When we were deciding names for our daughter, we agonized over the decision. We wanted to be sure to select a name that would be distinctive and cute, traditional but a little bit different. Something that would coordinate with our last name nicely and not spell a bad word in its initials. Since we named her Melody, two more friends have named their daughters Melody. Choosing a child’s name is really a difficult decision for some parents. It can have repercussions through grade school if it’s weird or unusual – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been called Aunt Martha by my peers! – and really, I don’t get the strange spellings we are seeing these days. I joked with Tara that we could spell my daughter’s name Melo’Dee. It was a joke though, don’t worry!
The middle name for some people is just as important. We settled on Rae, simply because we wanted to honor her grandfather Ray who will never have the joy of knowing her. Other old family names have been used in my family. John’s family seems to go with names new to the family. My friend really wanted to name her son Joaquin but her husband objected so that fell to the middle name.
Coordinating the first and middle names is difficult enough, but you have to look at how it all goes with the last name. You don’t want to wind up with a funny word spelled out in initials! One of the names we considered was Emilie (an old family name) and the middle name Grace, but John pointed out her initials would be EGG. Off went those names to the recycle bin. Rosemary Angela Gibbons? Nope! Henrietta Alice Gibbons? Uh, no. Francis Andrea Gibbons? Never! You get the picture.
Today I read an article expressing outrage – outrage I say! – that women change their last name upon marriage. Wait, back up a second…what? The author was seriously irritated that women give up their identity when they change their names after marriage. I really need to think about this, because personally I never thought of my last name as my identity, or even that changing it would change me. I always figured that when I got married, the act of combining my life with another person would be the big change. My name change is my badge of pride in being the wife of who I am married to! Our daughter shares our name too, and we are a family identified on paper by that name.
But again, that doesn’t make us who we are, does it? It’s not like we are the bin Laden family – that poor family is forever linked to Enemy #1, just like the Hitlers were. As a mere peon, doesn’t what I do in my life shape who I am rather than a name?
The article mentioned things like “would you want to listen to songs by Barbara Brolin? (Barbara Streisand)” Well, personally no, because I don’t care for her, but aside from that, I think this is a poor example. A person with an established media name becomes that commodity. If Barbara Streisand had really become famous as Barbara Apple Pie, we’d find that the norm and Barbara Streisand the tongue twister. It’s rare for a celebrity to change their name after marriage because it’s their trademark – and many times it isn’t their “real” name anyway, lending creedence to the trademark concept in the first place. Who wants to buy records by John Deutchendorf? Well, no one, but they sure lined up to buy them from John Denver, and I’m pretty sure the masses were not really interested in going to see Stanley Eisen front a band, but the minute he walks out on stage with a big black star painted over one eye, everyone knows Paul Stanley of KISS.
So, who we are…is it defined by our names? Or by how we live our lives? Or by the lessons we learn and teach?
If you ask me, I don’t think changing my name caused me to give up my identity. My name doesn’t make me, the same as my career or my choice of home town do not make me.
I make me who I am.