Jul 26, 2011

A rose by any other name.

So. I changed my name. No, not daffodil. You may not call me tulip. Rose. Rhododendron.
I changed my real name. My real last name. To my husband's name. Because I now have a husband.
This has garnered a surprising array of reactions. Joy (because let me tell you how many people will be relieved to never have to pronounce my maiden name again). Confusion, annoyance, and almost betrayal.
I don't know if it is feminist reaction. Or simply adversity to change. I don't know if it is the act of moving from having such a defining and ethnically obvious name to something a bit more common.
But it got me to thinking.
I never had cold feet. I never really "freaked out" about getting married. I mean, I had some well earned neurosis around throwing a giant event in which 99% of the significance in my life were bound to attend.
But I never had second thoughts. To be honest, I never really considered it a decision. Maybe that is a good thing. A sign that is was so natural it was a given. Maybe it was a bad thing, an alarming signal that I am prone to avoiding analysis when it comes to major decision.
That is another blog.
But truth be told, I only had one moment in which I laid awake, making a real decision, and contemplating the magnitude of my new path.
And that was the night before we went to get our license and had to decide on the name change.
Understand, I have spent 37 years of my life with a very long, hard to pronounce, even harder to spell, notably semitic last name. It is a name people respond to with amusement, confusion, joy and recognition. It is a name that says something about who I am and where I came from. It is a name tied, in my head to a multitude of wonderful things: family, religious heritage, old friends and old communities, as well as some hardship and challenges that have made me who I am today. Things like being one of the few jews in a very secular southern california community. Things like being the girl who did not sing xmas songs during winter pageant. Things like having to explain dietary limitations to very confused teacher, friends, parents. Things like always feeling just a bit different, just a bit special.
I think alot of people will argue that in our judeo christian society being jewish is not a minority, based on the very root of that word. That probably can be true. Depending on what kind of jew you are. I assume if you are John Schwartz, who grew up with a notably jewish, but easily pronounced name, in a mixed community of other jews, all mostly secular, maybe with a channukah bush and the kind of bar mitzvah that only really meant a bevvy of presents and the chance to make your other friends jealous that might be true. I imagine if the temple you went to was mixed, and you lived in the kind of family that never celebrated a sabbath, and sort of embraced all holidays in the name of diversity you could very much say you did not grow up a minority, or at the very least, you did not experience a culturally different experience than the episcopalen next door.
But if you grew up like I did, even slightly observant, home every Friday night when other people had slumber parties and, later, kegger to go to. If you didn't participate in Saturday sports because of shabbos and you felt just a little weird around winter holiday time and were out for a bunch of days the very first days of school because the secular school year starts smack dab in the middle of the high holidays and many teachers, including even some Jewish ones, didn't get why you had to be out because John Schwartz was coming to school that day. Well, then, you begin to understand how a bunch of things are actually christian, not just American. You begin to understand that your "American" experience was very different than my husbands, one of 100s of Kelleys in a small town practicing all the same cultural and religious rituals as his multitude of cousins, friends and teachers.
What does this have to with my last name?
Well, I am now a Kelley. And I am. Because my husband is now my family. And his family is now my family. And I love that. My family has grown and I have changed because of that. And to deny that, is, to me, to deny the very point of marriage, the very virtue of that union.
But on some level I will never be a Kelley. And I know this. It's as obvious, as the saying goes, as the nose on my face.
And so I kept my last name as my middle name. And yes, less people will see it. It will be relegated to an initial. And my boss can now breath a sigh of relief at meetings and people will now only misspell my last name... half the time. But my old name is still there. In the middle. Fully a part of who I am.
Because I don't believe you can give up who you are to be someone else. I don't believe you can just pick a new name and be a new person. I think you are where you came from and you color your path with it's textures. Even if you pick a surprising direction at the fork in the road.
I think you don't go from being a jew to an irish american because you change your name. And you don't go from being weird to average, or cherry to vanilla, because you drop a syllable.
What's in a name? A whole story. But a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.

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