Are you kidding me?  You’re telling me that there’s a guy who changed his last name to her last name at their wedding?

Yup.  It’s true.  I did.

And in the aftermath of that controversial decision, it’s been nothing if not an interesting journey so far.   I’ve lost friends, I’ve been alienated by family members, and I’ve even been passed over for some rather lucrative job offers with some very conservative consulting firms, but still… I wouldn’t trade this experience… if for nothing else than for all the lessons the experience has taught me about the human mind… and about a true liberation from attachment.

Now… I’m sure after reading the title and first paragraph of this article that your mind is already starting to assemble thoughts about just what kind of man might change his last name to his bride’s at the wedding.  A lot of questions might come to mind.  Was this guy running from his past, wanting to change his name from one that was tainted by scandal or a legal history, or a credit history?  Or is he simply a pushover of a man who didn’t have the backbone to defend the use of his family’s name within the new union?  Or is he actually a staunch supporter of women’s rights, or maybe an anti-social contrarian, somehow making an activist statement by doing the opposite from what is traditional regarding name changes?

And given the current numbers from polls of your fellow humans, these are valid questions that many people might ask.  Because simply put… the whole guy-changing-his-name-to-hers idea… is just different.  It’s not even on the charts.  In fact, the American Sociological Association put out a report that stated 70% of Americans believe woman should take their husband’s last name, while 29% say it’s better for women to keep their own name.  Um… notice that there isn’t even a category for men to change their names to the wife’s name?  Although… it should be noted… that if you’re quick with math, even in that report there’s still 1% that’s unaccounted for.  Maybe those 1%ers were the ones who said “the dude should change his name”.  More likely, it was probably “get outta my face with your clipboard, asshole”.

But why not?  Why shouldn’t it be more normal for guys (if they have the balls to do so – and make no mistake, it takes balls) to change their names to that of their bride’s name at the time of their wedding?

Well, one reason that might stand in the way is that it’s somewhat illegal in 40-some out of 50 states (it was illegal in 44 states at the time of my marriage in ’03).  Although it’s a simple paper form for the bride to change her name to his in all 50 states, in over 80% of the union, if the guy wants to change his name to hers, it basically requires a separate court-reviewed name change process that is independent of the nuptial ceremony.  And where most the time for the female the process is free or near-free, for the guys often there’s a hefty court fee attached of somewhere between $200 – $500, with public announcements and newspaper ads, a pile of paperwork, a written explanation to the court of the reasons for the application to change his name, etc., etc., etc.

A couple in 2008 actually sued California for the right to change his name to hers without all the extra penalty… and won the suit.  It still took two years and a law change to get it done.  In the case of my name change… I think we just got lucky.  We lived in Georgia at the time… yup… Georgia… easily what can be considered the business end of the Bible Belt… the only state in the union where there’s a city that requires gun ownership if you own a home there.  And for some reason probably connected with the fact that the conservative Georgia legislature never in their wildest dreams imagined that a man would ever want to change his name to that of his wife at the wedding (and therefore never made a law forbidding it), the county form was such that I could fill it out to show my decision to change my name to my soon-to-be wife’s name… not the o’er way ‘round.

That said… I must add here that although the fact that doing so was officially legal… and the fact that the form was appropriate for the change… all that didn’t save us from the amused grin on the lady’s face at the Gwinnett County Marriage Registration desk, nor did it save us from all the giggles, smirks, and looks of disbelief from the ladies behind said desk, when we informed them that we had indeed NOT mistakenly filled the form out the wrong way, and that YES, it was indeed my intention (as the man) to change my name to my intended bride’s instead of her changing hers to mine.  I bet they got some even bigger chuckles out of it after we left.

Of course, those reactions aren’t as egregious as the one I got from the Washington Mutual mortgage company after the wedding was over.  You’ll love this little sidebar:

After the wedding and the official and legal name change, I asked for, and was sent the paperwork for the name change for the mortgage on our house held by Washingon Mutual.  I filled the paperwork out appropriately, and sent it in.  Two weeks later, we got a new mortgage statement with the names Sean and Whitney Cogswell on it (my previous name).  I figured it was an honest mistake, and I’d just call to clear it up.

So I called the 1-800 number on the paperwork, and after being passed up to a supervisor in charge of name changes, we finally got to an understanding of why I was calling.

“So you want me to change your name to your wife’s name instead of hers to yours?” she asked.

“That is correct,” I replied.

“Umm… … … I can’t do that,” she said.

“Thinking I didn’t yet have the right person with the ability to make the change, I said, “Well someone over there surely can.  It’s a simple change of name, and the computer doesn’t know the difference between male and female, so if you changed hers to mine, it’s a simple process of changing them both back.”

She paused, obviously searching.  “No… the computer won’t allow it,” she replied back to me.

I know the computing world rather well, understand the power that root access grants, and I know her statement to be false.  So I responded in simple defiance, “Sure it can.  The computer doesn’t discriminate between one name and another, and I’m sure it’s been done before. You just need to find the computer admin with the authority to change it.”

She was silent.

Sensing this was not really a technical issue, I continued.  “You have the copy of the court paperwork I submitted with the bank name-change document?” I asked.

“Yes, we have it.  They scanned it in,” she replied.

“So you have the court order, which shows my name being changed to hers, so you can change it,” I suggested.

I could hear some frustration on the other end of the phone without her even speaking.  There was hesitated breathing, a frustrated sigh, then all of a sudden… “Please hold.”

I was on hold for a full three minutes before she came back.

There seemed to be a new enthusiasm in her previous position. “Sir, I’m not going to be able to change your name to your wife’s name,” she said vehemently.

I brought up the previous argument point, “But the computer can do it…”

“Yes, sir.”  She relented, almost interrupting me.  So now she was admitting it was possible.

I paused.  I wasn’t expecting that response.

“And you have the court paperwork showing my name is legally changed?” I asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“And you’re not going to change the names… why… exactly?”  ( And as long as I live, I will never forget the words that came from the other end of the line: )

“We just don’t do that.”

“You just don’t do that?” I asked incredulously.

“No sir.”

There was a pregnant pause, as that I was held literally speechless.

“Can I help you with anything else today?” she asked.

Had issue had been resolved?  No.  Hmm.  So I thought for a second.  We had just passed into the surreal.

Now… understanding how all human emotion works is a wonderful thing.  For if I were a “normal” person… without the knowledge of how to separate myself from negative emotion… I might have gotten upset or angry at the person on the other end of the line.  But I know how the whole process works, so instead of falling into the same old trap of yelling at this person to try and persuade them to relent their position, which would only provide more resistance from them and make the situation worse, I was able to take a different path.

It is at this point that if I were to be holding on to any attachment regarding the expected outcome of this call, I might well be having some kind of negative emotional reaction at this point.  I had certainly started the call with an expectation of how the call was going to go, but now that it wasn’t going that way, instead of allowing the negative emotion to arise within me due to the imbalance of the equation of emotion, I released my attachment to that expected outcome, emptying the equation.  Instead of letting the difference between [what I wanted or expected] and [what I perceived to be happening] create a negative emotional response, I simply accepted the new situation as it was at that moment.  From a pragmatic non-emotional perspective, the mortgage company had now changed the paperwork on the mortgage to show other people now owed the money for the house than people who had signed the paperwork to buy the place.

Yes, I knew it was the individual decision of the person on the other end of the line not to help me.  Yes, I thought this might cause issues down the road if we ever decided to sell the house.  But instead of getting angry, I jettisoned my attachment to my expected outcome of the call, and accepted the situation that was… which was that the mortgage company now expected someone else to pay the note on the house.  Frankly, from a non-emotional perspective, this was not a completely disagreeable situation.

“Well… then I guess I should inform you that Washington Mutual has received its last mortgage payment from us, ” I stated flatly.

You could hear the statement throw her off balance.  “What do you mean?”

“We’re not going to send any more payments,” I replied.

“Why would you do that? If you don’t send any payments, we’ll foreclose on the property,” she said.

“Yes, you’ll ATTEMPT to foreclose, but you’re going to send the Sheriff out with paperwork that has the names Sean and Whitney Cogswell on it… and they don’t exist… and I have paperwork with our legal names that say we signed for the place… so basically you’re providing us with a very generous wedding gift, which I would like to thank you for.  And beyond that, I don’t think I need any other assistance from you today, thanks.”

I hung up before she could reply.

Two weeks later, the next statement arrived in the mail, addressed to Sean and Whitney Webb.  I guess they got the point.

In hindsight, it makes an amusing story.  While I was actually living it… it wasn’t so amusing.

So back to the original question:  Why would I put myself through all the heartache of being different from the rest of society on changing my last name to my wife’s?  Why risk the alienation of some of my family (which has happened as a result), and the loss of friends (which has also happened as a result), and why risk the scrutiny of future employers doing background investigations (which has also happened – this name change has cost me some pretty lucrative jobs when it has been uncovered my last name used to be different than it is now)?  Why go through all that?

What were those initial thoughts we discussed in the opening paragraphs?  Was I running from a bad name or situation?  Or not strong enough to assert my male dominance in the marital union?  Or simply an activist rebelling against societal norms?  I can assure you that none of those explanations can be further from the truth.  But let’s tackle them in order just for fun before I tell you exactly why I did it:

Was I running from a bad last name?

No.  Well… not in my opinion, anyway.  My previous last name was Cogswell, which may not sound all that great in comparison to Webb… and although some of you who are old enough may have memories of “Cogswell’s Cogs” in the classic Jetson’s cartoon series… all that aside… the family name actually carries a ton of prestige both in the UK and America.  Descended from Knighted Scottish and British royalty back from the dark ages, Cogswells first showed up in America from London in 1635.  They helped industrialize much of the northeast, and later became staunch and powerful supporters of US independence from both England (Cogswell’s Regiment Militia helped save the Battles of Lexington and Concord and also defended the Continental Army against the British’s Saratoga Campaign), and later from other worldly aggressors (Cogswells commanded naval task forces in both the Spanish-American War, and in WWI).  A Fletcher-class destroyer was honorably named the USS Cogswell in WWII, which served up through the Viet Nam War.  Presently, one of the top Polytechnical Universities in the country is Cogswell College in Sunnyvale, California, founded by my great-great-grandfather.

Okay, so my family surname is nothing to run from, but could I have been a bad apple that was running from a documentation of my own personal past?  Well, although I haven’t quite made history like my ancestors did, I didn’t really sully my old moniker either.  At the time I got married, I was an honorably discharged military veteran who had built a good reputation in an established high-tech field.  I had no legal issues, no moral or societal blemishes, and I even had a good credit rating.

Okay, so was I a psychological pushover who was intimidated by a domineering wife who coerced me into me changing my name to hers?

Not hardly.  In fact at the point that I informed my wife I would be changing my name to hers, she had battled through her personal position that she wanted to keep her last name, and had agreed to change it to mine.  I voluntarily offered the option for me to change mine instead.

Okay, so am I just a rebel looking to do the opposite from everyone else for the point of being different from the status quo?

Again, no.  With the exception of me changing my last name, my wife and I are pretty normal… the snapshot of the typical suburban American couple with a young child.

Hmmm.  Okay…

So what exactly made me change my last name to my wife’s, going against hundreds of years of religious tradition, and cultural conventionalism?

In a word… Spirituality.

Identity is a funny thing.  As we will discuss moving forward in the video series, what we think of identity has nothing to do with spirituality.  In our worldly reality, identity its an invention of the mind.  Who you are (or more accurately – who you think you are) is a culmination of what your mind attaches to when you try to think about the definition of who and what you are.  These attachments are ideas that help your mind define you.  But in reality, this mindful definition of you is not really who you are.  They are simply ideas that your mind tries to cling to when it wants to try to create the mindful self identity called the ego.  And as we will learn, the ego isn’t who you are.  It is simply the mind’s limited definition of you.

And within this definition is included your name.  So does your name really identify you?  No.  And did my previous name identify me?  Again, no.

The real identity of who we are resides within that of the Spirit within us.  Spirituality is the identity that we have beyond our minds and bodies that most of us don’t even recognize exists.  But it’s there, and it’s the real deal.  It’s the identity that all the ancient divine sages spoke of.  It’s the identity that Jesus called the light within.

So when I changed my last name at my wedding to that of my wife’s last name, to me it was no more difficult than changing my shirt.  The name that I had while growing up had become nothing more than an outward identifier for others to be able to speak to me, or speak about me when I wasn’t in the room.  So my name had absolutely no authority for me in defining who I AM.  Just like my prestigious family history still has no authority in defining who I AM.  Did I not have a sense of pride in that history, and in my family name?  There’s a reason that Pride is listed amongst the Seven Deadly Sins, and although we gloss over the ‘positive’ prides as being ‘okay’, we will discuss why they are not in future video episodes.  I try not to allow pride into my life, period.

Who I AM is defined by my Spirit, and by my actions.  Who I AM is who I AM when I AM alone, not influenced by the limitations or interactions with others within the external world.  Who I AM is who I AM when I am without bounds… when other people, and indeed the universe itself… becomes the full encompassment of who I AM.  When I AM one with everything, names for the other need not exist.  There is no other.  Who I AM is what I do every day, and how I exist within Spirit.  So in this worldly existence, you can call me Snuffeluppagus for all I care.  It will not change who I AM.

I must admit however, that there was a great deal of liberation and even a little exhilaration that came with changing my last name.  It’s probably similar to that felt of an explorer like Christopher Columbus, who after believing the world was round, after preaching that it was to everyone who’d listen, and after drumming up money for the voyage across the supposed ends of the Earth, actually cast off the ropes from the docks and headed out to sea on a potential one-way trip.  Well… here we go.  I’m really going to do this.

So, in wrapping up this long post… it was simply for my wife’s preference to keep her slick sounding name, Whitney Webb… and for my acknowledgement that society gets less confused when families have the same last name, coupled with the fact that I am not defined by whatever moniker you attach to me… that I changed my last name at my wedding to my wife’s last name.  And frankly I did so without hesitation. I wanted to give my name change to her as a wedding gift.  She had a little more attachment to her name than I had to mine.  And so I made it happen for her.

So I guess it wasn’t that I was so insecure in my existence that I was bullied out of my old name into that of my bride’s.  It was actually that I’m so secure in my Spiritual identity that I was able to release the worldly label that  society had placed on me as an identifier, and took whatever name I wanted to take.  And I’d do it again, given the same choice.  It’s a liberating practice to devoid yourself of worldly attachment so as to more align yourself with your spiritual existence.

If you let me, I’ll show you how you can jettison a bit of your invented identity so you too can discover your Spiritual identity that hides beneath it (don’t worry… I won’t ask you to change your name).  Just subscribe to the blog.  We’re editing the Body Mind Spirit 101 videos now.  They should start posting soon.

Peace.

 

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