Attempting to secure my name ^^ on social media, and the web in general has got me thinking about names…screen-names, nicknames, pseudonyms and real names.
That up there, is my really for real actual name. Or first two initials and surname anyway. But it isn’t the one I was born with. I changed my surname by deed poll last year, but after an initial flurry of questions about my decision, other people’s interest died away, leaving just me and my new name. A name that I chose for myself but that also chose me.
When people see or hear my name first up, they assume that I’m married.
I have the same last name as my boyfriend and our kids, so they figure he’s actually my husband (although I am pretty explicit at calling him my ‘boyfriend’ or ‘partner’) and that we got married and I took his name as is the usual status quo. Even a few friends and family members have made this assumption in the past year, apparently thinking we must have eloped for the actual ceremony and neglected to tell anyone or share any photographs (even though I am notorious for over-sharing online, err…hello! Blogging!)
Then when they’re corrected, or figure out that isn’t the case, their next assumption is that I changed my name so that I would have the same surname as my boyfriend and our children.
Well…yeeeees, I suppose I did, but that was really more of a happy side-effect. Clearly I DID want to share their name, or else when it came to changing my own I’d have picked something entirely different and arbitrary. Something I often flirted with the idea of as a teenager. Friends will remember me doodling in a notebook Rebecca YORKE Rebecca STIPE Rebecca STEFANI…you may be able to sense a theme, in that all the potential surnames were those of my idols at that time. I didn’t really know what I wanted my name to BE, I just knew that the name I had wasn’t ME.
I didn’t hate it. I didn’t have one of those names, you know those names, that everybody agrees they’d want to change if it was theirs, and nods sympathetically when a friend confesses “I just couldn’t see our relationship going anywhere, I mean his last name is Titwank”. My name wasn’t a bad one, or a comedy one, my initials didn’t spell out anything embarrassing. In fact for the first 24 years of my life I didn’t really give it much thought.
But just before my 25th birthday two things happened: my Dad died and my son was born. The man who’d given me my last name left this world, and the child I’d given life to entered it. And I gave him the name I wanted him to have, the name I felt was his, and then I started to think about my own.
I’d expected it to bother me, when I became a Mum to a baby with a surname different to my own, I expected it to be a big deal, or a pain in the arse, and steeled myself accordingly, but it wasn’t any such thing. It wasn’t a thing at all. This is the 21st century. Most families have steps and halves and the cacophony of surnames that come with. No one batted an eyelid, and as for me personally, now that he was earthside the idea that our different names might ‘upset’ me, or make him seem less connected to me in some way suddenly seemed laughable.
Our connection was the most tangible connection to another human being I’d ever felt, I exist in his very cells. I nurtured him inside me for 9 long months, it mattered not one iota that our surnames contained a different sequence of letters, when his DNA sequence was formed within me.
My Dad’s death changed a lot of things though. In the same way that a door must be swung wide open in order to be slammed shut, it initially made me ‘cling’ to my last name, as evidence that once I had belonged to a family that was now fragmented so much it was almost unrecognisable. For years I had wanted to change it, but now, with his death it seemed I was destined to hold on to it, as the eldest, unmarried daughter of an only son, maybe it was my duty to carry it forward. But with no intention of passing it on to my own children, the name would still end with me…just 50, 60 years from then. So what was I really doing it for? Who was I really doing it for? I thought long and hard about that. About my Dad, about what he’d have to say about it, about what I owed him (or didn’t), about the debts he’d left behind (emotional, not fiscal, although knowing my Dad, I’m not ruling that out).
Then my second son was born, and joined his father and his brother in name. I suffered from postnatal depression, not something I publicised (unlike everything else in my life). In fact I think that may be the first time I’ve typed those words somewhere so public. But I did. It had absolutely nothing to do with my precious beautiful son, my healthy straightforward pregnancy, or my fucking amazing homebirth (which I shall not get in to now, or we’ll be here all day. Suffice to say it was awesome). It wasn’t a reflection of any of those things. It was, I believe about 26 years worth of emotional baggage, and trauma, all coming out in the space of about 6 months. Which was FUN, let me tell you. There were times, when I thought I may have genuinely lost my mind (and maybe I had). I began to question everything that had ever happened to me, everything anyone had ever said or done, all the things that I thought were true, people I had thought were true, and let me tell you, that when you go digging like that you inevitably come across a whole heap of shit.
By the time my baby was crawling, I was coming out of the other side. Slowly. It wasn’t like I woke up one day grinning with my head all sorted out and a clear path forward, it was more like after 6 months of being lost in a jungle I’d finally actually come across a path. At that point we were living in a different house, our day-to-day lives were changing as our boys grew, some people were no longer in our lives, whereas others had joined it. I felt with absolute certainty that I wasn’t the same person I had been, and for the first time as an adult I said the words out loud “I’m thinking about changing my name”
My boyfriend/partner/NOT husband was initially hesitant, I think his reply was: “err…to what exactly?!” He told me after he’d had visions of me doing a Phoebe from Friends: “Princess Consuela Banana Hammock” When I explained that I’d simply meant my surname, and that for ease I figured I’d pilfer his, he relaxed.
Then last spring I finally did it. It was both remarkably simple, and very complicated. The process itself is as straightforward as ordering something online (which in effect it is), but it’s what comes after (notifying everyone IN THE WORLD) that is the pain in the arse. I am now Holland everywhere other than my passport, and sitting on the other side I can say that all the letter writing and photocopying my deed poll was worth it one thousand times over, to be able to be the bearer of a name with no history and only future.
It is my family name. Not the family I was born into, but the one I chose and made.
What people call me on a day to day basis hasn’t changed at all, since the only people who really use anyone’s ‘official’ name are, well…officials. So I’m still “Rebecca”, “Mummy”, “Muuuuum”, “Mama”, “Rebaby”, “Baby”, “Cariad” or more often than not “Rabbit”. In that sense, it hasn’t made a difference. But it makes a difference to me, in my mind. Shakespeare said “that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”, and he was a pretty smart guy, I think we can all agree. Shedding my name didn’t turn me into someone else, I just found a name that better suits who I’ve become. And the good news is I’m still just as sweet as I ever was 😉