Some of you may have noticed that a couple of months ago the name I had listed under “Our Crew” and on my Facebook page changed from Javacia N. Harris to Javacia Harris Bowser. Though this change may be a small one, it actually marked a great turning point in my life as a devoted wife and dedicated feminist.
Like most young feminists I really struggled with the decision of whether or not to take my husband’s name when we married three years ago. When I was younger I had always planned on hyphenating Harris and my future husband’s surname. But I later decided that with a first name like Javacia I didn’t need to make my handle any more complicated.
Then I got engaged in 2006 and had to make up my mind, for real. Being a feminist, the fact that women are expected to change their names, but men are not, makes my blood boil, obviously, but my struggle was more personal than political. I not only worried that a new name would make me feel like less of myself, but as a journalist I feared it would hurt my professional life as well. My byline was Javacia N. Harris and I wanted to keep it that way.
Most of my friends, especially those with Y-chromosomes, didn’t make the situation any easier. They told me I would be emasculating my husband if I didn’t take his name and that if we’re not going to share the same last name there’s no point in even getting married. One guy told me he’d call me by my husband’s last name whether I changed it or not and another even tried to bring race into the matter by saying: “Black men can’t have anything in this world. They should at least be able to have their women.” Thanks for comparing me to 40 acres and mule, pal.
In the midst of this madness my husband was calm and cool. He told me he’d be honored if I took his name, but that the decision was all mine.
In the end I cheated. I took my husband’s last name legally, but continued to use my maiden name professionally. So I got to keep my pretty byline. But having two names proved to be difficult. I thought about changing my name back to Javacia Harris, but the hurt in my husband’s eyes at that suggestion was too much to bear. So I decided to change my name again. I simply did what most women do nowadays and took my maiden name as my middle name, something I initially resisted because most of my close family members refer to me as Nicole or Niki.
I know changing my name to Javacia Harris Bowser and using it as my social and professional name is no revolutionary act, but for me it is an act that is symbolic of just how much marriage has revolutionized my life.
During my first year of marriage I was so consumed with making sure I didn’t lose my identity I almost lost my husband in the process. I pushed him away and held so fiercely to my independence that we couldn’t be true partners. But my husband had the patience of a tree and inspired me to be just as understanding to his needs. Eventually, I came around. My husband, a man of unshakable faith, also motivated me to deepening my relationship with God. I have never felt as close to God and such peace about my spirituality as I do now.
In the Bible, God will sometimes change a person’s name to symbolize a change of heart. In a way, I feel that’s what has happened here. I no longer feel the need to keep my family life in a box. I now know that my love for my husband is not a threat to my love for myself. Wife is a part of my identity that I can cherish and that can make me a better person. Having the name Javacia Harris Bowser will be a constant reminder that Javacia Harris — the independent, ambitious feminist — and Javacia Bowser — the loving, supportive wife — can peacefully co-exist.