I enjoyed this interesting article on The F Word by Claire Rush. Names: first, last and middle, have fascinated me for as long as I can remember. Around the age of ten I fell in love with the Earthsea series, in which names are given great importance. Characters have a true name and a use-name. Knowing something or someone’s true name gives you power over them. Knowing your own true name is part of finding your identity.
Naming my son was a huge responsibility. I wanted something that would be his, a name he could own. Karen has always felt like a pale and ignorable name that I barely hear when people say it. It’s just a sound. My posh relations used to put all the emphasis on the first syllable, because they thought it sounded common otherwise. My grandfather wanted to use my middle name, Rebecca, for the same reason. No wonder I have a lukewarm relationship with my given name. My original surname lent itself well to mean nicknames.
When I accidentally got married in my early twenties, we did in jest create a fused surname, since Hilditch-Williams nicely turned into Hillbilly. In fact I could never get my mouth round Williams, I found it really hard to sign my new name, it just didn’t run off the pen. I changed all the official documents, but decided, just for me, not to change it at work. Work had other ideas, and my email was changed for me, my colleagues laughed and corrected me to my married name. I was surprised by this. The only advantage was that it was now easier to book a restaurant table over the phone.
When the marriage inevitably ended, I reverted to my original surname with indecent haste, and started to feel more warmly towards it. On remarriage, I hung on to my original surname, and again my employer changed it on my email and in other official contexts, without asking me. Personal email was more of a thing by 2000, and I hung on to my unique hotmail address for dear life. Let’s face it, I was never really into that marriage.
Pete and I are not married, but I do have his name. It was a deliberate choice, not mindless compliance with “the patriarchal traditions of marriage and relationships”. It doesn’t make me his chattel, he didn’t ask me or tell me to do it, I asked for it when we got pregnant. It’s a team name. It’s a container. It’s a statement that we’re together, all three of us. I haven’t subsumed my identity into his, in fact I’ve never felt more me. Now I’ve got my common first name and my common surname, and they fit together nicely. My signature works. I still have to spell it on the phone, but it doesn’t take as long. The fact is, my identity is partly defined by my roles, and my true name acknowledges that. This is the name under which I have achieved my best things. This is me.