The decision to change your last name when getting married is fraught for many women — especially feminists. Strangely for me, a woman who has been comfortable with the feminist label since I was a young girl, changing my name was a no-brainer.
My reasons for choosing the name-change route are personal and have as much to do with my husband’s last name, Bloom, as they do with the institution of marriage.
First, some history. I was born in America to immigrant parents who never expected to stay here. The plan was four years of university for my father, then a few years of work. Nothing more than that. But life happened and we stayed.
Naturally, since they’re Israeli they gave me a Hebrew first name. I mean, why wouldn’t they? It’s their first language and was mine as well.
As luck would have it my last name was a mouthful. But one that is both culturally and historically significant. The name is Ashkenazi. Take it from me, Naama Ashkenazi is not an easy name to carry in the suburbs of New Jersey. But as I grew older, I started to feel attached, even proud of my name.
Once I became an adult, or rather, started living on my own and dealing with telemarketers for the first time, I learned that this big name was a pain in the ass. If I called a customer service line, I never even bothered saying my name. It went something like this.
Operator: I’ll look up your account, I just need your name first.
Me: N like Nancy, A like apple, another A like Apple, M like Mary, A like Apple. (Full name: 19 letters)
And while I understand how lucky I am in most aspects of my life, I longed for a simple name. I envied the Marys and Janes of the world.
Then there was the cultural significance of the last name. There are two types of Jews, Ashkenazi and Sephardic. The names denote what region your family comes from. Ashkenazi = “the west,” Sephardic = “the east.” Meeting anyone in the know meant hearing the joke, “so, I’m guessing you’re Sephardic” or people making an assumption about my relationship to my religion.
In short, this name had heft.
It always felt like a responsibility to carry this name around with me.
While I griped (to myself) about my name I also understood that it really did define me in some ways. Jewish, complicated, needs explanation, I could go on.
Cut to my mid 30s when I met my husband. From first date to engagement was four months. Six months later, we were married. As a career-driven singleton, I hadn’t given much thought to changing my name upon marriage but suddenly there it was, staring me down. I finally had the opportunity to shed this big name. It was a relief but a guilty one.
My husband, an outspoken feminist like me, really wanted me to take on the Bloom name. I listened to his main reason. It made sense to me (and I was — and still am — deeply in love and wanted to make him happy). It wasn’t about some manufactured fear that my kids teachers would never know who I was or that he wanted people to know I was “his.” For him, it was about unity — about becoming a team.
David played team sports growing up. He liked the sense of belonging to a team. I played sports in college, so this idea really resonated with me. I have such strong memories of cheering for my college ultimate frisbee team (The MudEaters) from the sidelines. It was unifying. A feeling of belonging.
We talked (for all of two seconds) about name combinations, but Bloomkenazi is a mess and Ashkebloom isn’t any better. I didn’t want to hyphenate my already long last name. So we chose his name, Bloom. It’s easy. And like Ashkenazi, has significance. The word speaks to the idea of growth, which felt real to me as I was entering this new chapter of my life.
Now, when people have questions about spelling my last name, I have a standard answer.
Bloom, like what a flower does in spring.