Married name(s)

The name thing: I got to thinking about this because of a Twitter discussion about the effort women go through to change their names when they marry, which is actually a holdover from when we were chattel.

I’m married to my third husband, but use my first husband’s last name. A sorority sister I reunited with via Facebook refers to this as a “divorced name”, which I think is a good way to label it.

Second marriages are pretty common any more, so when I refer to my first as “the girls’ dad” in a way that makes it clear he's not My Wonderful Sweetheart, you assume MWS is #2, unless you actually met #2.

Almost no one did, as he was a bit of an agoraphobe and an introvert and absolutely hated the thought of the “Babbitts” he was sure he would meet at the thousand and one Chamber of Commerce-type events I attend (and enjoy) for my job.

The name? Well, my maiden name was Greene, spelled with an E. I was tired of spelling my last name all the time so as not to be confused with the color, thought Chamberlain was a nice distinguished name, wanted to share a last name with the children I knew we’d have. #1 was a feminist kind of guy and would have been willing to take my name, but it rhymed with his first name and that sounded really, really stupid.

I subsequently built up a lot of political and social capital (name ID, in political parlance). Brand equity, if you will, although there are lots of other Barb Chamberlains out there.

So when we divorced after nine years of marriage, I kept the name. This, even though by then I’d discovered the many ways people could misspell Chamberlain unless I helped them, so I was still spelling my last name all the time to avoid being –lin, -lane, -land, or -lun.

It had become my name, independent of how I acquired it, and I kept it on the way into—and out of—my second marriage and into the marriage that now makes me seriously, deliriously happy every day.

We clearly believe in marriage: My family’s marriage history is entertaining, or discouraging, or typical, depending on what you think about the odds of finding the right person for your whole life the very first time you try.

  • My parents (ages 91 and 87) have been married for 63 years.
  • My oldest brother: married to #5. He believes in marriage more than any of us, and I’m not being flippant. He really worked at it every time.
  • Second brother: #2.
  • Third brother: #2.
  • Older sister: #2.
  • Me: #3.
  • Younger sister: Never married, still with her first boyfriend, passing 20+ years.

Moral of the story: While my parents apparently got the secret of a successful marriage the first time, the only one in our family to be matching their success to date is the one who never got married.

As Eldest Daughter reassures me, third time is the charm for me. She’s right.