Before I got married, I had no doubt in my mind that I would change my last name. In elementary school, I would pass the long school days saying my first name followed by the last names of my crushes, who were sitting—blissfully unaware of their impending nuptials—just across the classroom. Riley Smith. Riley White. Riley Williams. (Don’t be crazy. These aren’t their real names.) I would doodle them in my notebooks. Cursive worthy of a wedding invite, at least in my opinion.
But then, when I was actually engaged to the love of my life, I found myself in the midst of an identity crisis. My work was already heavily published in inRegister, and I suddenly felt an attachment to my maiden name. Bienvenu has a nice ring to it. And with only a sister and one female cousin, I felt the name slipping into obscurity.
As you can see, I ultimately decided to go with both. I’m a firm believer in having it all. But I always wonder when the day will come that my maiden—now my middle—name falls into extinction.
I spoke with former editor Kelli Bozeman about this. She, for many years prior to my time at inRegister, went by Kelli Langlois Bozeman professionally. And when I got back from my honeymoon and asked her what to do with my name, she disclosed that it was only in the last few years that she had dropped her maiden for her mentions in print—more than 10 years into her marriage and career.
There’s no right or wrong answer. And no woman is better or worse for choose to keep or drop her maiden name. But I do wonder, just as William Shakespeare did in the voice of Juliet, “What’s in a name?”
Upon meeting our cover subject, Jeremy Simien, such a question seemed all the more crucial. Simien was pushed by a curiosity about his own ancestors and a desire to find a way to foster some sort of closeness with them, beyond just the sharing of a last name.
This drove him to discover a passion that has defined his career, pushing him to learn more, collect more and reflect more on the history and physical antiques left behind by not just his ancestors, but families throughout the South.
Now, his house is a makeshift museum, and one of the paintings he worked to acquire and showcase, Bélizaire and the Frey Children, is on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. You can read more about this here.
I don’t know if my attachment to my maiden name will someday result in the interest of one of the most famous museums in the world. But never say never, right? And, I can take comfort in the legacy of my maiden and new last names, given that they both appear here monthly. I just hope that one day, far into the future, a relative will find this column—or any of my columns, I won’t be picky—and deems it worthy to file away on a bookshelf for someone to discover again one day.