Friday, February 21, 2014

I Have a Name

On the way home from Fort Worth last week Matt and I had a conversation about identity. Specifically, my aversion to being referred to as "my girl" or "my woman" to his friends. It came up when talking about something one of his guy pals said about "his girl" led me to ask her name. Matt had no idea. Literally none. This poor woman suddenly had no identity to me beyond being some guys "girl." Though knowing her name wouldn't have allowed me to know much more about her, she would have at the very least been her own person who happened to share a relation to the guy she's dating, rather than belonging to him.

That seriously bothered me and, as it turns out, he refers to me in the exact same terms when talking to them. When I'm not around I'm not Kristyn, I'm his "girl," his "wife," or his "woman." I belong to him. Bear in mind, these are people who don't know me, so I don't actually have an identity to them beyond being Matt's wife. Still, it upset me to know that I'm being labeled that way, even to strangers, and I told him so. He thinks that's silly and he told me so.

From his perspective, calling me by my name to them would cause unnecessary confusion. They would have to wonder who "Kristyn" is and then he'd have to explain. From my perspective, they're not idiots and can contextualize who I am from what he's saying. No explanation necessary. And, for those who might require explanation, he'd only have to explain once. It should be worth the few seconds it would take him to explain to allow me to have an identity, so that to them I'm more than just his posession. And I think, for me, this issue is compounded by the fact that we live in the south, where women are often treated like possessions. A problem compounded by women who are content to act like possessions.

I am not a possession, though, and don't want to be seen that way by anyone Matt knows who might not share in the idea that women don't belong to men. I don't want them to believe that I'm content to be understood that way, either. I want him to call me by my name, but he's pretty insistent that it doesn't deprive me of my right to an identity because these men, and occasionally women, don't know me anyway. To me, though, saying "my wife" is the same as saying "my dog," "my gun," or "my truck." It relegates me to the realm of thing, rather than elevating me to the position of person. People have names for a reason and if we weren't meant to use them to differentiate us from those things that are possessions, then why not just give up my name when I got married and become "Matt's wife," rather than continue to be called Kristyn?

I'm sure he's continued to call me "my wife" or "my girl"to his friends--doubly offensive because I'm a woman, not a girl--but it's not something I can control except to lodge my complaint and leave it at that. It's something I've always had a problem with, though, since he's always been content to introduce me to people he knows as "my wife" and leave it at that. Though he's not trying to insult me, it is insulting to be introduced as his possession when he's so good about acknowledging my agency in all other regards.

I wonder, am I the only person who feels like this is insulting? Who feels a loss of identity in being labeled this way? Maybe so, and so far the responses I've had to this issue have been to defend Matt's position, but that won't change that it makes me uncomfortable. I have a name. My name is Kristyn. Though I happen to be his wife, I am also much more than that. I'm an individual who deserves an identity.


  1. I'm a bit old fashioned in the sense that I love it when my husband calls me "His Wife" but to be fair he ALWAYS says this is my wife, Jenniemarie. We do however both foster the belief that we belong to one another, not as a possession, but as man and wife so that may be why I don't feel my identity is lost when he refers to me as his wife. He has never once made me feel like property or less than.

    Being calle K.'s Mom on the other hand is a whole other identity crisis of it's own!

  2. I think for me it's a matter of knowing that while my husband doesn't (and never has) seen me as a possession, those people he's calling me "his wife" to may feel differently. Many of them may not see me as a person without a definite label, like my name. It's a distinction that's pretty hard for me to overcome. However, in the context of a conversation if he wants to use my name and call me his wife, "this is my wife, Kristyn," I'm okay with that. I just want him to use my name. :)

  3. What an intriguing post.

    I think that when he's talking to a regular group of people he knows, he should give you a name and in turn they should name their significant other. They are around each other enough to understand those basic pieces in each others lives. However, if he.was talking to a stranger, using that term would be acceptable to me given the brevity of the relationship.

    I don't feel as offended as you do with that terminology. I can completely see your point, but it just doesn't bother me. To me, when you marry, you do become possessions of each other. You belong to each other, so referring to someone as "my wife" or "my husband" doesn't take away their identity, just explaining only a piece of it. What's relevant to the conversation.

  4. No, you aren't the only one. It irritates me when I'm referred to as "Levi's girlfriend." He's hardly ever referred to as "Nicole's boyfriend" so I don't know what's up with that. I have to wonder if it has something to do with my quiet, introverted nature. He's a lot louder and more outspoken and outgoing than me so people tend to latch on to him and forget about me.

  5. I agree, with a group of people he knows, he should use my name and so should his friends use their spouses names. It seems like this is mostly happening at work, where he says conversations are a lot like twitter: short and to the point. Still, I'd think even in the interest of economy of words, using my name would be quicker than saying "my girl." :)

  6. It's seems like we are in the minority, Nicole. Even my best friend agrees that it's not a slight that he should call me his wife to people who don't know me. But you're right, no one calls him "Kristyn's wife" and I try, when I'm talking to friends, to call him by his name. Even when I call him "my husband" I qualify it with his name.

    In our relationship, Matt is the quiet one. He sits back and lets me do much of the conversing, because he's terrible at small talk. I wouldn't call him an introvert, however. So I can't much speak to that. :)

  7. How'd I miss this one?

    I think with the phrase "my wife," you're struggling with the word "my" because it's a possessive pronoun. By definition, someone using such a word is declaring ownership over something else, right?

    Well, no, actually. I teach possessive pronouns in 7th grade, and both the textbooks and online lessons are very clear that possessive pronouns can do one of two things: 1. Show ownership, or 2. Show a relationship. So while that might be MY backpack (ownership--that backpack BELONGS to me), the fact that Betty is MY aunt does not mean she belongs to me. It just means there is a relationship between us. Think about it--when you say "My instructor this semester is super tough," does that mean you own your instructor?

    So I say cut Matt some slack and let him refer to you as "My wife" when he's with strangers or vague acquaintances, but refer to you by your name when he's with stronger acquaintances/friends. If he respects your independence and individuality in the real world (which I know he does), then I wouldn't split hairs about his 'guy speak.'

    That being said, I love being referred to by my name. LOVE it (remember my whole "Power of Wielding Names" post?). So I get it.

  8. I think, mostly, it's a matter of context. Certainly, I understand possessive pronouns and how they're used, my issue is in the way southern men treat women. Though Matt doesn't consider me his property, many southern men are quite likely to regard a wife as property. Though I understand that he says "my wife" to express relationship, I'm still firmly in the "I deserve a name camp."