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.)