Speaking of getting married, there’s that thing about names. You know, that thing where you’re a woman, and you get married, and then you have to decide whether you want to keep the name you grew up with or take this completely new name that you hadn’t given any thought to (or maybe even heard) until you met a particular guy.
There’s something strange about giving up a name. Suddenly, it sounds like you’re not a part of your own family. You’re a part of this other family, except that you don’t know their stories yet, and you don’t have memories of them yet. So you’re kind of a name ghost. You’re floating between families. You haven’t grown solid and real yet. That happens when you become normal at their gatherings and dinner tables, and when you can say your own name and think of yourself. It happens when you become automatic to them, and they are automatic to you, and you all have memories of each other. It might take years . Maybe a lot of them.
And what if you do something remarkable and public? The little girl you were wouldn’t know how to recognize herself in your name when she read about you. People who read about you won’t immediately connect you back to the other members of the family you grew up with. And when they know those family members or read about them in the paper, they won’t connect them back to you. You’ll have to say, “You know, he’s actually my brother.” And if you have a sister, and you both get married, and you both have new names, it’s even more confusing.
So you can hyphenate. That’s what my mother did. That’s how I ended up with two terrible, clunky, last names, instead of one. Neither one of them looks like they should be pronounced the way they are. They don’t have a single fluid, attractive syllable between them.
I’ve never liked my name. Not even my first name, honestly. It doesn’t go with my last names. It doesn’t reflect my ethnicity. It’s always sounded to me like a girl with a spunky turned up nose, a wide, smiling face, and a tall, boyish body. I can’t see myself in it.
We all gave up half of the hyphenated last name after a while. It was way too complicated. My brothers, mother, and I never legally changed anything, we just stopped using our full names. But it still pops up. On diplomas and health insurance and my driver’s license. On my email account that Bear set up for me so early in our relationship that he didn’t know the way I referred to myself and was basing his knowledge on how my name appeared on the internet (probably on a document from college, where my legal name ruled).
I took his name. I like his name too much not to take it. I like how we’re obviously married. I like squeezing myself into the memories of his family. I like that it takes time, because it should. It’s an evolution, an integration, and a formation of something completely new. I like that we have time. That’s the whole idea.
But I don’t really use his name. I don’t use it professionally, and often, I don’t use it personally either, because I don’t remember to. And because I’m not quite ready to. And because I like not having to.
My last names have always been ambiguous. Mispronounced, mismatched, left behind and snatched up again. I recognize parts of myself in all of their variations. When I took Bear’s last name, I recognized myself there, too. So now I have three last names. Not all at once, but as though they are floating in a bowl and I can pick the one or two I need out and use them.
When people started addressing things to me using one of my original last names and Bear’s last name, without a hyphen, I smiled and thought it was appropriate.
At some point, far in the future, maybe I’ll settle down. I might have a steady name. But I kind of hope that I never do. After all, I don’t think I want to be a steady person. I don’t want to identifiably belong to only one family, because I don’t. I belong to more families than that. And most of all, I belong to myself. Who knows who she is.
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Un-roast: Today I love how I’ve never really worried about my skin. My mom used to tell me not to pick pimples because I’d have all of these tiny scars. But that never seemed like good reason to stop picking them to me. I’ve never thought I’d look a lot worse if I was marred in little ways.
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