Your Name Is Your Identity

August 2020

I never put much thought into the weight or meaning of a name, except for maybe when I was choosing a name for each of my children shortly after their birth… but even then, I never thought of a name as more than a part of their identity and a way to address them. Of course there were some names that I completely ruled out because I associated them with people that had that name that weren’t on my favourites list, but the meaning of a name didn’t go much further than that. And as for the surname, I just thought about that as how you identify that person as part of that family. Nothing more.

But then I got married, and more recently, got divorced and my name took on a whole new meaning.

When I got married and took on my husband’s surname, I identified myself as being with him by using his surname and it was also pretty exciting to be a “Mrs”. To me, it meant that I wasn’t a child anymore and no longer “under the care” of my parents. That name change adjusted how I viewed myself and how others saw me.

When I separated from my husband, I thought about what I should do about my surname. It had formed my identity in both my personal and work life for the last 20 years, so at first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to change it. My name was who I was and really, it was just a name, right? Wrong.

My married surname wasn’t common and it often was a conversation starter. Something that I didn’t want to entertain (or spell) when I had disassociated myself from my husband, and especially not after I had legally divorced him. I actually started to hate my name because to me, it represented everything that I had walked away from. It was also a person that I no longer was. However, going back to my maiden name didn’t seem right either. I hadn’t been that person for decades. Literally. The person that looked back at me in the mirror now was someone who was stronger than ever; Someone who was a fighter and a survivor; Someone who didn’t identify with any name that I had been associated with to date.

It was time to create something new. It was my chance to form my identity.

Surprisingly, it didn’t take me long to work out a new last name. It’s something that I made up and has a special meaning to me. I also added in another middle name – another name that I could identify with and that I felt suited me better.

It took a little longer than expected to have my name legally changed after I submitted the documentation, but I think the legal change came through at just the right time. The letter arrived on 1 July and I’ve spent the last few weeks slowly making the name transition where required. I’ve even gone as far as using one of my middle names as my preferred first name. A complete identity change.

There’s something extremely liberating about having my last name legally changed so that I no longer have that tie to my ex-husband. There’s something even more liberating to have my entire preferred name, different to what it was. I didn’t think it would feel quite like this – so free and so independent. I also didn’t think I needed it to move on, but now that it’s done, I know that it was needed as the last part of my healing from that last part of my life and who I was.

I wish I could officially and legally make the change for my children too, but I can’t without my ex-husband’s consent, and a part of me wants to keep my new identity a secret from him. I want to keep it untainted and disassociated with him, even if it’s just away from his awareness. The kids are okay with waiting until they’re old enough to make the change themselves and in the interim, they know that they can use the same new surname if they want to, as their preferred name. And one of them already has.

So what’s going to happen when I get married again? (Yeah, I’ve already foreseen that happening.) Well I’ll think about that when it happens. For the moment, I’m just going to be grateful that I am shaping who I am and that I’ve chosen how I’m legally identified. I’m in control of me. And I’m perfectly fine with that.

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