Give Me Back My Laney!

I’m having the darndest time holding onto my Laney.

It’s surprising, really, that in 2010, when Ms. magazine is in the quaint-retro-antique section of the library, that someone could have such a difficult time keeping her maiden name without seeming like a radical feminist bitch.

I’ve gone by a trio of names for 26 years and I’m still fighting with people who want to make me Diane L. Fitzpatrick, plain old Diane Fitzpatrick, the cute but impractical Miss Fitz, and in one egregious brain fart by my college alumni organization, Mrs. Timothy Fitzpatrick. (I know, I know. But it happened more than 10 years ago and I’m almost over it enough to start giving them money again. Almost.)

I made the decision shortly before my wedding to keep my maiden name as a non-hyphenated middle name and be a three-named person. At the time, it seemed like a nice, middle-of-the-road, keep-my-independence-yet-don’t-piss-off-my-inlaws, cover-all-bases, balance-on-the-fence kind of decision, which was what I was all about as a 25-year-old. Don’t make waves, don’t make a statement, don’t make people think you’re not grateful to get a husband. I looked to Clare Boothe Luce and Mary Tyler Moore for historical reference and support.

Almost immediately I regretted my decision to not hyphenate, which would have clearly marked out a territory for my Laney - at the beginning of my last name. By leaving it hanging untethered in the middle of my name, I allowed my Laney to be snatched, lost, misplaced and generally unwelcome on most forms.  The DMV told me it couldn’t come onto my driver’s license. My editor told me it wouldn’t fit in my byline on the front page.

When my Laney finally does get some recognition, it screws things up. I couldn’t find my runners’ packet at a race once, because they had filed it under L, making my last name Laney Fitzpatrick. I didn’t know whether to be glad or annoyed. I felt very Spanish.

Maiden names are like the crazy aunt in the attic. No one knows what to do with them and when they show up, it’s just an embarrassment to everyone. I was happy to find another writer who agrees with me on that. Rebecca Nappi wrote in the Spokane Chronicle that people who choose to be three-namers don’t want the hassles of a hyphen and want their children to have the same last name as them.

"She considered a hyphen, but rejected the idea. Hyphens were a trend for a while, but some names sounded ridiculous. When another friend, Ellie Lingner, married Charlie Bender, she considered becoming Ellie Lingner-Bender. “Can you imagine being a Lingner-Bender?” she said. “It sounds like something you’d eat in a German restaurant.”

The key to being a three-namer is to use it so often that people can’t imagine calling you anything else. (“Who the hell is Shirley Black? Oh, Shirley Temple Black!”)  Whether they’re women holding onto maiden names or famous men who just want to sound distinguished, a lot of people would never make it if their college alumni offices dropped their middle names: Do you know who Harriet Stowe is? How about Edgar Poe? Tommy Jones, John Booth, Daniel Lewis, James Jones and Mary Carpenter?

Last week I turned in an order for new checks at my bank. I told them everything was the same, no changes. Yet when my checks arrived, someone at the check-making factory had taken it upon themselves to change my name to Diane L. Fitzpatrick. When I called to tell them they were going to have to do it all over again and this time without losing my Laney, they didn’t see what the big deal was.

“OK, so that’s your name, but that’s not how you wanted it on there?”

Let me answer that question with another question: Do you know who Mao Tung is?

You can reach Diane Laney Fitzpatrick by emailing her at this fitting email address:

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