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New wife wants his ex to give up surname

Wed., Jan. 19, 2011

DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband finally divorced his ex-wife after several years of her fighting it. She told me that she would revert back to her maiden name after the divorce because, in her mind, she is going to re-marry and would be changing her name again, so why keep his name? (They do have a child together, but the child was 1 year old when they separated and has never known them as a married couple. He is now 4.)

Now she is saying that she is keeping his name because she can’t imagine telling her son why her last name is different.

Regardless of that flawed rationale (he doesn’t understand the significance of a last name at this age, and like I said, never knew his parents together), I just find it rude that she is keeping her married name now that her ex is remarried and I have taken his name.

Isn’t it just plain tacky to keep your ex’s name once he is remarried?

GENTLE READER: You will love hearing what the real tradition is:

In gentler times (or rougher times, depending on your point of view) it was assumed that a divorced lady was always the innocent victim of male misbehavior.

Even if she had run away with the children’s dancing master, her husband was supposed to allow her to sue for divorce, to save her reputation, such as it was.

Therefore, a divorced lady who did not remarry was known by the full married designation of the time, as Mrs. Humphrey Twiddlefeather, even if another lady had subsequently taken on the husband and the name.

Consider yourself lucky that this is generally no longer done. Miss Manners advises you not to push your luck by trying to deprive the lady of the surname that legitimately became hers and for which the rationale is not at all silly. Silly is arguing that a child who may not yet be interested in names – and in the family identification of sharing a surname with his mother – never will be.

DEAR MISS MANNERS: Twice in the last week, I have been asked by complete strangers if they could borrow my cell phone. Both of these individuals were male and may simply have needed to make a call.

However, both of these individuals made me uneasy, and I feared that they could possibly run away with my cell phone and then I would need to replace it at great expense and quickly too, as I rely on it for my work as a home care nurse.

What is the most polite way to decline this type of request? As much as I love to help people solve their problems, when a red flag rises for me, I do not believe that I need to put myself at risk in order to do so.

GENTLE READER: As Miss Manners understands it, neither of these petitioners was lying pinned under a car, pleading for a way to get help. If there is no plausible distress, you would not be rude in saying, “I’m so sorry, but I never lend it. If this is an emergency, I can call for you. Perhaps there is a store nearby that will let you make a quick call.”

You may write to Miss Manners at MissManners@ or via postal mail at United Media, 200 Madison Ave., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016.


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