Moving Forward

Must widows change their name?

Must a widow change her name back to her maiden name? Or do we keep the married name?

Growing up in the 1960s, I hated my name. I was the only girl in my school, at that time, named Kristin. My teachers were confused. They insisted on calling me Christine. Some people called me Christian. They spelled it wrong either starting with a C or ending with “en”. Even my last place of employment, where I worked for 21 years, made the consistent error of spelling my name with an “en” despite my many efforts of correction.

I really wanted to fit in and have a name like the other girls ending in the “eee” sound. Why couldn’t my mom have called me Julie, or Debbie, or Heidi? Years later when I asked her about this, she told me she thought people would call me Kristi. Really? No one ever did. I think you have to initiate that nickname if you are the mother, I told her.

To top it off, my mom decided to use her name as my middle name. Another name I was sure no one except for Austrailians have heard of. Adelaide. Kristin Adelaide was the most obscure name and I was embarrassed to share that top secret information with others.

Of course, my mom never went by Adelaide with her peers. Only her sister called her Adelaide, and it always sounded like she was saying it in a most mocking manner. My mom went by Addie, so even she preferred that “eee” sound at the end of her name. She was popular, and never had an issue fitting in!

Then I grew up with a famously infamous last name. Once people heard the name Sanders, they immediately asked if I was related to the KFC colonel and had a good chuckle over their cleverness. It was easy enough to spell and pronounce, but I did not like that I was always near last when things were done in alphabetical order in school. Being a first born and natural high achiever, being last was not my favorite thing to be.

When I was married at 25 years of age, the idea of women hyphenating their name with their husband’s was all the rage. I considered this fad, but having a background as a teacher, I decided it would be easier for our children if we all just had the same name. Coming from a family of traditionalists, it seemed like the appropriate thing to do. I changed my middle name from Adelaide to Sanders, and my new last name became Divers. It was easy to spell. Surprisingly, people often had trouble pronouncing it – like they expected it to be some strange sounding word like Dee-vers. No, I would explain. Like a scuba diver. Best of all, I was thrilled to be listed near the front of the alphabet, whenever that was relevant.

For 30 years I taught in elementary school and I was known as Mrs. Divers. I taught kindergarten for 21 of those years in the same neighborhood where I lived. Lots of families remember their child’s kindergarten teacher. I would often walk through the supermarket and be stopped by 3 or 4 families with a look of excited surprise as they would see me and exclaim, “Mrs. Divers” across the store. I didn’t always remember the child’s name until I was driving home. It was a bit like how movie stars must feel, and I soon started to do my grocery shopping in the next town after 9pm.

Over the years, generous parents created signs and bags with the name Mrs. Divers on them. I had name stickers made to insert into my collection of children’s books that I would let colleagues borrow as needed. On occasion, the secretary would announce over the PA system, “Mrs. Divers please call the main office”. I was Mrs. Divers, and Mrs. Divers was me.

After Mike died, I didn’t really think about my name much. I had lots of paperwork to deal with and everything was in both of our names. Taking him off the bank accounts, credit cards, car loans, and mortgage took time and effort. Changing my name back to my maiden name was never considered.

A woman can change her name back to a maiden name after her spouse dies. However, legal hoops are enforced for widows to change their name. Some places require you show proof of death with a death certificate before allowing a name change. Some courts even require the widow to post notice of her new name in the newspaper. Interestingly enough, if a woman divorces, a shortcut is provided for her to easily change her name back to her maiden name, as part of the divorce decree.

I had no desire to change my name. One day, I received a memo sent home to parents that no longer had my name Mrs. Divers, but now had my name written as Ms. Divers. This brought me to tears. Admittedly, lots of things brought me to tears in those early days, but I had not agreed to a new identity. I was still Mrs. Divers. After ruminating at home all night and rehearsing how I would approach the office staff with my indignation, I made my declaration that I would always be Mrs. Divers and please keep it that way for future correspondence. My sweet, school secretary was genuinely sorry and insisted she only did it because to her it sounded younger. We smiled, and I continued to stay with my familiar title.

Then I met Pete. My fabulous boyfriend asked me to marry him and we had a lovely ceremony one summer day, four years after Mike had passed away. I was happy and I would not have to spend the rest of my life alone. I loved being a wife the first time, and I knew I would love it this time too. There was just one little catch. Pete would like me to take his name.

Great idea, I thought, but does it have to be official? I had so many things in my name. Car titles and my mortgage, bank and credit card accounts, my new passport and license, just to name a few. I decided I would change my name at school that year, so I signed my welcome letter to my new class, Mrs. Markey. I was called into the office. I was not allowed to do that, unless it was official. Just send them a copy of my new Social Security card I was told. I did not have time to get a new Social Security card. I was leaving for my trip to Africa and wouldn’t be back until school started. I would stay Mrs. Divers for the time being.

As the months went by, I didn’t think too much about changing my name. Then my mom passed away. In her will, she had determined a third of her estate would go to Kristin Divers. I could not change my name until that was settled.

Next, came the pandemic. Everything was closed. How does one change their name when all the offices shut down and we are quaranting. I would wait until things opened up a bit.

Then, I decided to sell my house. The mortgage was in Mike’s and my name. It was enough to provide a death certificate for the sale. I did not want to have a different name too. I would wait until the house was sold.

So, here I am. Two years after getting married to Pete and finally getting around to changing my name. The government offices in Florida have been more accommodating than they were in New York. COVID-19 still continues to affect businesses. I started with the social security office, then changed my driver’s license and passport. I opened a Florida bank account, and have sent copies of my marriage license and new driver’s license to a few places that require proof to change my name.

I am using my new name in our Florida community, although I seldom hear anyone call me Mrs. Markey. It is a nice name and located right in the middle of the alphabet, if I am ever in that situation again. Best of all, it is the name of my husband and I am thrilled to be his wife and share his name. Now, time to order some monogrammed sheets and a new personalized beach bag. I’ve waited long enough and I’m ready to embrace the name.

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