She-Section Week 2: Not in His Name?

First of all, thank you for all of your awesome comments in last week's post. Even my Nana came out to comment about her multi-volume set of the unexpurgated version of Arabian Nights, Burton's beautifully written Victorian pornography. It reminded me of the time my mom offered to buy me a vibrator in high school because she didn't want me to get (ahem) pregnant unexpectedly and "the best birth control is masturbation."

I was mortified at the time, of course. But also relieved that sexuality was something almost mundane in its normalcy. So, when people try to tell me that "these conversations should be reserved in private friend circles," I call bullshit. If my blue-blooded Grandmother can talk about her pornographic novels and disapproval of threesomes in a public forum and my mom can preach the gospel of masturbation as birth control, then it is my familial obligation to talk about sex until I'm 100 years old. Because simply put, there's nothing to be ashamed of.


Moving on to names. NAMES. Ah, the million dollar question, right? The "you're damned whatever you do" conundrum of getting married and having kids. One of my biggest regrets in life was that I never put a dog in the "my last name, too" fight. Or at least, it was until a few months ago, when my mind changed and I finally let go.

Before Hal and I married I agreed to take his name. Or at least, I told him I was fine with it. I liked Isaacson and thought Rebecca Isaacson had such profound biblical appeal (Isaac was married to Rebekah in the Bible, which in my world, is, like totally a sign) I was willing to trade in the name I had spent twenty-three years attached to. Not that I was willing to ditch Woolf entirely. Woolf was too good. Too strong. Too literary and cool and nice try, marriage. Nice try. The plan was to keep Woolf professionally and adopt Isaacson as my legal name.

So. On our way home from Vegas I recorded my new outgoing voice message. "Hey, you've reached Rebecca Isaacson, leave a message and I'll get right back to you. Thanks so much! Bye"


The beep was my mind blowing to smithereens.

It wasn't right. It didn't sound right. It wasn't me. I assumed it was just one of those "time will make it seem more kosh" situations but weeks went by and then months and then...

"How long did it take you to get used to Woolf when you married Dad?" I asked my mom.

"I don't know. A few weeks?"

One day Hal asked me when I was going to change my name and I burst into tears.

That was it. He was fine with it. I changed my outgoing message back to Woolf and never looked back. Not until a few years ago, anyway, when I was pregnant with Fable and asked what Hal thought about her taking my name instead of his.

I knew we were having a girl and it just made sense to me that the boys would get Isaacson and the girls would get Woolf. After all it was IsaacSON not IsaacDAUGHTER, you know what I mean?

"You want our kids to go through life with different last names?"

At the time I did not. I wanted them to feel united. I didn't want them to have to explain themselves.

And yet.

Why his? Why his last name and not mine? What kind of message was that sending them? 

I panicked soon after Fable was born. That the word "son" tacked on to the end of her name was somehow cruel and unusual. I became obsessed, even fixated on "..son" as an archaic misnomer.

"Bec, it's just a name."

Hal was not allowed to speak on the subject, naturally.

"It's just your name, you mean?" said I, burning my bra.

This continued for years. I would bring it up and Hal would feel terrible and I would guilt him and he would roll his eyes at me and when we found out we were pregnant with twin girls I got even MORE pissy about the whole thing.




That's when Hal was like, "you need to either get over this thing or we need to go change all of our names."

But I didn't want Hal to have my last name (for the same reason I didn't want his) and Archer was used to his name and Fable was used to hers and hyphenating Isaacson with Woolf sounded wordy and I didn't like that either.

ED: All of the same-sex parents we know hyphenated their kids' last names which makes sense because there is no sex differential as default (womp womp) aka hyphenating is definitely the "our names both matter equally" way to go. Of course, then you have your kids' futures to think about a la what happens when THEY have children with potentially-hyphenated-four-times-or-more-names.

Basically? We all lose, girls.


I came to peace with the fact that I would live the rest of my life resentful of Hal for having a penis and being the default last name person.

That was the case until a few months ago, when my in-laws were out visiting for Bo and Revi's first birthday and my father-in-law, in all his master storytelling ways, sat down to tell me the story of his grandfather's immigration from Poland to New York by way of Ellis Island.

"His name was Wolf, you know."


"My grandfather's name was Wolf."

"Wolf Isaacson?"

"Originally his name was Wolf Poloahjshadkjwitz. Something like that. Very Polish sounding but it was too hard to pronounce and his father's name was Isaac, so when he came to New York, they renamed him Wolf Isaacson. Because he was Isaac's son and that's the way they did things in those days."

I promptly burst into tears.

It was a sign. And even though Wolf was spelled differently and had nothing to do with me at all, I felt like, suddenly, everything was...  connected? I guess?

I thought of the similar origins of the Woolf family, immigrants from England who were able to keep their names because they were easy enough to pronounce. I thought about all of the names that had been changed through the years. Not because of marriage but because of travel, change, necessity, even survival. I thought of strangers who couldn't pronounce Poloahjshadkjwitz and I felt, for the first time, at peace.

In the Bible, Isaac's son was Rebekah's son as well (Sons, actually. They had twins.) and in real life, Isaacson was also Wolf. That's like a double rainbow in the sign department. Or not. Maybe they're all just names and stories and I'm just doing what I do, trying to fit the pieces together in a way that makes me feel better about things that make me feel impotent as a mother, wife, and yes, feminist. Maybe I'm just like any other person trying to justify our very patriarchal naming system.

But it's what works for me.

Names have always been hugely important to me - the need to give my children names with meaning. And yet, the more I experience the more I realize there's meaning in absolutely everything. That behind the scenes of every name are a thousand others. And those names have names and three point one four repeating dot dot dot.

Before sitting down to write this post I asked myself, if I could go back in time and hyphenate Archer's name, would I? If I could go back and make some kind of cool fusion "Isaawoolf" name to give my children would I want to?

And I don't think I would.

Not anymore.
Mama Woolf, Daughters Isaacson

Someone recently asked me if it was weird for me that my kids have Hal's last name.

I used to say, "yes."

Now I explain, in my long-winded way that I feel like they have mine, too.

And strange as it sounds, that's exactly how it feels.


What about you guys? Did you keep your name when you married and/or committed to your significant other? Do your children have your name? Your partner's name? Both? How did you decide on this? Do you regret it? Any advice and/or insight for those grappling with how to go about this? Cannot WAIT to hear from you on this one. Pass the popcorn, please.