On my first shift as an actual doctor, I walked into the room and by reflex, I ran through my usual script.
“Hi, I’m A-, how are you? What brought you in today?”
My patient paused a little. “Sorry, are you the doctor?”
Oh, right. “Yep, yes. I am. I’m Dr. W-.”
Rookie mistake. But in my defense, I had two mental hiccups to my new moniker. First, I felt anything but doctorly. Second, I was slinging around a last name that I’ve never felt was mine.
I’ve had this conversation with many people, mostly women. Why even bother changing your last name? There are more cons than pros: lost publications, extra paperwork, inane customer service hold music, a trip to the DMV, all to squidge up two spots on the alphabet and be told on online forms that I need more characters in my username. Pro: R and I can be collectively referred to now as “the W-’s.” [Sidebar: though, sadly, Mr. and Mrs. W are now forever out of bounds, Mr. and Dr. W feels like an unnecessary flex for someone who still secretly fears not being able to locate her patients’ buttholes]
Sometimes I rebut with a half-hearted argument. Even if I kept my last name, it’d still be some guy’s last name. And my mom’s last name is still some guy’s last name, too. Name-wise, I have no female lineage. It’s turtles (male turtles, at that) all the way down. Whatever honor I bring to my last name by becoming Dr. _, I would not bring it to me. So where does my identity lie, if last names are interchangeable and quite meaningless? Is there a form of identity that isn’t fundamentally built on how I relate to some man? I spun this thought idly as I practiced making my new signature look less infantile (quite difficult, as my new last name is literally scribbles). Is the English name I chose, is that me? Is it my Chinese name, which never changes for marriage? Is R’s name more me because I chose him? In all musings, my real name doesn’t have the title “Doctor.”
I decided to change my name because a few short years ago, someone (or many someones) healed my concept of marriage. Marriage used to be ugly to me, and its transfer of names was associated with a troglodytic, feudal form of ownership. Like branding cattle, this woman was henceforth transferred from her father’s demesne to her husband’s. I silently shuddered when wedding officiants would announce the happy couple as “Mr. and Mrs. [Man’s first name] [Man’s last name]”, as if the woman’s whole identity melts away after the vow-sealing kiss. It reminded me that women all over the world were being traded into marriage, just living assets, and their names, maiden or married, just classified their thraldom. I never wanted someone else’s—some guy’s name—to mark me, to subsume me, like that. “This spot’s taken.” “His.”
The Bible, for all its other content, is in essence a romance of one major couple: Christ and His bride, the church. All of the other romances written in the Bible (Adam and Eve; Isaac and Rebekah; Joseph and Asenath; Moses and Tzipporah; Ruth and Boaz; Solomon and the Shulammite; heck, even Hosea and Gomer) are just resonant frequencies of the great underlying thrum: God loving His people. As believers, R and I entered marriage hoping to hit that same harmonic, like it says in Ephesians 5. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.
Some read Paul’s guidance to couples through patriarchy-glasses. Wives:submit::husbands:love. The husband makes the decisions, the wife obeys. The wife, as the weaker vessel, must therefore be lesser (1 Pet. 3:7). But when consulting the Bible’s cardinal couple, notions of hierarchy, power, and control are not seen. Christ’s first work as a husband to His wife is to give up everything for her so that they can be together. The church’s first work as a wife is to respond in kind. By loving the Lord, the church lets Him make more of His home in her heart. Bit by bit, she becomes more Him. Eventually, as a couple, God and His aggregate people speak as one, work as one, and will as one (evinced by the Spirit and the Bride speaking together in the last chapter of the Bible).
As a picture, Christ the Husband is like the head of a person, and the church completes that person as His body. But is there hierarchy to that? Is the body lesser than the head? The question just becomes a little ridiculous. More important or less important? Without either body or head, a person can’t exist. [*Of course for the pedants out there, I don’t believe that the church or any believer, however connected to God they may be, can become an object of worship.]
The same obsolescence applies to questions of power. Christ, the head, the husband, is given all authority in the universe (Eph. 1:21).“And He subjected all things under His feet and gave Him to be head over all things”. So that means He’s metaphorically standing on His wife, the church, yes (ow)? But wait, keep reading. “And gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His Body, the fullness of the One who fills all in all.”
Hold up. So all things are under His feet. But His feet is part of His body… which is the church. So He’s not standing on His wife (phew). He’s… He and His wife are standing together? He is His wife? She is Him? They’re joined as one person? And since Christ has received all authority, the church, as part of Him, has received that selfsame authority?
Yes and yes and yes. So the longer answer to why I changed my name is that I have seen what marriage can be. I believe that my marriage can be suffused with mystery and majesty. R and I have a long way to go before we can be as mystically one with each other as God wants to be with us. We prickle. We wallow. We sting. I still like the food he orders more than mine. He still calls me over to salt all the dishes. And yet, R is learning to give himself up for me. And I am learning to submit to him—the way ligaments submit to muscle submits to nerves submits to ganglia submit to head. And our name (his name) is our new name.
In Revelation 3:12, the Spirit speaks to members of the church in Philadelphia, who did everything right. And yet, He still calls them to go one step further, to hold fast their crown. The reward is that He would write on them the name of God, the name of the city of God (the New Jerusalem), and His new name. Similarly, the Spirit promises those who overcame the degradation of the church in Pergamos a white stone with a new name written upon it, which no one knows except him who receives it.
Those verses feel different to me now, now that my name isn’t my name, but also now that my name is more my name than it ever has been. I’ve always imagined that this reward would mean three names: God, the city, and Christ’s new name. I was excited to find out which names they would be. But I am growing to wonder whether in the growing-together of God and His people through the millenia, if this were simply one name, a name that encompasses all of God-Christ-Spirit and all of His bride-body-city. I feel day by day, as R and I discover who we will become, we also are uncovering bit by bit our new name, as each other and as God.