Sunday, July 6, 2008

What's in a Name?

About a year ago I decided that I was going to change my name. It was something I had thought about for a long time. I never felt comfortable with the one I was given at birth. For starters, I was named after my father, even though my parents were in the middle of a divorce when I was born. I thought it an odd choice for my mother, although in her own way, I think she was trying to make amends for the situation. I didn't grow up with my dad. Sometimes it would be more than a year between visits, and yet every morning I woke up with his name stuck on me like a tattoo.
Years later, as an adolescent, I literally had a recurring nightmare about my name. My mother and I had a horrible time living under the same roof after I began to develop (and voice) my own opinion. When she was mad at me (which was often), she had a way of saying my name that would send chills down my spine. She would spit out my name, enshrouded in bitterness and hatred, so that I began to detest the sound of it altogether. As I would fall asleep at night, I would be jolted awake, heart pounding to the sound of one single word uttered in my mother's enraged voice. Just one word and I would find myself awake in my bed, shaking from head to toe. She wasn't actually in my room saying my name. It was just a dream but it was horrible.
There is an even greater reason that I feel the pressing desire to make this change. I had a baby two years ago, a beautiful, innocent, joyful, little girl. Before my pregnancy I had been an art student in the process of "finding myself", with a side-career that consisted of dating musicians and getting drunk. Even this was a vast improvement over what I call "The Lost Years". Those are the years I spent hovering right above the bottom of a very tall and very dark barrel. The moment I found out I was pregnant, I ran straight to the nearest therapist to whom I cried for the following 8 months. I was desperate to leave behind the person I had been all those years, the person I detested, and never had wanted to be to begin with.
Nearly two years after I found out I was pregnant, I would look back on that person as a complete stranger. I no longer found her in myself. I had almost completely metamorphosed into the person I had always wanted to be but never believed I could. I had faith and I had strength. I was a new person. And yet I was still called the same. I cringed when people called me by my name. I hesitated when signing letters and papers. It was almost like an insult. When spoken out loud, it sounded sharp and hard and no matter how innocently it was spoken, I almost always felt a sort of chastisement when hearing it. It simply wasn't who I was anymore.
I first broached the idea of a name change to my family and friends about a year ago. I was greeted by a general sense of "we love you but you're crazy". The most common response was laughter followed by, "oh, you're serious!" Apparently, not everyone followed my train of thought. I admit I've never been an easy person to follow. The only thing about changing one's name is that it only works if people agree to change with it. I was asking everyone who knew me to know me as something different. In my mind, this was not difficult, but I could see their point and I dropped the idea, tail between my legs.
That was a year ago. Last weekend, I sat down at a bar while waiting to meet a friend for dinner. It was just a simple question, but it changed everything- I asked the bartender her name. She responded with something obscure that didn't quite ring as a name a parent might choose. I asked if it was short for something else and that's when it happened; a gleam sprang into her eye, joy spread over her face, and she began to recount her own journey of finding a name for herself. I was elated, thrilled, ecstatic, and most of all inspired. I walked away with new determination.
I know that it might still be hard for some to swallow. I can understand the inclination to hold onto something because it has always been. Perhaps, though, I may point out a few other instances where name changing was a common affair. Peter and Paul of the Bible started out as Simon and Saul, their new names given to separate them from their old lives. Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha, Sojourner Truth as Isabella Baumfree, and Calamity Jane as Martha Burke (although I'm not sure she chose that one). The point is: it is possible to change, both internally and externally. Changing within myself was one of the most difficult and challenging things I've ever done and will continue to do. Shouldn't changing the name that I go by be just a little easier? I mean, it's just a name…



1 comment:

Andrew said...

Thanks for sharing that, Mari. Yeah, what an adjustment to call someone by a new name...I can only imagine what it would be to have one. Very brave...and yeah, a little crazy!

Kidding.