It’s official. After a visit to the Social Security office with my final divorce decree, I’m back to being just a Branch. There is no more hyphen and no more Shaw. I am not exactly sure what prompted my decision to drop my married name, but as I approached my five-year anniversary as a divorcée, I decided that it was time to relinquish a status that I no longer held. I can’t say why I kept my married name for so long. Obviously, divorce is disruptive on many levels, and at the time, I told myself it would be easier to keep the same last name as my son. But in thinking about it now, I know there was much more to it. I was not ready to face the world as a single woman or woman from a failed marriage. It takes time to mentally and emotionally undo the years of being married and part of a couple, and my delayed decision to drop my married name was part of that.
Fortunately for me, this name change didn’t involve a complete overhaul of my name. When my husband-to-be and I decided to marry, I had carried my family name for three and a half decades. The idea of effacing it from one day to the next seemed absurd. But I wanted to mark our commitment, and combining our names seemed like a good way to do that. I asked my betrothed if he would take my name if I took his, and to my surprise and joy, he said YES! So, we joined our names with a hyphen in the order of Branch-Shaw, because it is more pleasing to the ear than Shaw-Branch. I was very attached to my married name with its 10 letters and hyphen. In fact, I preferred it to my own family name because it had weight and a certain distinction, even though people regularly confused it with Bradshaw.
This reinstatement of my family name has brought surprises. For one, it has reminded me of the last time I used it, back when I was a single woman, on my own and with no one to think about other than myself. That young woman had certain dreams, points of view and curiosities, some of which I outgrew, some of which evolved as I matured and still others that were put away or shelved because they didn’t fit with my partner’s vision or with married and family life. We regularly shut out parts of ourself, sometimes without even being conscious of it.
Maybe I wasn’t strong enough to hold on to certain parts of myself, or maybe I channelled my energy into being a wife and mother. Whatever the reason, I am discovering that, while divorce liberated me of conjugal responsibilities, reclaiming my name has brought about a new kind freedom. I find myself doing things I had forgotten I enjoyed doing and letting myself try things I had wanted to try, but hadn’t given myself the time nor the courage. And for all of this, I feel very thankful. Sometimes life’s curves can bring to light other paths.