I met yet another old friend today who is appalled that my name is still Elma Shaw. He says he refused to let his wife even hyphenate her name, and could never have married a woman so modern. I, I suppose, could never have married a man so set in tradition.
It's not a common thing for a Liberian woman to keep her name after marriage. In fact, most people don’t even know it’s an option. I know one woman who still says, when she introduces me to someone else, “Sorry, I don’t know her real last name.” She smiles when she says it, but gives me a disapproving look at the same time. She's the kind that would call me by my husband's name if she knew it, despite knowing I have not adopted it. I don't mind at all when people call me by his name, and most times I don't even bother to correct them. But I might mind a bit if people who know my preference choose to ignore it out of their own disapproval.
Women have many different reasons for choosing to keep their maiden name or to take on their husband's name, and all of them are valid. After all, our names belong to us and we should be able to do whatever we want with them.
Sometimes, when people ask, wide-eyed with surprise, "You didn't change your name?" I say "No, and my husband didn't change his either." But really, my decision has less to do with feminist beliefs of equality and more to do with the fact that Elma Lorraine Shaw is who I have always been and who I always will be. It is my name and I am inspired to uphold it for the sake of my family, myself, and my own children. Finally, it is the name I always dreamed of seeing on Honor Roll lists, on diplomas, and in bold letters on books and on screen. As the dreams become reality, I love my name - and the modern me - even more.