Sunday, May 22, 2011

Essay: Married Names

Women gain something and lose something when they change their names. When I married Gary in 1980, I was thrilled to exchange my original name for my new name. A new identity. I was no longer the prissy-sounding Susan Harriss, I was Susan Cox. Just like that.

It wasn't until several years later that I realized how many Susan Coxes there were. At my local library branch there were six of my name. I became a professional artist as Susan Cox. I was Susan Cox for a long time. Then I needed something more. It was Gary's suggestion (he is my muse, after all) to use my middle name to make my name more unique while I was building an artist site. Susan Linnet Cox. I became Susan Linnet Cox and now the simpler name seems far too plain. I don't even recognize it. I have written a book, and become an educator, as Susan Linnet Cox. That is who I am. Named after a European songbird that feeds on flax.

I was thinking about married names when wondering about women artists I have known - people who I would like to find again on Facebook. Polly Holt. She was a fantastic artist when I knew her in Florida in the 80s. But I know that she and Paul Holt split up and she moved to Baltimore. How can I find her? Who is she now?

There was a time in previous decades when it was easier to disappear. You could leave your old life and begin a new life. New town, new phone number, even a married name. You could vanish if you felt like it just by moving and not calling your old friends. It's different now.

A "professional name" for a woman is a good idea. It is a name that stays with you through your career. And now that people are "finding each other" in Web media it is a convenience. I decided to add "Harriss" (in parentheses) to my name on LinkedIn so that I am findable - to selected people from the past. But that is not who I am. I am Susan Linnet Cox.

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