Recently, I have become a fan of Dr. Isis (this reminds me, I really need to update my blogroll; half of the blogs I read aren’t even on it, but I digress). The other day, she wrote a post in response to a comment over at Female Science Professor‘s place. In it, she discussed correcting people who failed to use the title “Dr.” Last I looked, there were 95 comments to this post so it seems that a whole lot of people have a whole lot to say on this subject.
As do I.
[Note: For the purposes of this discussion, my name shall be Abigail Italiana and my husband’s name shall be Eric Longfrenchname. Neither of those names are our real first or last names (obviously).]
Let’s start with the title “Mrs.” Despite my nom de blog, I do not go by “Mrs.” in real life. This is because I did not change my last name upon marriage (more on this in a minute). To me, and to society in general I think, the title Mrs. is followed by Husband’s Last Name. Calling me Mrs. Italiana would imply that I married someone with the last name Italiana which I did not. Therefore, the only Mrs. Italiana I know of is married to my brother (my mother is divorced and remarried and is now Mrs. Stepfatherslastname). Taking that into account, I prefer to be called Ms. Italiana.
I am not Mrs. Longfrenchname and I am MOST DEFINITELY NOT Mrs. Eric Longfrenchname and anyone who calls me that should be shot even if they are my husband’s relatives. (Christmas cards are notoriously addressed this way and put me in a foul mood when I receive them which sort of defeats the purpose of sending the card.)
However, I am rarely called Ms. Italiana because people, upon seeing my last name and the wedding ring on my finger, will inevitably call me Mrs. Italiana. This is not a bad assumption on their part, I suppose. For many people, it happens to not be a problem. However, it irks the hell out of me. So, when people address me as Mrs. Italiana, I have two choices. I can either say, “I prefer Ms. Italiana,” or I can just ignore it. And, what I do depends upon my mood at that particular moment. If I am going to be interacting with this person quite a bit, I will likely correct them. If not, I’ll probably just let it go, even though I’m annoyed.
Part of the reason I let it go, I’m ashamed to admit, is because often when I tell people to call me Ms. they give me a look that says, “Oh, so you’re one of those women.” I really hate that look. Or, they look at me all confused, or maybe even ask why I prefer Ms. and then I feel the need to launch into an explanation of my reasoning (although, theoretically, I could just say, “Because I do.”). If I’m not prepared to deal with it, I just cave. I’m working on this issue.
Given all of that, I’m rather looking forward to earning a new title. In theory it would mean that I would receive Christmas cards and wedding invitations addressed to Dr. Italiana. Or, at the very least, addressed to Dr. and Dr. Eric Longfrenchname which, while still oppressive at least gives a nod to the fact that I did something with my life and am not just my husband’s possession (or, you know, that I’m a well-educated possession). I’m not going to hold my breath, though.
Still, I feel better about the idea of insisting on Dr. vs Mrs. rather than Ms. vs Mrs. Nobody asks you why you prefer Dr. instead of Mrs. They may think it’s pretentious or elitist, but nobody looks at you like, “Why the hell do you want to be called Dr.?” They just call you Dr. and leave it at that (though they may ask for medical advice, but since the majority of people I interact with who call me Mrs. Italiana are medical doctors, I doubt they will ask me for medical advice. They may look disparagingly at me if, when questioned, I tell them that I have a PhD, not an MD but they can shove it up their ass).
Now, going back to why I did not change my name when I got married. I never really thought about this much when I was growing up, though I was never really one to pair my first name with boy du jour‘s last name in my diary or anything like that. When I went to college, I noted that women scientists often did not change their last names upon marriage and that idea appealed to me a lot. I even informed my husband very early in our relationship that I was not planning on changing my last name if we ever got married as I could see no advantage since his last name was longer and more unpronounceable than the last name I was born with.
Then, Mr. Longfrenchname and I got engaged and I really started thinking about this seriously. One thing I had not factored in was having children. It seemed convenient to have the same last name as my children if only to show that yes, I was their mother. Also, I had these visions of getting into some sort of accident in a foreign hospital while my husband and I were traveling and nobody believing we were married because we didn’t have the same last name and not being able to have next of kin priveleges (this is extremely far-fetched, I know, but I had some problems with anxiety and paranoia at this time). And then I thought about maybe having problems traveling with my children because we wouldn’t have the same last name (this happened to my mother while traveling with my sister after my mother got remarried).
So, I considered compromising and having a “professional” name (Dr. Italiana; which is what I would publish under) and a “personal” name (Mrs. Longfrenchname which is what the PTA would call me). But, when I ran this past a woman scientist of my acquaintance she became livid and insisted having two last names was unethical and that when you publish under a name you are in effect telling people that you stand by your work and if they have a problem with it they can contact you and how can they do that if you are listed in the phone book under a different name than the one you publish under. I thought that this was perhaps an extreme view since anyone who would be looking me up to communicate about a publication would be looking me up in a university directory and I would therefore be listed under my “professional” name. But, I didn’t want to piss anyone off and felt that if other people thought the same was as she did then maybe I would be shooting myself in the foot. So, I considered hyphenation.
My husband vetoed that one right away. My name would have been Abigail Italiana-Longfrenchname with my real life name being just as long as this made up name and since both of our last names are often mispelled the chance of anyone ever spelling my name right (much less pronouncing it right) was low. As I considered this argument, I realized that would include anyone who was trying to look up my name in pubmed. All kinds of people would get frustrated trying to look me up as they inevitably spelled my name wrong. And then, I hit upon an idea. I looked up each of our last names in pubmed. There were no hits for my last name. None at all. And a ton of hits for husband’s last name (not for him, he’s in astrophysics). I confess this was one of the deciding factors in choosing to keep my last name.
But the primary reason was I liked being Abigail Italiana.* It had taken me a very long time to be comfortable with who I was and my name seemed to be integrally tied to that identity. So, why would I change it? What would that mean? Who would that person be? It also made me feel like I was somehow supposed to change my identity upon marriage which seemed unfair since husband didn’t have to change his identity (btw, we did, briefly, consider him taking my last name but he had already published under his last name whereas I had not yet published). To me, marriage wasn’t going to make me a different person so why should my name reflect that?
*It occurs to me that this is a somewhat funny statement since I blog under a pseudonym. However, I do that to maintain my privacy not because I’m changing my identity.