After My Divorce, I Didn’t Want My Ex’s Surname—Or My Dad’s. Here’s What I Did Instead

After nearly two decades of being called by my ex’s family name, it suddenly no longer fit.

A classic "Hello, my name is" name tag in red and white with Nadine and question marks written on it in marker on a blue background

When I wrote about my early experiences of getting back into the dating world post-divorce, I expected to hear some feedback on the fact that I was dating again, or that I was sharing publicly about my six months of celibacy, followed by my need to scratch certain itches. But what I didn’t expect were complaints about having published the article under my married name. How could I expose my ex-husband like that? While a quick gut check reminded me that my intentions were not malicious, nor had I overshared, the comments set me off. Reeling from the pain of divorce, I wondered if it was time to give the name back. It wasn’t my name anymore, after all.

But after nearly two decades of being called by my ex-husband’s family name—signing school permission slips and mortgage cheques with it—it suddenly felt like a once-loved pair of jeans. The name no longer fit and felt constrictive. Could I go back to my maiden name? (Leaving aside the absurdity of “maiden.”) Or should I take back my father’s name? Neither felt right.

My ex-husband’s name was my children’s surname. It was the name published as my byline throughout my career. Grand and somewhat English sounding, it was a name that, I suspected, had opened doors for me due to societal bias towards Anglo names. I built a whole career using it. Would going back to my Armenian surname impact my chances of getting published or hired? Would my children feel hurt? Would having a different last name make travelling with them more difficult?

Related: How Can I Save Money On My Divorce?

Through my work as a life coach, I knew that while our brains resist change, we become comfortable with the new through repetition. People would accept the change over time without consciously thinking about it, especially if I changed my name on my social platforms. Once I decided that changing my last name was what I needed to do to fully free myself from the past and move forward, a new conundrum arose: what freakin’ name would I choose?

For Gen X women like me who chose a more traditional life path, you lived with your father’s name until you married. Then you would take your husband’s name and, hopefully, live happily ever after. I briefly questioned this path a year after my wedding when I had to renew my driver’s license, which was still in my maiden name. The necessary government document update provided an opportunity to decide if it was time to make the name change. Was I the type of woman who would keep her family name or adopt her husband’s name as a means of doubling down on the new family life she was creating?

In my mother’s generation, taking your husband’s surname was non-negotiable. In Quebec, a law preventing women from taking their husband’s last name was implemented in 1981 to alleviate the pressure for women to decide at all. Many of my Y2K-era girlfriends chose to hyphenate names, but my ex’s surname and my own were 12 letters each—not exactly conducive to that trend. I imagined we’d have kids, so getting aligned on a family name felt like the right call. I took my marriage certificate to the Service Ontario office and made the switch, assuming my husband’s last name versus making the full legal change (which means even your birth certificate will show the new name).

Post-separation, I repeated my first name and maiden name repeatedly to see how they felt. The thought of reclaiming the name of my high school self didn’t feel like a step forward. I love my dad, but going back to his name didn’t represent the woman I was in that moment, the woman who made herself. What a special gift to find myself as one of the first women in my family to bravely chart new territory. I could have any surname I wanted and still be me, vote, work and own a home—something I did not take for granted. I was keenly aware that this is not the circumstance for many women worldwide.

There was no clear roadmap, but I decided that the sometimes ugly, clumsy work of trampling a new path was worth it. What if I could choose a name that reflected the strong lineage of women I’d descended from? Could I use my middle name—my paternal great-grandmother’s first name—to reflect my ethnicity and family heritage? Could the name Nadine Araksi carry me through the next phase of my life? Before committing to it fully, I tried it out on social media to get used to it. It didn’t take long for it to feel right.

When letting my two kids in on my decision, one was fully supportive, while the other struggled with their feelings. Would this sever a part of our bond? I reassured them it would take more than a name change to impact our close relationship. I explained how carefully we’d chosen their names before their arrival, and that while it would be hard for me to get used to if our situations were reversed, chosen names are common for many Gen Z teens. Just like pronoun preferences, getting to decide on a name that feels like the spirit you embody is a wonderful privilege we get to exercise here in Canada.

I found myself back in the Service Ontario line—without hesitation this time. In the process of deciding my name change, I chose not to go through the tedious government paperwork and spend $137 to legally adopt my chosen surname. Your options vary province by province, as names and birth certificates are provincially governed. In Ontario, given I had only assumed my ex-husband’s name, the easiest path to shedding it was reverting back to my surname at birth on major documents by bringing in my birth certificate to renew my driver’s license and health card. I could simply assume my chosen name professionally and personally, and use my birth name for more official stuff like filing taxes.

The name change coincided with a new job where most of my colleagues only knew me as Nadine Araksi. And while that experience was fairly painless, our digital footprint these days extends far and wide. How many accounts are out there with the old name? Each time I find another one and spend five minutes figuring out how to correct it, it gives me a new moment to ponder if my choice still feels like the right one. I can wholeheartedly tell you, I feel a sense of pride every time I type in Araksi, the name that reminds me that I chose myself.

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