Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What's in a Name?

Have you ever changed your name? Officially/legally? If you are a guy, you probably have not. If you are a married woman, you probably have. Well, here I am in the process of changing my name for the second, no wait, third time in my life. It is such a strange thing to be doing. Unless you've been through a name change - a change in your identity - you won't really know what I am saying here. You can understand it, but you won't know.

A name is important, isn't it? It is a key piece of how the world knows and identifies us. It is how they find us, track us, and categorize us. A family name carries our identity, our history, our story.

My first name change happened when I was around four or five. My parents split and my mom remarried. I was adopted by my step father and I took his family name to replace my birth father's family name. So that was name change #1. Changing a name at five doesn't have much affect on you, because you are five, but certainly the surrounding events of such a name change have a profound effect on one's life. My entire family changed. One side was gone forever in this case, and a new piece entered the picture. I became identified with the family of this new man.

Then I got married around 30. Enter name change #2. I guess some women in this day and age might not have changed their name getting married at that age. (I have one friend who got married in her 20s and her husband actually took her name! Man I love that.) I had gone to college and grad school and I had been working for a number of years, so I was known by my "maiden" name in professional circles, not to mention all the friends and others who had intersected my life for 30 years. But, I wasn't a doctor or a celebrity or the kind of person who would really suffer from a name change. Plus I was never crazy about my family name. It was very long and a challenge to pronounce, and my father who gave me that name was no longer alive and I was not close to any of his family so carrying on that name just did not seem that important to me. I had no real tangible connection to that name or a strong family history and presence. My mother had remarried and even taken a new name, so what was the value of that name to me? I mean it was given to me and it was a part of my identity for many years, but I guess I felt no allegiance to it. Is that a sad thing to say? I guess it kind of is. Do I wish I had had a stronger family connection to make me want to hang on to that family name? Sure. But life is what it is.

I really liked my husband's (now ex) family name and his family. And it was really a family name. He has a large family with many extended relatives. I was joining that new clan, so why not take on the name, the identity? He was my husband and I wanted to have his name. It is a north Indian name. People who hadn't met me would read my name and have expectations of what I would look like when they met me for the first time, and then I would show up and blow all of those assumptions away. I was the blonde hair, blue eye girl with the Indian name. Having that name was a lot of fun over the years for that reason alone. But more than fun, I was proud to be a part of that family. I still love and adore that family even though I left that marriage a few years ago. And I always want that family to be a part of my life.

So now we come to name change #3. I got remarried last year. If I had not met my current husband and remarried, I would carry on with my ex-husband's name, because I do feel attached to that name, like it is part of my history and identity. Some women in my situation would have returned to their maiden names, but as I noted, I felt no connection to my maiden name. Returning to that name to me would be like picking any random name. So I would have stayed with the name I have carried for almost 15 years, the name that most people know me by and the name that I have carried for the bulk of my professional career. I know this puzzles some of my women professional friends of a certain age - wondering why I want to go and make a change at this point in my life. So why am I choosing to make this third change, and at this time in my life?

Like my ex-husband's family, this new family is also large and very much a family and proud of its family name and history. I am entering a new clan and I am proud to be a part of this family, just as I was proud to be a part of my ex-husband's family. I want to be a part of this family, and I realize I can do that without changing my name, but I like this family and its name and its history. I feel honored to be a part of this family and to carry its name. It just feels right. My husband is thrilled that I want to take his family name and I am happy that I can make him happy because I really want to do it.

Besides, I have been creating a new identity, or rather a new layer of who I am, and it is really not about marrying another man. I have changed over the past 15 years, especially over the past few. Heck, last year I chose to sell my house, quit my job and move out west...and that was my idea, not my husband's, and before we got married. I am very much still the me that has always been here through all name changes, but I am different too. So taking on this new name, adding this to my identity feels right to me.

But in spite of my 100% desire and commitment to this, I still haven't officially changed my name even though I got married almost six months ago because we've been busy and because in this day and age it takes quite a lot of work to change one's name when you consider how our lives are full of places (banks, credit cards, accounts, passports, etc.) where we use our name. I have an endless list of places I will need to change my name, some of which will require original copies of my marriage certificate! It is a real pain in the neck and a process. But I am going to be starting the formal process this month. I have made a few small steps in this direction - starting up a new email with my new name, setting up my new name with some accounts, etc. But now I will do all of it, including making the name change in my professional world, which is probably going to be a strange process.

So here it is - name change #3. And it will be the last one I make in my life. You can be sure of that. There is a lot in a name and I feel I have finally found the name for me.

1 comment:

  1. I hear you! Changing your name is a big deal, partly in all the paperwork. It's one of the few things that can't be done just online anymore. And then there are all the emotions, some of which you've touched on. I only changed mine once, but it took a great deal of reflection. I've heard people say a man is "giving" his name to his wife, but really the gift is in the taking.