"At present our only true names are nicknames"~ Henry David Thoreau
I've been wanting to write this post for awhile. Our new surname was in the making for more than a decade, before timing, guts and money came together to enable us to follow through with our decision. Many people find that name changing is offensive or a direct insult to the families that bestowed names in the first place. For those who are traditional or in the mindset that names are the direct link between people, a legal name change is a very odd concept to wrap the brain around. "A name is a tool. You don't own just one tool and refuse to get others because of the one at home. 'I can't get a wrench because my parents gave me a perfectly good screwdriver already! It's a family screwdriver, we all share the same one, generations all of us. I plan to give it to my son.' You have as may tools as you need and sometimes you use a tool for only a brief period of a time." (pg. 36* Phoenix McFarland. See attribution below for all the following quotes in this post.)
"We change, we grow into new people many times over as we progress through life. We are no longer static and unchanging, we no longer "fit" the names given to us by someone else, which we have carried all our lives." (pg. 31) Part of the reason we changed our names is that we felt tied to an identity that wasn't ours. This is also why we chose a few middle names and tried to balance out the meaning personally for each individual.
Ingrained beliefs state that this is deliberately isolating familial roots by choosing this path. While we give thanks for our roots on each side, neither fully described our family. While roots are important, family is not necessarily stripped down to blood ties. Family are those who support, accept and understand with love and engage in dialogues of respect. They are the people we grow and witness life with. This should not be strictly defined to a name or a country or a place or a gender or any isolated descriptor like a name. Nor be limited to the father's side of the family.
"We are in an age of seeking understanding and perspective that we achieve, in part, by looking to the past. We look to history. We look beyond the fearful fundamentalists of today, beyond the misogynistic murderers of the Middle Ages, and back to a time perhaps when wisdom was valued, nature was revered and the feminine was venerated; a time before humans believed they held dominion over nature, before the quest of youth and beauty held sway over the culture..." "Before hereditary surnames evolved (even by 1465 C.E. the use of last names was not yet universal) the first surnames were often patronymic...; some were places names...; others were names of race or nicknames that describe characteristic of the person (Robin of Loxley)" (page 10)
Names carry cultural information and lead to assumptions. Names carry meaning and people live up to the meanings often in their names. We feel honoured and lucky to be living in a period of freedom to be able to change this factor of identity so easily. In the time of the medieval church conformity and choosing an "unusual name could lead to death by burning, hanging... as the influence of the church waned...the poets waxed romantic and our babies had new names. In the modern era, actors play beloved characters...we are now at a time that allows great freedom. We are free to choose names for our children and even for ourselves that are not dictated to us by conquest, an oppressive ruler, the church or any social convention." (pg 2)
We love stories. We are passionate about our books, movies, and tales. To us, life evolves and changes. The naming process was a fun one. We had many last names in the running and the kids were involved heavily. From toddler hood on we did not reinforce their last name because we knew it would be changed. We also allowed our children to pick new middle names or keep the ones that we gave them. We guided but we allowed them to ultimately choose from a large list. We had a blast with this process. They are aware that they can choose an alternate surname, go back to the old one, or keep what we have chosen when they reach adulthood. We believe in that freedom.
For our surname we had a few options but we settled on something neutral for numerous reasons. The top reason was memory for ourselves and our children and friends. The name we chose was already part of our regular vocabulary. It also started out as a joke but then became a consideration. A testament to our approach to life: secret humour and irony. Our choice also happens to be a common name that is used. We felt it came with many mixed assumptions and it would be easier to fly under the radar in a sense. We often stand out in eccentricity so we deliberately decided to choose something ordinary and less hippyish (which can be our tendency.) Our choice can come across as patriarchal but anyone who knows us, will know that is a moot point and anyone who doesn't will not know we deliberately chose it ourselves.
In the past, when we mentioned our last name the typical questions were as followed, "Oh are you so and so's brother? What about the other brother? Are you somehow related to him? I didn't know there was another child in the family...did you just move here? Are you German?" My husband had a tougher time with these assumptions than I did. A strong personality type does not want to be consistently defined by his brothers. This happened enough that we knew when to brace ourselves for the inevitable.
Many people ask how our extended family took it. Obviously, there was going to be hurt feelings or feelings of rejection. This is part of the reason we waited a few years longer than we could have. We had an opportunity about five years ago but we realized if we wanted it to be optimal that we would have to wait longer. I found waiting to change our names a bit hard as it was already done in my mind for years before it was actually legal. In a way this was good because I keep forgetting it's a new idea to most people. It's not some profoundly heart thumping change for me. Timing is not always easy. We waited until we had more healing with my husband's parents. This may seem weird. Why heal and have more understanding and then put them in a place of questioning again? Because we wanted them to know that it wasn't a name change based on rebellion of them or of direct objection to them. We wanted to be in a place where we had more communication to explain. Because sole rebellion wasn't why we chose to do this. I understand how if patriarchy mindsets or certain beliefs feel like the core of a person most of our reasons WILL feel like outright rebellion. However, it's not in rebellion of who his parents are or how my husband loves them or our family values their role in our lives.
My husbands parent's took it beautifully compared to what could have happened. My husband had a quiet, stable conversation with them and both parties were respectful and came out of the conversation with dignity in tact. He affirmed with the following phrase:
"If this was about separating myself completely from you and not wanting a relationship with you, I wouldn't be here explaining myself or trying to validate you. I don't care about wills or bloodlines. What I care about is the love that we have and that you know, no matter what, that I still see myself as your son. I need you to know that I value you regardless of what we choose to do, our beliefs, and how we live our life. I will make efforts to validate that verbally and I am thankful for both of you."
It will take some time and full understanding may never be achievable, however, the conversation built a new foundation that was important. In the end, we realized that we have to consider all parties involved and be kind in our delivery, but then make a decision based on what enables our family to live our best life.
I can't speak for my husband, he has his own reasons and individual relationships with his family, but I can say that for me, it is easier now to interact with some of his siblings. For them, it's probably, ironically, the other way. There is an aspect of changing surnames that IS a statement, whether intentional or not. It's a statement of autonomy, independence, and freedom. Without the name strings I feel that we are now able to relate on a more respectful acquaintance level of respect without expectations. When a family is completely on opposing sides of many issues it can be difficult to get along. Without the worry of smearing a name, it's easier to be myself.
Time tends to ease issues and we hope in a few years, once people have adjusted, that they actually realize life is a little easier on them without sharing our name too. In a community of strong belief, it was hard on them whenever my husband had his groups or ads in the paper for different events that may not have lined up with what they felt was appropriate. In the end, it may be easier for them in the future to have a cleaner association with us.
The reactions from varied siblings were surprisingly toned down to what we have experienced in the past. My husband's one sibling was especially warm towards us and she stepped around the issue completely, even though I know it must have been tough to understand or accept. She put her relationship with my husband over her mindsets. I was impressed. I don't expect this for myself but of course I hope it for my husband. All in all, each sibling reacted in what was appropriate for their relationship with him, from light questions to absolutely nothing... It's important for the person who's birth family it is, to do the talking. I did not attend my husband's meeting with his parents. It would not be fair in that circumstance to add my voice. My parents are affected by my birth certificate being changed to my new name and my middle names, but they already went through the grief of letting go when I took my married name. While full understanding may not be achievable it is vital to make the transition as easy as possible.
We have found surprising support in our community. In my imagination over the years I thought I would receive contempt, direct rebuttal and constant question. Luckily, in all business relations, people were professional. Occasionally the question was asked why. Our standard truthful, surface level answer was/is,"We married young and have wanted to attempt this since a year after we realized we could, because we are untraditional together. Circumstances came together to enable us to do this." Everyone has nodded, smiled and adjusted accordingly. I was even surprised with a few very supportive comments from very traditional people. Which is always a pleasant irony. A cashier I barely know remarked, "Your hubby strikes me as the rogue of the family. He's the youngest right? I hope I marry a rogue...they are brave, know what they want, romantic and tend to be strong." I laughed. This is true and I found it funny that someone who only knows us by what we purchase said this phrase. It's probably not optimal to the rest of the family who has to deal with the rogue but for the one who married him, it IS delightful for the most part. I hope at least one of my children is a rogue in their own love stories even if it causes me pain. Choosing each other can be epic. Another older woman asked why we made this decision and once I replied she surprised me with, "I think more people should consider this. It can be healthy once people get used to the idea. It also shows separate independence and asks for respect." Thus far I have only had one person raise their eyebrows but have to yet to run into outright contempt.
I disliked the sound of my surname growing up so when I married, my husband's name was a step up, but it never fit well. When we found out a year later that a couple we knew made a completely new last name together we were annoyed that we didn't realize this was an option. We would have loved that. As time went on I only used my married last name when I absolutely had to. The name became a little tougher for me as issues in the family surfaced. I wasn't well liked in general...now I understand why but being a teen and young twenty something it caused immense pain. Being disliked in acquaintance situations is fine enough but when we used to spend all holidays and family gatherings with them, the name tie was another bond to a group of people who had hurt and isolated me, as a group and individually, the most in my entire life experience and in years that required the most growth from me at a young age.* I was bullied by one person throughout teenage hood but otherwise had not experienced the level of deceptive unkindness and disregard for my human essence that I did in some circumstances. In their defence- I was also very difficult in the way I saw the world but did not yet understand. I did not know myself so could not explain that most of what was taken offence to was innocence on my part or just a very different brain stance. I was never out to hurt but I WAS different and odd.
Our differences in complete life approaches was also strong. Add sensory overload into the mix and a family of mostly extroverts to a fiercely introverted individual and it was just not optimal. When I was called by my surname, I cringed inside, because it was like being associated with some of the tougher times of my life. It was a reminder of everything I wasn't.
I was often mixed up with my sister in law's name. Our first names sound VERY similar in first and we shared the last name. She was more community minded than I, so people knew her more. Three years after she moved away I continued to be asked if I was her with my points account or when I gave my name out to people who knew her but didn't know me over the phone. "Oh you are married to _. He is so talented in the arts program." I have had renditions of this phrase spoken to me over forty times at the very least. I'd tightly smile and say,"Wrong brother." But then I'd get a quiz about the next brother and why they had never heard of my man and how was I related and 'what a nice family' (which they really ARE but again...deep wounds of misunderstanding heal slowly.) By the end I actually would just nod and let them assume I was married to that brother and quickly found my exit. This was frustrating and slightly painful. I love that now my sister in laws name is all hers and mine is uniquely mine.
In some of my personal relationships with the family the healing has come a long way. For instance, I adore my husband's mother. Putting myself in her place I realize how her heart must break sometimes. How she sees the world and how we sometimes act in it must be very difficult. It is painful and I deeply feel for this. At the same time, the empathy I feel can not stop me from living our life to the best of our ability either. Both her and I approach each other with respect and more dialogue than we had in the past. They had no idea how to deal with someone who is so different. I also did not know how different I actually was until my mid twenties so I did not understand why most of the family loved others so easily but exploded with rage on occasion to something I thought was benign. I had never had a group of people be so adamantly flustered and upset about some minor decisions or comments that I made. I learned to keep silent most of the time. I was used to being supported or liked or having people just let go if I was not their cup of tea. We all had a lot to learn, each of us made our own mistakes, and because of the differences on so many different levels the growth is still happening. I now feel I am free to love my husbands family better, according to each relationship uniqueness, without the name tie. If it's tougher for them, so be it, but there is immense freedom for me without that connection. When I changed my name on our phone account the service accountant said "Hold on Mrs...insert new last name" then he paused and waited for me to answer him and he laughed, "I was just seeing if you were used to your new name...must be pretty exciting eh?" I was giddy over that moment.
While the family situation did affect how I feel about my own name change, it is only one piece of the puzzle. We had multiple reasons for changing our names. History of names, the love of meaning of names, our deep interest in nomenculture, our personal stories, the current cultural freedom to make this choice, marrying young, stating autonomy, our untraditional ways, unifying our bond, and our dislike of patriarchal traditions all contributed to this decision.
Our marriage has succeeded this far because of our unity, our unique ways of communicating, humour, and respect but also because we present a strong front. The name change was another bond for us together. For our children it was an important lesson in family considerations, individual autonomy, cultural expectations, fun, bravery, and the frustrations that come with a process. They witnessed every conversation we had with people (we discussed everything with them.) We had to do finger printing three times because of mistakes that were made and we had to drive an hour out of our way for the electronic prints each time to another office. Each wait period after prints was a few months. Doing this three times was depressing. Some people would have given up as it took us nine months longer then was expected because of various mix ups. I had one person tell me it wasn't meant to be if we kept running into problems. I don't believe anything is not meant to be...only not wanted enough or if life happens and all avenues are exhausted, then sometimes it is good to give up. This wasn't that time. Our children learned that you don't give up on a difficult thing unless all options have been tried IF it means something to you. Even if no other person supported it, which wasn't the case, we still would have changed our name. We believed in it for us that much. My husband's story is his own and obviously has some differing factors. This is my story and I can honestly end it by saying this is in my top twelve best decisions of my life. It has been a game changer. While there are definite downsides, with anything in life there are negatives and positives, the benefits outweigh these. I was afraid of a name that didn't suit me being on my gravestone. I had nightmares of being remembered by a name that came with a lot of baggage in my personal journey and deep soul pain. As our journey progressed, I realized that I could make that name work for me, but since I could change it, I would, even if my husband decided a family name change wasn't for him. I was lucky that my husband also had that desire from an early period in our marriage because then we would have hyphenated which wasn't my favourite idea but would have been our compromise if both our mentalities were differing. However, that wasn't our story.
Names can be burdens or they can be magic. They give meanings to places and descriptors to the human experience. They are crucial for understanding yet breed false assumptions. Nomenclature is full of contradictions. My truest names are my nicknames bestowed by those who love me or myself. This blog name feels like a part of my identity. My husband will often fondly call me Kmarie. Some of my middle names are also part of this beauty. Just because some nicknames we go by are not legal does not make them any less real or legitimate. However, sometimes the step into a legal name change is important. If an individual feels that their name needs to be a truer reflection of who they are, it is important to honour that if possible. Authenticity is crucial to a sense of well being and stability. I have no regrets but I do wish our decisions could cause the least harm. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Yet, life must be lived with bravery and courage. This took great guts for us to do. I am proud of us. If you are considering a legal name change, weigh all the factors and consider an approach of kindness and timing, but in the end, do what can enables you to live your most authentic life with freedom and love. Dreams do come true but some times it takes pain, grit and a strong sense of self to make them a reality.
"The New book of Magical Names" by Phoenix McFarland. While this book is definitely different from where I stand on some issues or beliefs, the whole of it was beautiful and accompanied our family on our journey and choosing.
**I don't regret marrying young. In fact, last night my hubby turned to me and said, "In two years I will have surpassed the amount of time I didn't know you in my life and I will have known you more years than what I experienced without you. I have been looking forward to this date since we started going out. I remember wondering what we would be like. You have exceeded my dreams. I am so glad we married young despite its struggles." Heart thump. After I swooned I completely agreed.
~ For cost, the whole process in our province including new birth cards, fingerprints, marriage certificates, and drivers licences was less than 300 dollars for our entire family. Luckily, all births except mine were in the province we lived in, which was cheaper. Cost will vary from place to place.~