I Knew You by Name

Beaverton-Hillsboro-20131024-05190I got a new driver’s license for driving in my new state. It has my new, much shorter license number, obviously a new picture, and a completely new name. My previous one reflected my hyphenated name, Vicencio-Currell, which I carried to maintain official connection with my children through high school. It was silly, really, because no one ever questioned whether I was my children’s mother, but I wanted our names to match. So for 10 years, I was Margaret Vicencio, and for 15 years, I was Margaret Vicencio-Currell. And now I’m just Margaret Kathleen Currell.

It’s a very strange thing, having your NAME change like this. You go from birth to young adulthood identifying yourself one way, then one day you get married, and suddenly you are called something completely different. Who we are is inextricably tied to what we are called. My name is my identity, but in the 45 years I’ve been on this planet, I’ve had four different identities. It’s a little unsettling.

Because I got married twice, I’ve done this name change before; Banaski to Vicencio, Vicencio to Vicencio-Currell. Polish to Spanish (no, not Italian) to English. But now I’ve decided, in an effort to simplify myself, to go with Currell all by itself. It’s the easiest name to pronounce (though it still gets screwed up, remarkably), and is the name I wanted to have since I dated Tim in high school.

But the experience of changing an identity simply because I attach my life to another person’s life has never sat well with me. I grew up with my father’s name, took Benjamin’s name when I was 20, then used two men’s names at once, and now have settled on one man’s name for the rest of my named life.

This is not a new argument, but here goes; where is MY identity in these names? Where is my mother’s? The heritage of the women is completely subsumed into the heritage of the men, and the practice has its roots in ownership and patriarchy; wives were part of a man’s property. The fact that I have Irish heritage from my mother is hidden by my Polish maiden name. But when I start down the path of using my mother’s name, I’m caught in a Mobius loop of patriarchal naming conventions; her maiden name was her father’s name, my grandmother’s maiden name was HER father’s name. Whose Irish name would I take to connote my mother’s family history? It would always reflect some man’s bloodline and ignore the women.

I’ve maintained enough of a conventional attitude to continue this tradition without much falderal — and frankly, there was too much going on at the times of each of my weddings to give too much thought to the patriarchy of the name change — but now things are different. I no longer need to be tied to my children on a daily basis, and my life seems more my own now than at any point in my history. So while I ponder the substance of identity and my name, this history makes me bristle.

Who am I and how do I want to be identified to the world? My husband doesn’t need my name to match his to be confident in our commitment. I know without asking him that he would support whatever name I chose to take, although out of respect, I would ask him, should I ever go that far down this rabbit hole. I’m not sure I’m quite hippie enough to construct and adopt a name to reflect who I believe myself to be, national heritage and experience included.

The other bit that rankles is the fact that 98% of men (save those enlightened few who take some form of their wife’s name) in our culture never have to think about their name reflecting their identity. And they certainly don’t have to go through the rigmarole involved in changing their names (I mean really! The agencies involved! One has to approve the name change, two dozen more have to be notified, you have to provide documentation to everyone to prove WHO YOU ARE. It’s nuts!) just because they got married. They can just carry on with their lives like they are who they say they are, without proving a thing.

So here I am, trying to prove my identity again, now in a completely new place, where no one has preconceptions about who I am or where I came from. I am not known as So-and-So’s daughter or sister or mother, I’m not a graduate of any recognizable high school or college. I can be exactly who I create myself to be. That’s been true my whole life, but it’s so much easier to see it here, where the slate of my identity is utterly blank.

It appears, then, since I made the decision at the DMV to excise my hyphenate and add my middle name, that the state of Oregon knows me as Margaret Kathleen Currell. (I still typed Vicencio first, out of habit. Ugh.) Lacking the interest in going through the trouble of changing it, I am thus committing to using this name forthwith. Margaret Kathleen Currell. Like a kid who’s worried that Santa Claus won’t be able to find her after they move, there’s some insecurity in this change. How will I be known? How will I be found? How will my actions define how my name is perceived?

I guarantee you most of the men who read this have no idea what to make of it. I’d suggest that’s part of the point.

2 thoughts on “I Knew You by Name

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  1. Meg, this is so timely for me. I’m waiting for my divorce to be finalised, and as part of this I will be changing my name entirely; I’ve had 3 last names, and I’m mindfully choosing my 4th and final surname to be my mother’s maiden. I spent twenty-some years with my dad’s name, and I’m just as much part of my mother’s family, and I’m happier than most people might understand to think of carrying her name for the rest of my life. (But I think you get it!)
    Then I decided, if I’m making this change, I’m going to take the first name my mother always told me she wanted me to have, but she backed down from my dad’s family, and always regretted it. I like it better than the second-choice name I’ve used – so I’m going to start this next season of my life with an all-new name. I’m deeply pleased, but I know I’ll have a lot of explaining to do, and many people will question this choice, and many will not understand.
    I love how you identified so many of the things I’ve pondered during this decision, and expressed them so clearly. Best wishes, Meg Currell. 🙂

    1. I totally get it! Good for you choosing your own destiny in such a powerful way! I’m glad what I wrote resonated with you. Thanks for letting me know!

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