January 25, 2006

Maiden Names

Both my parents are buried a Calverton, a military cemetery, on Eastern Long Island. My dad was a World War II veteran. When I was at Calverton for my aunts funeral, I visited my mom's and dad's graves. I was perturbed to see mom's inscribed as Mary Nolan, because I had misremembered that she wanted Mary Nolan Koch.

I hunted through her correspondence and found the following letter sent to the Veterans Administration in Washington, a year after my father's death.:

Feb. 5, 1988
Dear Sir,

On May 11, 1987, my husband, Joseph J. Koch, an Army veteran of World War II, was buried in the Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island, NY, gravesite 8179.

It is my understanding that gravesite 8180 has been reserved for me, his wife. When I recently visited the cemetery I was disturbed to note that the wives of veterans were only identified by their first name. To me that is sex discrimination.

Although I accepted my husband's name at marriage, I still consider myself as Mary Nolan and would wish to be so identified on a name plaque making my grave. Is there any reason why your policy could not be updated?

Yours truly,
Mary Nolan Koch

Subsequent correspondence showed the VA changed their policy and accepted her wishes. I feel rather sheepish about my first reaction. Bravo, Mary Nolan, a feminist ahead of her time! We were allowed to add an additional line, so we added mother, teacher, activist.

Family decisions on maiden names fascinate me. The one daughter who kept her maiden name insists that the waspish name trumps. Without violating my daughters' privacy and revelaing their names, you will have to take my word for it. After much inner turmoil, I took my husband's name when I married in 1968. It was an English name; Koch lent itself to too many embarrassisng mispronounciations. When I went back to school and work in 1987, I reverted to my maiden name. My master's degrees in library science and social work are under Koch.

Partly to disassociate myself from my past indiscretions, I took my husband's name when I remarried in 2001. Two daugthters, successful professional women, surprised us by taking their husbands' more Waspish names when they married. The one whose husband's name was not Waspish kept her original Waspish name.

Three of my sisters-in-law kept the maiden's name. One brother and his former wife made up a new name that combined elements of both their names.

What did you or your spouse decide?

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