The Answer to the Question, “Are You Changing Your Name When You Get Married?”

My last name is Shelnutt—like nutshell, only backward. (And spelled funny.)

That’s the way I’ve explained it my entire life: when giving presentations in school, putting my name on a waitlist for a table at a restaurant, and introducing myself to Comcast agents on the phone.

Throughout my school years, I wore my last name like a strange badge. I enjoyed hearing new teachers hesitate when reading it during roll call on the first day. (Never mind the fact that my first name, Jenna, is spelled with G, further adding to the confusion.)

I appreciated how rare it was. If you know another Shelnutt—which you probably don’t—chances are I’m related to that awesome human.

My days of roll call are long gone, and now I’m getting married in the fall. My dad will walk me down the aisle, but I will not play the bridal march. My dress is white, but I will not wear a veil. I’ll say the vows, but I will not change my last name.

I’m a Shelnutt. I’ve always been a Shelnutt. I like being a Shelnutt. I like that my name comes with a little joke that warms people to me when we’re first introduced. I like how it sounds following my first name. I like the disheveled look of my signature.

From a young age, I found it unfair that women lose their names when they get married, and men do not. Even when those women have obviously cool last names like Shelnutt.

When my fiancé, Todd, and I first started dating, I confessed to him that I had no intentions of ever taking another man’s last name.

“Good for you,” he replied without hesitation. “I wouldn’t have expected anything different.”

And that was that.

When we got engaged, the conversation re-emerged. Todd assumed we would both keep our names as previously discussed. I’d stay a Shelnutt. He, a Sevier.

I wasn’t happy with that either. To me, that seemed like getting married and nothing changing.

But when you get married something is changing. You’re coming together in a legally recognized partnership. You’re committing to forever together. Marriage has lasting impacts on both parties, and I wanted a name reflecting that.

I offered plenty of alternatives to the non-name-change. Sevier-Shelnutt. Shelnutt-Sevier. Or my personal favorite: Shelvier. (How gorgeous does that sound? Much better than Sevnutt; let’s be honest.)  I even suggested we take Todd’s last name but change the pronunciation from severe to sev-vee-ā, like we’re an adorable French couple.

Todd didn’t buy it.

We discussed, debated, and buried the whole name-change concept in the ground. Then, I dug it up from the grave, and we discussed and debated some more.

One night over dinner—somewhere between chicken parmesan and tiramisu—Todd brain-birthed a new solution: we could both take each other’s last names as our middle names. He’d be Todd Shelnutt Sevier. I’d be Genna Sevier Shelnutt.

And that was that.

When I explain our decision to those who ask, some are amazed, others perturbed. Some applaud our individuality. Others are made uncomfortable by it.

Maybe it’s annoyingly progressive. Maybe it’s progressively annoying. Maybe it’s audacious. Maybe it’s pretentious. Maybe it’s just plain stupid.

But it doesn’t matter. Because it’s us.

It’s reflective of our equal partnership. It’s reflective of our compromise. It’s reflective of us coming together. And it’s reflective of the change we’re both making together. It connects me to him and him to me without compromising our identities as individuals.

And best of all, it allows me to remain a Shelnutt—like nutshell, only backward. (And spelled funny.)

 

Genna & Todd Take Miami

 

Lessons in Accessorizing: A Childhood Traumedy

Milford Creek Lane was a straight, flat stretch of middle-class Georgian suburbia. The blue ranch house I called home sat about a quarter mile from the stop sign at the end of the street. During the school year, I walked that route twice a day to catch the bus in the morning and return home in the afternoon.

One morning in early winter, my breath clung to the frigid air in front of me as I walked—the grass still turgid and shimmering with overnight frost. I wore a navy wool coat and scratchy black gloves. On top of the gloves, I wore my newest prized position: a real, grown-up ring.

I had told my mother I wanted a real ring, and for reasons I’ll never understand, she allowed me this indulgence. She took me to Uptons department store where I peered in to the jewelry case on my tip toes. I picked out a small gold ring with a marquise amethyst and the tiniest of diamonds lacing over it.

The next day, I was so eager to show off my new ring, I couldn’t bear to cover it with a glove. So my eight-year-old genius decided to wear the ring on top.

When I arrived at the stop sign that morning, my fellow bus riders gathered in a loose mosh pit on the sidewalk. Older children and troubled children and stranger children all intimidated me, so I kept to myself.

I shoved my hands in my coat pockets and felt a wad of cloth. Pulling it out, I recognized my other pair of gloves. Not only did this set better match my coat, it also had sparkles woven in the fabric, giving it all the softness of a Brillo Pad.

Without a moment of hesitation, I peeled off my black gloves and put on the newfound haute couture pair instead.

I sat in my fourth-grade desk at school for no more than 10 minutes that day before the revelation occurred: my fingers were bare. The ring was gone.

Dread rose in my chest as my child-brain backtracked through the morning and realized the ring had popped off at the bus stop when I switched the gloves.

It could be anywhere now. It could have rolled into the sewer. It could be caught up in the blades of a lawnmower—yes, even in the winter! It could have been carried off in the talons of an eagle, swallowed by a jewelry-eating dog, found and kept by a vicious neighbor with excellent taste in rings.

My mother would never buy me another ring again. She might never buy me anything at all! I’d probably never have another valuable possession for the rest of my life. I hadn’t deserved the ring, and now I’d lost it in my first 24 hours of ownership. The thought of having to tell my mom what I’d done twisted my stomach in knots. Laying my head on the cool faux-wood of my desk, I tried not to cry or panic or simply bust through the school exit and sprint all the way home to look for it.

My nerves turned to nausea as the day ached on. Every bump and turn and squealing first-grader on the excruciating bus ride home forced my stomach farther up into my throat. As the yellow behemoth rounded the last turn to get to our stop, my entire body tensed.

By requirement only, I waited until the screeching brakes came to a complete halt before bolting to the front. I arrived at the door as it opened casually via accordion fold with its customary whoosh of air.

Darting out, I launched for the spot where I was standing when I switched gloves. I flung myself on the ground—aware of how strange I might look yet not caring in the least—and smooshed my hands frantically into the grass hoping to feel the hard metal against my soft palms.

Nothing. Nothing but cold dirt.

And then, amid my panic and dismay and guilt and terror and disappointment, I saw a glint of gold hope among the sullen green. I crawled over on my hands and knees.

There it was. Unscathed. Unaware of the anguish I’d endured over the past six hours. Bathing in the sunshine, just waiting for me to come home.

Even though I haven’t worn rings over my gloves since, I still don’t trust myself with valuable jewelry.

File Aug 06, 9 37 23 AM