I am a feminist. When Bob and I were married nearly 30 years ago, I made a royal stink over the fact that I would be keeping MY name, despite the best efforts of some family members to willfully ignore that and address letters to “Mr. and Mrs. Robert Davis.”
I found it infuriating, until I had children and would be addressed by my kids’ teachers as “Mrs. Davis.” They could call me anything at all as long as they were kind to my kids and gave them a good education. But to the rest of the world, I was still Debbie Bruno.
Not in China, though. Today, Kersten Zhang, the Wall Street Journal’s efficient and graceful office manager and news assistant, annointed me with a new name, Dai Nuo. The first part is Bob’s family name, a kind of Chinese version of Davis, and it’s a kind of honorific, I’m told. Says Kersten, “It can make words as love and respect, or as a verb pull on or wear.”
The second part, Nuo, is my given name, and it means “promise.”
It looks really pretty, and Kersten threatens to test me on my ability to write it out.
So, this is what comes of agreeing to be what many call a “trailing spouse.” In this country I’m a Davis.
I had agreed to the idea of moving to China with Bob because I thought it would be a fresh start to a career that was rapidly turning into long days of managing and mentoring in place of writing. And so far, the interest in China has meant that I think I’ll have more work than I can begin to handle.
The tradeoff, I guess, is a small setback in the feminist department. I’ve lost count of the number of forms I’ve filled out here that ask for occupation. “Spouse,” I write dutifully. Sometimes I elaborate: "Spouse of reporter." Bob finds all of this hysterical, like he somehow won. We’ll see about that.
So I’m going to focus on the idea that I’m the living embodiment of the word “promise.”
I promise to keep my own identity, not just as trailing spouse.
I promise to write as often as I can.
I promise to stay in touch with all my family and friends.
But I also promise to serve up a Thanksgiving dinner, keep the apartment tidy, do laundry, and buy the Raisin Bran and peanut butter we so desperately need.
I guess I see my name Nuo as a challenge as much as a promise. I’ll tell myself, “Just say Nuo.” (I couldn’t resist.)