Reclaiming My Name

When I first married the FSO—back when dinosaurs roamed!—I kept my own last name. I just didn’t see any pressing need to change it. My husband didn’t either, so we left things as they were: a Midura and a Bembry who happened to be married.

Of course, I was constantly introduced as Mrs. Midura. (Who is actually my mother-in-law, but whatever.) This was annoying, but not a serious issue. The real problems started when we went overseas for the first time.

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Nowadays, if a person has a different last name than their spouse, no one even blinks. But 25+ years ago, there was little accommodation for it. Especially when it came to official or financial paperwork. All of which quadrupled as soon as we went overseas with the Department of State.

The State Department, to its credit, has been ahead of the curve on domestic partnerships and same-sex marriages in the last decade or so, but back in 1989, those days were yet to come. You had to be married (to a person of the opposite sex) have full status as the partner of an FSO: to get diplomatic immunity, to use embassy services, to be able to apply for embassy jobs, and so on. Many State Department forms only had a space for one last name; e.g. officer and dependent [first name].

So, the assumption was, if you were at post together you must be married. And if you were married, you must have the same last name. We were constantly having to work around this assumption both on paper and in person.

There were other practical issues that cropped up as soon as we went overseas. Cashing checks was a problem. ATMs did not exist where we were posted, so the embassy cashier was the only way for me to get cash.  The State Department Credit Union would not issue checks with my name on them. The options were: “Christopher Midura” or”Christopher and Kelly Midura,” but not “Christopher Midura and Kelly Bembry.” So, our joint checking account checks didn’t have my name on them, and I technically couldn’t cash a check!

I had my own account, of course—at USAA, which we eventually switched all our accounts to because of this very issue—but the embassy cashier would not (and will still not) cash a spouse’s personal check. The employee’s name must be on the check. Now banks will print any two names on a check, and ATMs are everywhere anyway, but this presented a real problem at the time (one of several rude shocks at our first overseas post, believe me).

On our second tour, we had our first child. I thought it seemed like a good plan to have the same name as my kids. My husband wouldn’t change his name, or even consider hyphenating. (“That would be weird, because it’s not my name.” Well, yeah…) That left me. And even then, I might not have changed it, but we were in Central America which, at the time, was roiling with baby trafficking issues, both real and imagined. I knew two women at post with different last names to their husbands who experienced hassles leaving the country with their kids because their passport name didn’t match that of their child.

So, I caved. I changed my name. I became Kelly Bembry Midura. I relegated my own last name to my middle name. And I’ve always regretted that, just a little bit.

No one has ever seemed to be able to remember the “Bembry.” OK, the whole name is a mouthful, I realize. But my name is not Kelly Midura. It just isn’t! Even people who know me well persist in leaving off the Bembry, in personal introductions, in emails, on forms and invitations, and on bylines. Whatever the trick is to getting people to use my full name, I haven’t found it yet.

Midura is a Polish name. It’s a Catholic, Eastern European, Ellis Island, northeastern name. All of which is fine, but none of which I am. Living in the Czech Republic, Austria, and now Poland has confirmed that I just don’t have any real cultural connection to this part of the world. Which is fine: we don’t travel to feel at home, after all. But we don’t go around adopting completely random surnames, either. Married or not, “Midura” still feels totally arbitrary to me.

(Side note: in Slavic countries, all female given names end with “a.” Which means over the last three tours, in countries with this tradition, I have frequently been referred to as “Midura Kelly” ARGH.)

Bembry is a weird name, I know.  Everyone who has it is some how connected to the first Bembry in America. I’ve done some research on this. There are both white Bembrys and black Bembrys, but we all go back one way or another to that first guy (probably a “Bemberry” from the west country of England) who showed up in Virginia or North Carolina around 300 years ago. This is an absolutely typical white southern Protestant name and history—but that happens to be what I am. So, along with my first name, which is my mother’s maiden name, it all fits. It’s comfortable for me.

Fast-forward 25 years or so. My kids are adults. We are on our last overseas tour. I just turned 50—which stuns me a bit, but it does seem like a good time to make changes. And I have decided: I no longer need or want this name.

“Kelly Bembry Midura” is my State Department name. It’s the name I adopted to go along and get along. It’s the name on my diplomatic passport, and my Polish ID card which might as well be “and spouse.” It’s the name that goes with those engraved invitations that say “Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Midura,” or on a good day, “Mr. Christopher Midura and Kelly Midura.” Because no embassy office, ever, in 25 years, has ever remembered to use my whole name.

I’ve already started changing my name in all the unofficial places: email, social media, this blog. I’ve looked up how to complete the process once we get back to the States (Virginia). You just file a request to the court to change it on official documents, attesting that you aren’t trying to commit identity theft. Since I’m going back to my birth certificate name, this shouldn’t be a problem.

I am going to tweak it just a bit. I’m not sure I can take the Suzanne that my parents bestowed upon me as a middle name. I’m taking that down a notch, to Sue. Yes, that makes me Kelly Sue Bembry. It’s a little girly and a lot southern, I know.

However, Kelly is actually a unisex name. It supposedly means “warrior.” And, if you Google “Kelly Sue” you get Kelly Sue DeConnick, born 1970, creator of the manga series’ “Pretty Deadly” and “Bitch Planet.” So, I’m choosing to believe that this is a name in transition. Maybe it’s time for all of us multitudinous Kellys from the 60s and 70s to own the name. Make it our bitch, as it were.

I’ll try and help that along just a little. As Kelly Sue Bembry.

39 comments

  1. I’m getting married soon and struggling with the name change debate (and legalities of being a trailing spouse with a different name). It feels like I’m losing a bit of my identity if I change it but it will make life much easier.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. When we were headed to China we were all excited about getting official Chinese names. Hubs kept joking he wanted his to be Wan Hung Lo. When we got our IDs – there it was. He got to be Lo with a full name. Mine just said “Wife of Lo”. I call it my Lo point.

    Liked by 14 people

  3. I like it–but I am mildly obsessed with names and the meaning they carry. In this case, it is sort of like you are leaving the whole idea of ‘traveling spouse’ behind and reclaiming the original. I kept my name for a thousand reasons, and though my husband was not 100% on board, the kids are hyphenated. Informally we all go by the hyphenated form, which is sort of sweet. The thing is, the kids never knew any differently, so it doesn’t phase them at all. But most of all, I think it shows how we are different people at different points in our lives, which is a wonderful thing. We all exist on a spectrum, why wouldn’t our names reflect that?

    Liked by 4 people

    • I think hyphenation makes a lot of sense! I also thought about giving both kids my last name as their middle name. Kind of like how Spanish-speaking countries handle it. But no joy there.

      My kids are both adults now and are both comfortable being Miduras, which is fine, because it does reflect their background, after all. It’s much more their name than my name. My daughter does say that when she gets married, she’s keeping her own name. Good for her.

      Like

  4. I hyphenated for a while, but dropped it after the first time I was introducing myself to a VIP and got nothing but a blank stare because my name was so complicated. Now that I’m an FSO I’ve been dreading the residual complications of having different names (which cropped up immediately after my OA of course). I’m glad to hear it’s better now, but it will be interesting to see how this impacts us (and especially my hubby) through the my career.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I got married in 1992 and did not ever change my last name. I completely understand all of the challenges you describe in your blog entry. I have considered changing once or twice just to simplify things, and it was my husband who encouraged me to keep my name. Add to that the fact that he’s white and I’m black, and things just get stupider and stupider.

    My name is mine and his is his. Somehow we made it work for nearly 25 years, often by pissing folks off with our quiet but insistent corrections. Some folks still don’t get it.

    I applaud you, Kelly Sue Bembry. Congratulations on reclaiming your name and your badass self. Wear it like a boss.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. I have a really hard time with women who don’t change their last name when they get married. I totally get the women who feel that they’re the last ones in their family and their name will die if they don’t keep it, but that’s the nature of it. My husband asked me directly to take his name. He would have been deeply hurt if I would have kept my maiden name. It would seem like i was trying to hold onto my past life and not fully giving myself to him as his wife, if I would have kept my name. i love when mamas name their babies with their maiden names as middle names- that’s an awesome way to keep it going. I just feel like it’s really disrespectful to husbands to not take it. Like we’re on some power trip and need to prove we dont need no man or his name to make it. i do. i need my man. i need my husband. i want to merge our lives together and i want to show the world that i have made a new step and am going somewhere new with him. that our family will be the “Mr & Mrs Step Mommas” instead of Mr Step Momma and Mrs Single Lady.” our family will grow with our name. obviously everyone has totally different opinions on the subject and i know not everyone feels the same as i do, but that’s what names mean to me!

    Liked by 6 people

    • I think you should do what works for you. I’ve heard of men taking their wives’ names, and even a couple who decided together on a completely new last name for both of them!

      My husband was totally fine with whatever I wanted to do, and still is, even though I am changing it back so late in the game. He does not see it as disrespectful at all–in fact, he maintains that he never asked me to change my name in the first place. And that’s true, he didn’t, it was just the rest of the world that did…

      Liked by 6 people

  7. You’re a pioneer who has paved the way! Congrats on your 50th!
    Continue on your name trek transition.
    Something old, something new, something borrowed…Kelly Sue. Cheers!🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  8. I too kept my maiden (southern European immigrant) name as the law in Québec actually favored it with all the hassles high divorce rates caused. When pregnant with my first, I refused that he get my husband’s last name on principle. I was willing to give my name if a girl, his if a boy or vice-versa, or even leave it to a flip of the coin, but NOT to a tradition based on facilitating transfer of property (including women). The bad comprise was that he got a hyphenated name (also allowed by law). Five years later where my daughter was born over seas, hyphenated names were not allowed. It was either or. We argued we wanted the kids to have the same last name, and our wish was granted. I have never regretted keeping my name, even though it singles me out as being from elsewhere (I have spent time in my country of origin and feel it is a part of me I don’t want to let go of). It is my name. I never accepted that tradition or convenience make it disappear from my children’s family history. And whenever they complain at the difficulties they have filling out forms, I tell them this story and hope they find a better solution. I have often wished I had been less pig headed, so I totally understand your decision, if it finally feels right.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I love reading about how married women figure out the name issue. For me, I found my maiden name problematic because it was so hard for people to spell, and I was tired of spelling it over and over for clerks, medical offices, etc. More importantly, I also know that my husband loved me and trusted me so much that he offered me the precious gift of his name, and I accepted.
    Therefore, I dropped my maiden name entirely and took my legal name as my first name, middle name, and husband’s (easily spelled) last name. I wish I had done this differently. For my legal name, I wish I had dropped my middle name and used my maiden name instead. Legal name or not, when I write and on my Facebook page, I use my first name-maiden name–married name. I am indeed proud of my maiden name. Every woman has to figure out the best “name” for her; there is no right or wrong answer. Your thoughtful piece now has me thinking about changing my legal name to include my maiden name while keeping my married name, too. I applaud your journey to returning to what is right for you.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Kind off a different situation but I felt it worth sharing. My mother and father were high school sweethearts and married when she was 18 right after graduation. She took my dad’s name and never regretted it (side-note: her brother had no children and her maiden name will die out with her brother). My father passed in 2004 after they had been married 30 years. Luckily, she met a widower and they hit it off. They were married in 2009 and she kept my father’s last name. Surprisingly, my southern farm boy retired Marine step-father is 100% okay with it. In fact he goes with my mom to visit my father’s parents and attends my father’s family reunions with my mom. I think as long as you go with what feels right for you, you can’t go wrong.

    You do you Kelly Sue!

    Liked by 4 people

  11. 🙂 Congratulations, Kelly Sue Bembry!
    I was 30 when I got married, so I kept my maiden name and added my (ex) husband’s name. Ever since I have a double-barrel last name, yet I only use my maiden name. I’ve used to it all my life. I’ve been comfortable with it for more than 50 years. So I understand very well, why you’re going back to Bembry. Well done!
    Have a very HAPPY weekend🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Love your story! I’ve been happily not married to my partner for 22 years. The name thing was one reason for not getting married – no way was I going to change it, so why bother? The thought of taking on a different name just felt wrong.
    As for our daughters, they were automatically given their father’s surname – no choice there.
    It got confusing at school, their software could not cope with more than one name. I completed the form, and innocently popped myself in as “parent 1,” so the kids automatically got my name, As adults, two daughters use their father’s name and one uses “McGregor Wilson” everyday but officially she’s still a Wilson.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Great post. I’ve been married five years and haven’t changed my name. My husband is STILL annoyed by it and often makes (half) jokey references to me not being in the same family as him and our children (they have his name). I have considered double-barrelling my name but it’d be a real mouthful. The thing is, my maiden name is unusual – Hungarian – and I spell it every time I say it. His name is English, it is easy to say and spell. My life would be easier with his name. But still I don’t want to change it.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Happy birthday Kelly Sue Bembry. From this woman living in Somerset England… The west country. You do know people will say it wrong and spell it wrong occasionally regardless. But it is yours enjoy it.😊

    Liked by 2 people

  15. After a lot of resistance, I changed my name in my first marriage and wasn’t really happy about it because it never felt right. I had nothing against his family. They were and are wonderful people but I had my own name and it was part of an identity the predated him and suddenly it was gone. I felt like an appendage, just a piece of someone else for years until I divorced him and reinstated my name. I have since remarried, and I have no intention of changing my name ever again.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. I’m from India and even here nowadays women are very vocal about changing their names after marriage. I believe it should be completely that person’s choice to change her name after marriage or not. Forcing such a thing upon women is such a chauvinist thing to do where men do not even have to face anything like this.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. My husband and I are both in the USCG. I had been in for 12 years by the time we married, and I chose to keep my last name. You would think it wouldn’t be a big deal but we get some odd looks with the different names on each of our uniforms.
    One time however, we were traveling Space A, and my husband listed me as his dependent for travel. The Air Force agent at the ticket counter asked if we were married, and followed this up by,”Well, can you prove it? Do you have your marriage license?”
    I don’t know who carries around their marriage certificate but we sure didn’t.

    Thanks for your stories…I love that after so long you’re changing it back to what you want. So inspiring🙂 !

    Liked by 3 people

  18. I took my husband’s name initially, but then reclaimed my name about 10 years into our marriage. (I’m also a Kelly and live in Virginia and the process was pretty easy.) I think my husband was a little hurt by it, but also understood how I felt about the need for my own identity and the connection to my family. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, still refuses to acknowledge the change back to my maiden name.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. I too took a different name after my 2nd divorce. I wanted to honor my father but I was damned if I’d ever take a man’s name again. So I took my father’s mother’s maiden name. Yeah,yeah -it too came from a man but sometimes you just have to get on with it. Now I hear, Debbie Kerr? There was a famous actress, Deborah Kerr, to which I say, but my name is Debbie. People think I’m a bit touched to make such a big big deal out of a name, but they aren’t me and can’t get my perspective

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Your post and the reactions to it show how much names matter. I kept my maiden name when I got married. Both our names were too long to hyphenate. The kids did fine with it although my mother-in-law tried to convince me my maiden name was my “professional name.” Nope. It was my only name. Enjoy your name journey!

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Whoahoo!.. Happiee times Kelly Sue Bembry..😇
    Well I am a late 90s kid and I don’t have a surname so it was really good and interesting to know how much a Surname matters to people around me.
    I just cleared of all confusions about people’s reactions on knowing that I don’t have a “Surname” you see 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Good on you, Kelly Sue Bembry!
    If there’s one thing my native Canadian province (Quebec) got right – and there’s quite a bit it hasn’t – is that women who marry retain their maiden name. There’s none of that nuttiness of adopting a spouse’s name. It’s entrenched in the law and I think it rocks.

    Liked by 3 people

  23. I am not changing my name. Been married 3 yrs and i really dont see the need to. My husband keeps asking me why and i tell him i just want to keep my name. I dont think it is indicative of whether one would have a happy marraige or not. I also have a daughter from a prior relationship who has a different name so i hope by keeping my name she wouldnt feel too left out.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. This is a great post! I’m only 22 so I haven’t had this problem yet but I can completely understand how you feel. I would hate to give up my name. It’s been a part of me for as long as I remember, it’s my identity and to lose it would be like losing my previous life. But this was full of wit and humour and I could read it so easily and just get absorbed in your writing which I don’t get with a lot of people. Awesome!🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Im having a disagreement with my husband and father in law because I married the last branch guy (branch being our last name) I already have 1daughter and im pregnant with our second and let me tell you because everyone knows I plan on stopping after 2 I’m getting the well it better be a boy from my father in law. Why are last names such a huge deal to guys my daughter is still a Branch and even when she gets married her kids will still be Branch family.

    Like

  26. I know what You feel… in half a year I am getting married and really struggling with the name. If I change name it will małe my life easier but I might loose a bit of my self … hard decision

    Like

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