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Some thoughts on changing names

Dear friends,

The subject of changing one's name came up, and (to me interestingly but unexpectedly) I learnt that if you change your first name, many people who know you will protest, not just very close relatives who chose the name.  People also worried about aspects of the process and what one needed to do:

FWIW, when I divorced my first husband, my lawyer told me that in reality you can call yourself whatever name you want. For some purposes you need to notify authorities: where, for example, cash payments (social security), or some benefit or attachment to an institution is in question.  Since we were talking about divorce, my question was, Did I have to go back to my birth name or could I keep my first husband's name? He said it was my choice. I decided to stay with my first husband's name because my original name yes had very bad vibes for me. I didn't want to be the person that I had been under my first name and birth name.

So after the divorce went through, I just kept using my first husband's name only instead of Mrs used Ms (some people in the college I was going to starting to call me Miss Grube -- that was the name).

Then I remarried and used on the marriage certificate Grube as my name; since it was England, the certificate had a place for my birth name and I put my birth name there. Now my name is my second husband's name: Moody.  I like the name because no one ever mispronounces it or mispells it (my birth name was Hungarian in origin and I used to get questions about it, also when I was young it was a name other children could and occasionally did make fun of). Ellen Moody is this nice easy name and I'd never change it. I've become her over the years; that is to say, I am a certain person who lives a certain way and that's she.

In a way I maintain in my mind as certain self-reflexivity about my name.

I never thought anyone would give someone a hard time because they wanted to be called by a different name.  Girls in their teens can go through a period where they want to spell their name differently. So what?  And keep the new spelling.

A wonderful novel about a character who has a hard fight to invent or live by an identity that he is comfortable with, wants to be, is Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake. I recommend it.

Then I bethought me I had not been clear about Lahiri's novel:

I wasn't clear. In Lahiri's The Namesake the central male character changes his name. He is an Indian young man whose father moved to the US and was in a train accident in India where Gogol's Overcoat (as a physical book) helped save his life.  The father thinks the world of the writer. When the grandmother's choice of name for him gets lost in the mail, he and the boy's mother (the man's wife)name the boy after the Russian writer Gogol. When Gogol reaches 13 and realizes his funny name (it's awkward, different) is that of a writer who he is intensely embarrassed to be identified with (Gogol led an unhappy life and wrote stories about traumatized people), he changes his name to Nikil. This was the second name his parents chose for him, in Indian culture his "good" or formal name. His father is hurt, but if that's what he wants, that's what he wants and they acquiesce. He has some trouble getting people to do it, but only because they have to remember something new.  He does it when he starts a new college so all the friends only know him as Nikil; ditto when he starts a job.

Nikil is not that different from Gogol's first name:  Nikolai Gogol. So he doesn't escape very much :). 

I do love Mira Nair's movie and especially Tabu as Ashima and Irrhan Khan as Ashoke.  The movie and book bring home to us through this theme that people want to shape and direct their own identity.  To have foced on them a group identity or other one from a specific family subgroup can destroy.  By the end of Namesake, Nikil has found himself: an architectural historian, a person neither worshipping the upper middle white class of the US nor in thrall to running away from or being obedient to Indian customs.  This is a theme that means a lot to me.


My gravatar at wordpress

At which people said it was hard to change your name in cases where it was not a matter of change of marital status and told further stories of real crude and cruel objections to one's desire to change so again I wrote:

********************

While I see that CJ is right, the situation I described for my name change is the one specific one our society does recognize more easily (either marriage or divorce) and SarahRose that one has to have documents, my lawyer was probably speaking out of some ideal in law or custom which the average person appears not to want to validate. Keren S's comments bear that out.

On SarahRose's comment that it is skin off "their" nose if I want to change my name: it occurs to me that the neurotypical (I once would have said the sort of person that does not think things out for real) acts as if he or she owns you. I can understand this behavior (though I don't like it) within the nuclear family since inside a nuclear family the people really often do need, use (sometimes positively) or help one another, it seems to me an egregious violation of my liberty, especially since I suspect that these demands and caring about it are superficial.  I can't bend to do what people say they admire as a matter of course or admire whatever it is too, because I've found this admiration is superficial and the average person doesn't care about me individually.  Why should they?  This demand to keep the name is thus an utterly self-concerned impulse.

OTOH, I suppose this is so: it can make people rightly nervous if we disguise ourselves. It's so easy to lie -- and to me a real problem on the Net is the ability for people to be anonymous, use fake names, be unaccountable to one another. I'm aware lots of people seem to revel in this and love to play games for hours and days and weeks where they have fake identities.  Well, as long as everyone in the game knows it's a game. So maybe ultimately there's this discomfort with name changes because people fear they are "at sea" with you. Who are you? 

And speaking personally now my older daughter who I said is estranged from me changed the spelling of her name. Or tried to, but did not do it consistently.  I called her Laura, and she began to spell her name Lauren. It could be the way teenage girls like to have a more glamorous name and change the spelling. At the time I thought it went deeper. But I never complained and never told her not to.  Perhaps that I didn't appear to think anything much about it led to her being inconsistent.  She was trying to make some battle and saw I would not fight over this one. Indeed it didn't matter except in my mind there was this thought she didn't like the "identity" my choice of name seemed to foist on her.

As a mother we sort of have this power -- or a parent -- or a relative in a larger clan who has the recognized right to be part of name choice.

Lastly, as a scholar name changing is a real problem. This is the way women disappear from history.  Upon reach marriage a given woman would change her name.  They then would not be referred to by their first name at all but the husband's first name.  If she was an aristocrat or upper class of any kind (as most women we know from earlier times are), her husband or family would have several names (the property names). It becomes a real problem to find the records of slightly obscure (and they all were or are) women.  Do you look up Fanny Burney as Burney or Madame D'Arblay.  If she did something unconventional she wants to hide (lots of women do) the problem gets very bad.  A novelist of the 19th century now read, Mary Elizabeth Braddon (Lady Audley's Secret was made into a TV mini-series) lived outside marriage with a wealthy publisher who periodical she edited John Maxwell. As I recall as editor she used a pseudonym -- women did this all the time (the Brontes famously called themselves the Bells, Currer Bell was Charlotte). If they had childen out of wedlock they might use a fake name.  So their biography is dissolved away as different real acts are not recorded under one name.

This was from a thread/conversation I joined in on on my women with aspergers list so I signed off

A few thoughts,
Very talky this morning because as usual I had a lonely night, and am glad to be among you,
Ellen

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
misssylviadrake
Sep. 27th, 2011 11:14 am (UTC)
Who do they think they are?
Diane:

""Okay, but I have several friends who, after 30 years of being Harry, Judy, etc. suddenly want to be called Harrison, Judith, etc., with a great deal of chastising every time I slip--which is easy when Harrison is the same slob he always was and Judith the same neurotic. The people may protest because remembering names is harder the older we get, and when there is no noticeable physical change, it is cognitively difficult to change. It can be difficult for "people" but the name changers I have known are the sensitive types-- so sensitive they can't take other people's sensitivity into account."
misssylviadrake
Sep. 27th, 2011 11:16 am (UTC)
disdain
How dare these people? It's not just a matter of irrelevant over-done sensitivities Perhaps read _The Namesake_, or _Small Island_:

http://ellenandjim.wordpress.com/2010/11/26/small-island-painful-disillusionments-inescapable-identities/

E.M.
misssylviadrake
Sep. 29th, 2011 04:55 am (UTC)
My good friend, Kathy, suggests names are a sensitive issue.

http://frisbeebookjournal.wordpress.com/2011/09/26/bibliobits-ngaio-marsh-booker-bestsellers-the-voices-of-bloggers/

She kept her birth name because she always had it, though she preferred her husband's name.

I did not know that other people outside anyone closely involved with you (like someone who picked your name) would object if you changed your name. But apparently it happens all the time. When I was around 13 for about a year I affected spelling Ellen as Ellyn. I'm glad I outgrew that one :). I didn't like my birth name you see; it has bad memories for me. Ellen

Edited at 2011-09-29 04:57 am (UTC)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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