somewhere along my twenty-second year i decided that if i reach the age of twenty-four without marrying, i will keep my maiden name. as the Chinese zodiac consists of twelve animals, each zodiac year reached (in multiples of twelve) usually calls for some sort of special celebration. last time it happened i was uprooted from China and moved here with rudimentary knowledge of Western culture, mostly scavenged from books like Shiloh, Little Rascal, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and a bare-bone understanding of the English language, courtesy of Chinese elementary schooling’s attempt to broaden our little overworked minds. now they teach English in kindergarten.
so, this zodiac year around, i will stake my claim on nomenclature autonomy. gentlemen, you have a little over a month to sabotage my plans.
my decision is influenced by several elements, none of which are out of spite for my eventual husband. professionally, i will likely have published research articles under my maiden name, which will streamline search engines whenever necessary. evidently PubMed assigns a number to each published author and whenever a name is changed, they add more numbers onto your name. human bar-coding, anyone?
personally, i have grown to enjoy a name that threatens to inflict brain hernia whenever pronunciation is attempted. the first days of classes were always amusing and embarrassing: the teacher would arrive at the end of the name list, frown, flinch, then slowly inhale. then i’d raise my hand and say “i’m here! i go by Hannah” and watch their faces return to their natural shades. hopefully a name like mine will dissuade identity thieves. too many Z’s at inconvenient places.
however, i believe another reason makes the case. in Lois Lowry’s A Summer to Die, Maria told Meg how she’s proud of what she has accomplished and who she has been as Maria Abbott, aside from the wife of Ben Brady. she doesn’t take his name not because she doesn’t love him–or love him any less–but because she is herself and her name has been part of that identify, apart from her other roles and whatever exogenous thing she has become attached to. when i am young it’s easy to want to be identified with something great and impressive and washes over the tongue like fine wine so i can say, why yes, i am this and this and this while underneath all that i am really hoping for you to approve of me, and i think that by associating myself with something, someone, some title, you’d like me more. i wonder if that’s the same when i get older. i hope not.
a mother wrote to her daughters once, you are not precious because you are pretty or you can paint or make boys fall in love with you or because you earned a scholarship to attend Stanford; you are precious because you are here. i like that, and that’s something not only young women but everyone who is here should know too. and i think that’s why i want to keep my name so i am reminded i am me. i am here and i want to bring beauty into the little piece of the world i inhabit, and i want you to know that you are precious because you are here. you are you, and the world is a little bit more beautiful because of you.