Whats in a name Changing, or not, poses dilemma

"Hello, Jeffrey," a gentleman I had never met said to my husband at a family function shortly after we got married. Then, nodding to me, he added, "Mrs. Jeffrey," before walking away.

Mrs. Jeffrey? I was dumbfounded.

When I regained my composure, I turned to my husband and announced, "I am not Mrs. Jeffrey. I am Mrs. Nina."

Jeff, of course, shrugged his shoulders and smiled faintly. He still had the same name he was given at birth.

Before we married, I thought the decision to assume my husband's last name was a no-brainer: His name, Light, is easier to say and spell than my original name, Polien, I reasoned. I hadn't been writing long enough for prospective employers to know me by my byline, and having the same surname as my husband and future children would make for a more cohesive family unit. Besides, how does one alphabetize a hyphenated name?

A feminist friend disagreed. By assuming Jeff's last name, she pointed out, I would be buying into society's patriarchal hold on marriage. But, I countered, my original last name was passed down to me by my father, so wasn't that patriarchal anyway? As long as I was going to have the same home — and the same bills — as my husband, it made sense to share a surname, too.

The problem, I now realize, is that Jeff and I don't share just a last name. Despite my objections, mail meant for me is sent to "Mrs. Jeffrey Light," which makes me bristle. Yes, I voluntarily took my husband's last name, but I did not assume his first name — or so I thought. Aren't I allowed even a shred of my former identity?

Not according to many people. Even my synagogue (which, in most other respects, must be considered progressive) sends mail to "Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Light." Had I been a doctor — or not assumed my husband's family name — I would still have a feminine first name on the congregation's mailing list. This I discovered with the help of another woman who also made the "mistake" of stopping her graduate education with a master's degree and assuming her spouse's last name.

"Mrs. Light's first name is not Jeffrey!" I scream to no one in particular every time I receive a letter with the offensive nomenclature.

It doesn't end with mail. When I answer formal invitations, "Mr. Jeffrey and Mrs. Nina Light would be delighted to attend," I get laughed at. And to no avail. The placecards at weddings and b'nai mitzvah still deny me my first name.

And oh, those pesky telephone solicitors who always seem to call just as dinner is coming out of the oven: "Is Mrs. Jeffrey Light there?"

"There is no Mrs. Jeffrey Light," I answer as sweetly as I can, even though I'm seething.

I chose to assume my husband's last name and I will stand by my decision. But I urge brides-to-be to carefully consider which last name(s) they will assume after they walk down the aisle. Names are an important part of our identity and are with us constantly.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

*How important is it to have the same last name as your husband and children?

*Are you so established in your professional life that changing your last name would be confusing to clients and business associates?

*Whose last name is easier to say and spell?

*If you choose to add your husband's last name to your original last name, will you hyphenate the two? Or will you use your unmarried name as a middle name?

Some enlightened men have agreed to use their wives' unmarried name as a middle name if their wives consent to using their husbands' last name as a surname. Under this arrangement, for example, my husband and I would be "Mr. Jeffrey Polien Light and Mrs. Nina Polien Light."

Other couples have combined their last names into an entirely new one. But I'm not much for that option. We could end up being "Nina and Jeff Polight."

Or, worse yet, "Nina and Jeff Lightpole."