The question of ‘what’s in a name’ is one Kristine Gick and Jason Wagner have been pondering for a long time.
Gick (pronounced ‘jick’) has just sent in government documents to change her name. And – so has Wagner.
They are both changing their last names to a new one, one that contains letters from both their surnames.
Once the documents are processed, the couple will be Kristine and Jason Wickner.
Kristine explains she became curious about names when she was a child. Her mom’s surname at birth had been Grattan, her dad’s Gick. When her parents married, her mom changed her name to Grattan Gick.
“I was probably super annoying, always asking why, why, why about everything,” says Kristine. “I liked my name, I was proud of my name. But if my mom’s name was Grattan Gick, why weren’t we?”
It led her to think about when she has kids of her own.
“I had a disconnect – my mom had feminist values but it didn’t get translated into my name.”
Jason says that before he and Kristine got married two years ago, they began discussing what to do.
“We’re really big on equality, and we thought, well we’ll just keep our own names.”
However, then they considered children.
“How do you explain to future children, why do you have Daddy’s name or Mommy’s name?” Jason asks.
They also considered hyphenated names, but decided no. When the children get married, they could end up with several hyphens.
The idea of creating a new, shared name came from a movie Kristine watched.
“I would like to note he has more letters than I do, but percentage wise it’s pretty close,” says Kristine with a grin.
Both she and Jason emphasize that although the combined name is right for them, they don’t judge what other people choose.
“I don’t think any person takes what your identity will be as a married person lightly,” says Kristine. “I have friends who took their husband’s name, but they were still as thoughtful and intentional as our decision.”
The couple considered keeping their current names for work, given that they’ve both worked hard to build a name in their respective fields. However, Kristine has recently changed careers. Jason is soon to become a professional engineer, so he must use his legal name on documents. The time seemed right.
Jason says the new name appeals to his sense of fairness.
“It goes back to the dad basically selling his daughter – now you’re his property and you have the same last name. Just because it’s the way it was always done and traditionally, it doesn’t make it right.”
Jason said while his family had a little resistance at the beginning because it was a new idea and there were thoughts of losing his heritage, they now understand.
“If you do it the ‘normal’ way, you’re still losing that heritage,” he says, noting that on a family tree, the woman’s birth name is normally in brackets, so her heritage disappears. But with a new, shared name, the woman’s and the man’s birth names would be in brackets.
Both Jason and Kristine say most people express positive reactions to their plans.
“My co-workers said do it quickly so we can use you as an example,” Jason smiles.
Kristine points out there are lots of logical solutions to any problems people present to them. She notes that a few people have said creating a new name “is way out there, so non-traditional,” but she sees the opposite.
“It’s very traditional, having one name for a nuclear family.”
One thing that frustrates her is some people assume Jason could not possibly be okay with the plan and is only doing it because she is forcing him.
“It paints a picture of me as a monster, dominating, and creates the story and narrative that Jason doesn’t have a backbone… so it’s painful to both of us.”
A few people have said, ‘why do you care, it’s just a name?’
Kristine responds by turning the question around: “Why do you care, it’s just a name?”
She sees the plan as an evolution.
“Because my mom had already recognized there was a problem. She was one step in the evolution.”
Jason and Kristine expect to receive confirmation of their new name within two weeks. It will have cost them about $1,000 total.
Jason says it has seemed harder for him to make the change, as some clerks he encountered hadn’t done it before. But he doesn’t see himself as a groundbreaker. He says he and Kristine are both very aware of gender issues.
“I’ve never tried to follow the ‘men can’t cry,’ the stereotypical stuff. I don’t see myself as a trailblazer, I see it as what comes naturally…, what should be normal.”
Kristine sums up their decision.
“It’s about people who have identities separate from each other but who are wanting to have something that represents the partnership we have together.”