Before I got married, I spent a lot of time thinking about the fact that I would be changing my name. (In fact, much of this post was written long ago, forgotten, and then re-considered and revised when my new SSN card came in the mail.) The idea held me in a tumultuous mix of apprehension and delight. Often, I found it overwhelming. “You spend your whole life being called John Smith,” I told my fiance, my father, my mother (yes, anyone who would listen #soapbox), “and then one day, people just start calling you John Baker. Just out of the blue. They just do that to you. They introduce you by a new name; you might even look around to see who this Baker fellow is.” My audience for this soapbox ranged from fascinated (just kidding, no it didn’t)—from amused (father and fiance) to impatient (mother; I think I was supposed to be picking out wedding decorations at the time, though. SOAPBOXES FIRST! THE PEOPLE WILL BE HEARD! But uh, no, not that shade of pink; it’s…too pink.) And though my soapbox may not have had quite the impact I hoped for (alas, they so seldom do), the name change happened just about how I said it would. One day I woke up with one name, and by the end of the day, people were calling me by another.
Thanks to the flurry of Things One Must Do When First Married (and also because I hate the idea of going to the SSN office and DMV), it took me a while to actually change my name. But at last, I made it down to Social Security Administration, and my name is officially a different one. It doesn’t feel as anti-climatic as you may think it would; it’s not like waking up on the morning of your birthday and realizing you’re actually only a day older, not a year. No, I’m acutely aware that I have a new name. But why should it not feel dramatic and big? A name is an identity; the name denotes the person. A new name is a new identity.
Part of me finds it incredibly thrilling—I mean, come on! A new name! A blank slate! Tabula rasa all over again. (Kinda. Maybe a little. Well, you know. A fresh beginning, at least.) I love that idea; I love all the new beginnings I’ve gotten—new partner, new chapter of life, new name, new apartment, new life—new, new, new. I love new. It’s fun and exciting and relieving and wonderful. What will Nicole NewLastName mean? What is she like? No one knows yet! The world is her oyster! Win.
But there’s also a tinge of something else, a little tug of loss for the old name—for all that came with it and all I put into it. I know I’m still me, and yet…things feel different at times, too. Who is this Nicole NewLastName (and why does she cook)? What is she like? Is she like me?
Interestingly enough (or perhaps not) the name change didn’t really hit me until I had to write my initials. No longer a swift ndr scrawled at the bottom of a note or tacked onto a hurried email; ndd feels strange. My hand, writing the letters, feels somewhat lost, hesitant, tentative; the curves are oddly foreign. To my fingers typing, it feels like a typo, an accidental repetition of d.
Gradually, my old name will fade into obscurity; it will begin to sound rough around the edges, tongues will trip over it. Even those people who knew me well by my maiden name will know me better by my married one. In all likelihood, this new name will be my last name ;), the last name I’ll ever have. In fact, I’m hoping to have this name longer than I had the first one. Which means there’s all the more reason to make this new beginning, this fresh start, this blank slate, as meaningful as possible.