After 57 years, I am no longer Catharine Hamm.
It feels strange to write this and felt even stranger to have done it. I was more nervous at the DMV and Social Security than I was on my wedding day, as evidenced by the fact that I screwed up the DMV form twice. It’s such a habit to write “Hamm” under “Name” that I did that. Of course, the DMV thought it was a little odd that I was changing my name from Hamm to Hamm and pointed out that I probably needed to write “Skolnik” under the name.
I did, and, for some reason, promptly ripped up the form. (In my defense, I thought I was ripping up the incorrect version.) Yes, I was rattled. But so was the DMV clerk when I pointed out she had erred by forgetting to put my motorcycle license classification on the form. She looked at me and at my old license and then flounced off. How dare I be an old lady on a motorcycle? But I digress. (You'd be surprised if I didn't, wouldn't you?)
The license and Social Security are just the start. Next will be the passport, the deed to the house, my trust, my mother’s trust, my credit cards—the list is staggering.
Which raises this issue: Why do it at all? It’s such an old-fashioned notion to take a spouse’s name. After all, when I had the chance to change it on my marriage license, I didn’t. Now it’s almost four years after the fact.
One easy but not simple answer is my husband’s daughter’s wedding—my stepdaughter.
The fact that I’m calling her my stepdaughter says something about how far our relationship has come in eight years—from sniping and snotty to solid and caring.
She is getting married in April and is leaving her maiden name behind.
But until that date, we are Carl and Catharine and Jessica Skolnik. We are a united front against all forces that would seek to make this less than the happiest day of her life.
And although Carl has seen repeated demonstrations of this, I wanted him to know with certainty that I also stand with him and by him in all circumstances, except for maybe when he is declaring the Three Stooges the funniest act ever and his absolutely wrong-headed views on the death penalty. (By the way, don't mention this change to him just yet. He doesn't know--won't until the holidays are officially here. It will either be the worst gift ever or a lovely surprise. In either case, I want to see his face as he tries to absorb this.)
I’m not leaving Hamm behind completely. I will still be Hamm professionally—maybe because there’s no form to fill out that says, “I used to be known as this and now I’m this.” I’m still CatHamm on Twitter. Heck, this blog site is still Hamm Party of One. I mean, just because Tide takes on a few new ingredients in its detergent mix, it doesn’t leave its old name behind. And as my digitally savvy friends point out, your name is a brand. (Alas, Hamm happened to be a brand—of really bad beer. Maybe I should rebrand…No, no, too much to think about.)
Leaving Hamm makes me a tad wistful. I was the last one in the family; there are no kids to carry on the name. But other than the novelty of it, there is no particular nobility in being that party of one in a family that included more than its share of scandals and scoundrels and sad stories. Not that the Skolnik side is much better. We are families, after all. It's part of the package.
Besides, what families are without troubles? As I reflect at this time of the year on the Holy Family, I am awed by their unity in times of joy and times of trouble.
So this Irish German Catholic girl has cast her lot with the Russian Hungarian Jews. We are the Skolniks. United we stand.