That’s not my name: Mrs. Joe Brzycki

It’s started

Just as I knew it would:

With Christmas cards the first holiday season

After the wedding

Addressed to

Mr. and Mrs. Joe Brzycki.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful,

Because I truly enjoy Christmas cards,

Even the drugstore ones with the dashed-off signature and nothing else.

But it makes me chuckle:

Mrs. Joe Brzycki?

There’s no such person.

I get it:

People assume that I changed my name,

Because that’s what most women do.

Or they don’t know my last name,

Or they know it but are unsure of the spelling.

Actually,

Of the three last names in our house,

Mine is probably the easiest to spell:

Brzycki (Joe and his kids),

Hietalahti (my son),

Niemela, (me).

I’ve thought about those smooth gray stones

You can order at the State Fair:

“Welcome to the Smiths!”

The neat and tidy family surname:

Everyone in the house with the same last name!

We’d need a boulder for all the names in our family.

But I love all our last names.

There’s a lot of history,

In the grand sense:

Polish and Scandinavian immigration to America–

And the modern dramatics of a blended family–

Marriage, kids, divorce, remarriage.

(And now another kid on the way who,

Incidentally,

Will have my last name

Because,

Why not?)

Here’s the deal,

Ladies:

I don’t care what you do.

Change it,

Keep it,

Hyphenate it,

Tack it on at the end,

Slip it into the middle,

Make up a whole new name so

Everyone has to get a new drivers license!

For me,

Ever since the age of eight or nine,

When I realized that

Most women take their husband’s names,

I knew I would keep mine.

I haven’t wavered in that.

Ever.

There are so many reasons I’ve kept my last name

Through one marriage and into another.

(Never had to change my passport

Once.)

Yes, it’s about

Gender politics,

Symbols, and–

Dare I say the F-word–

I’m gonna say it–

Feminism.

To me,

The idea of being Mrs. Joe Brzycki

Subsumes me into Joe

In a way that anyone who knows us

Would find absurd.

But I also kept my last name

Because I just like it.

I know what it means:

Peninsula, in Finnish.

I imagine a point wooded with pine and birch

Jutting into a clear,

Boulder-bottomed lake.

Like a Boundary Waters campsite.

I’m a writer.

Words–

Names are words–

Are important to me.

Not just the aesthetics of how a word looks

Or sounds.

But what words mean.

Why choose one word over another?

Loneliness,

Or solitude?

Brzycki,

Or Niemela?

Does it matter?

It does,

To me.

Professionally,

Personally,

Even as part of a family unit,

It’s my policy to keep a part of myself

Just for me.

And my own name,

From beginning to end,

Is a manifestation of that part of myself.

It’s like the

Silent,

Black

Space

Just before I fall asleep at night,

When no children,

No husband,

No job,

Need me.

The divine chemicals of sleep

Bathe my tired brain.

It’s just me: Jennifer Niemela

At rest.

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2 thoughts on “That’s not my name: Mrs. Joe Brzycki

  1. Jen, I am really glad I addressed your Christmas card correctly, even though I had to go into Facebook to find out how Joe spelled his last name. I know how to spell your last name.
    I like your independence & what’s in a name anyway?
    I just hope I had the correct address on Charles Ave & you get the card.

  2. Beautifully put, Jennifer…. Niemela, a name that is special for me, too….In school your dad and I were referred to as “Niemal-Noll”, sometimes meaning trouble…. for me, always friendship.

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