maiden name’, I often forget how very far we’ve actually come since the days my mother decided to go against convention.

I was making things awkward…and I’m probably always going to. It’s ‘easier’ for me.

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5 Comments

  1. Dude. So bang on.

    My mother returned to her maiden name when I was a teen and the main impact it made was that I had another signature I could use to forge notes to get out of PE classes.

    I’m still confused by people’s adamance that a child with a different surname to their mother will grow up messed up.

    Another great post.

  2. My mother ‘kept’ her maiden name because she didn’t get married. This was SERIOUSLY WILD SHIT in rural National Party-voting Victoria in the mid 70s when I was born. Teachers were the worst, endlessly asking A KID questions about my dad and his surname and my mother being “Miss” and “when did they get divorced?”… It turned me into a massive bullshit artist. They were the ones were the issue with it, who in turn gave me a big FREAK OUT issue with it.

    I went on to get married in my early 20s and change my surname, rather than stand my ground, like my mother. What a fogey! I don’t even know why I did it, now. Anyway, like your many aliases, Lou! I don’t know if I’ll return to my “maiden” name if I get divorced (not plotting it at the moment) maybe I’ll make up some new shit. Maybe I’ll go by my first name. Or a number. Hoo roo.

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