Category Archives: Name Changes

Who are you talking to? Contemplations a year and a half after my legal name change.

Kyle. Kyle?? Who were they talking to? I wasn’t sure. At first it was like being in a dream. For Kyle was no longer me. Coming to awareness, I realized that I no longer recognized my given name on cue.

Changing one’s name, as anyone who has done it knows, is a deeply thoughtful process, often spurred by a myriad of complex reasons. For me, I changed my entire name—first, middle, and last. This brazen process took about three years and some experimentation of trial and error, much to the confusion and irritation of certain friends and family members. For it is a big deal to change one’s given name even ONCE, but when it turns into an art project—because I simply had to find the RIGHT name—one can earn the doubts of unenlightened acquaintances as to whether you might be [insert whisper behind the hand here]: crazy. No. I most definitely am not – crazy.  Much. For aren’t we all, a little … crazy after all?

There were many reasons I thumbed my nose at convention and waded into this mysterious process of name changing. I say waded, because I was timid at first. This may be why it took me three tries to find the right name. I didn’t quite dare go for broke. I tried a slight change first, then a bolder one, and finally the name I made legal, that I love: Amabel Kylee Siorghlas.

This process was not without pain. Despite efforts to communicate openly and to be considerate in the process, I lost friends. I lost a family member. They rejected me. The real me. The artistic me. The spiritually grown-up me. And I discovered one must be both fierce and kind to walk the path of one’s compassionate truth.

The first inspiration to change my name came as woman in healing of my feminine self from different circumstances over the course of my life of abuse, both subtle and blatant: in the different cases being sexual, emotional, and physical. Yet, this choice to change my name was not an act of rebellion really. It was, rather, a profound reclaiming of my own authentic power. It was not a rebuke of the perpetrators, but a redefinition of myself. It was about ME.

There was more. What goes along with healing is often profound personal growth. And thus, I strongly felt the impulse to change my name to denote a significant rite of passage.

With personal growth has come a process of awakening—a renewed, fervent interest in spirituality, in science, in philosophy, in spending as much time as possible outside just observing nature. I can’t learn enough, fast enough. It’s a hunger. Interestingly, this shift circles back to the hunger I had as a child for peace, for knowledge, for understanding the deeper existential questions—before life steered me off to who I thought I should be and what I thought I should do. In healing, now I can honor who I feel I am and how I am drawn to spend my free time.

The inspirations that drew me down this “path less taken” still surface and clarify daily, weekly. I can’t capture them all in a blog. Or even in my 24-page story about changing my name. I don’t expect everyone to understand. Not when I am still making sense of the inspiration myself.

One thing I hadn’t expected is to encounter SO many souls who have walked or wish to walk a similar path. At least weekly, I meet people who have changed their names, or want to change their names. So many reasons. So many stories. So little time. But so important—stories shared so that those who might judge and invalidate us might get a glimmer of understanding.

One thing I hadn’t expected is for close friends or family to simply reject and refuse to acknowledge my wishes and my new legal name. They simply call me Kyle still. As if I am frozen in time, like dinosaur bones in a glacier.

Just this morning I had a conversation with my neighbor up the road. I have talked about my name change with her. She has my new name written down. Yet this morning I was Kyle. It took me a minute. Who? Oh, yeah. Her. I cut my neighbor some slack though. She is older and a peripheral acquaintance.

This summer I had visitors. They spent the whole three days calling me Kyle. They wouldn’t even at least try “Kylee” (my new middle name, a combo of my given name and middle name – Kyle & Lee). And they know my whole story, all the reasons. It was sort of infuriating. I communicated with them for the entire visit as if under water. Who were they talking to? Kyle was looking back to the hazy past of the person I used to be: submissive, overly eager to please, taking mean behavior by withdrawing/hiding, or acting overly nice and helpful in trying to smooth it all over. That WAS me. I forgive myself for it all—these were old coping patterns, set up as a child, when I had no other recourse.

But I do have a better way now. And a new name. My name marks empowerment. My name marks awakening. My name marks fierce kindness. My name speaks a NO to abuse of any kind. It speaks a NO to so many abuses carried out, as we speak, to individuals, to animals, to ecosystems, to systems of social injustice.

My name marks a YES to new visioning and to positive empowerment.

Delight Is Radical

Síorghlas. I love my last name. I am a woman and I chose my own last name! I don’t care that it is hard to spell. Don’t forget the special í with the accent over it! I don’t mind that everyone hesitates when pronouncing it. Síorghlas = “sheer” “lass,” I instruct. Of course that is to the best of my knowledge with my beginner’s learning of Gaelic. The “h” does funny things to nearby consonants in the middle of words. Like making them silent. I do hope to run into a Gaelic speaker someday just to be sure. And if I have it wrong, the laugh will be on me.

Why Síorghlas? Whatever does it mean? Evergreen. And this is so right, in so many ways. Firstly, one of my best friends while growing up was a tree. A big old maple right outside my bedroom window. It had a wide, low welcoming branch, perfect for a small girl to reach up, swing up her legs, and right herself on the comfortable rough bark-seat. I spent hours there, screened in leaves, quiet, unnoticed. Sometimes I brought a book.

And so I became friendly with so many trees…I study them as I walk, their leaves in summer, their shapes in winter. I listen to their voices. Shhh….wwshhhh…serrr…I like to put my hands on their old trunks and absorb their long years of contemplation, rooted in one spot, watching the zany world rushing onward. I am worried about trees too. So many bulldozers and chainsaws, and invasive insects and molds. I’d rather see trees than a parking lot any day. Chestnut blight wiped out the spreading chestnut. Dutch elm disease ravaged the elms. Now the Emerald ash borer is carving killer tunnels in our beautiful ash trees in Vermont. Carving killer tunnels in my heart.

But there is more. Síorghlas is not a random choice. It’s tied to family lineage. One side of my family has Irish bloodlines. And a rare name. Honan. This grandfather was fun, playful. He told me anything important would always happen on a Tuesday. And that all trouble was caused by a small sprite. He had an amazing collection of old coins, and he gave me several. He was a collector. And a drinker. He died when I was 9. And so, I was poking around one day and discovered that Honan is an Anglicized form of the Gaelic O’hEoghanaín, which means descendent of Eoghanàn, form of personal name Eógan, which means “born of the yew.” Or…Honan could stem from a variant of Honeen, Anglicized version of O’hUainin, a descendant of Uainin, diminutive Uaine, which means “green.” I chose my new last name to mirror the possible meanings embedded in my lineage.

You may be puzzled as to why I changed my last name. Or you might just accept it like no big deal and celebrate it with me. Or you may condemn me for it. I’ve experienced all three reactions.

In these crazy, fucked up times, money and greed and hatred are hell riders on a mad gallop through the flames of Earth’s and humanity’s destruction (the hyperbole is intentional … or maybe it’s not hyperbol.) I have been desperately searching for hope, for answers, for meaning. And so I’ve undergone a spiritual awakening of sorts…higher consciousness opening up to interconnectivity of all things—people, animals, plants, trees, oceans, rocks, wind, soil, stars, planets. All of it is a web. It is infinite – evergreen. Quiet contemplation (like the days in the old maple), interesting conversations with friends, lots of books to read, and meditation, practice of present moment awareness. That kind of awakening. It helps me tolerate the madness and to see glimmers of hope. My name change marks this. It’s a beacon.

The other reason is not so wonderful. The other grandfather, the one whose name I carried for 54 years…sadly, one of my #MeToo moments was him. It was time to doff his name. Why should I carry his name? He of the wandering hands? I was 12, maybe 13. To free myself thus has been so liberating. To free myself with the beautiful, magical Síorghlas.

Well…it’s not been so easy. One relative that I love very much no longer speaks to me. Another relative will not call me by my new name, first or last, but still reaches out, loves, and talks to me. He told me on a recent visit:

“It was when you changed your last name that really did it.” (As in pissed off the relative who isn’t speaking to me.)

I asked, “Well, but what if I, a woman, had fallen in love with a man. And married him? And took his name? Would that have been okay?”

“Of course,” this relative said.

Wow. Indeed I was married twice before. The first time I took my husband’s name. The second time I did not. The first time, no one batted an eye. Everyone kept speaking to me.

“Wait,” I said. “So…you’re telling me that it’s okay for me to take some other random man’s name, but it’s not okay to choose my own name??”

“Right.”

“And why is that?”

“Lineage.”

“Lineage? You mean to memorialize the grandfather who molested me? And that new husband would have nothing to do with our family’s lineage. That’s crazy dominator bullshit. My name that I chose is closer to and honors our family lineage.”

Well, we sort of ended there. At an impasse. This relative is a smart, enlightened, caring person. But his words to me smacked of Western restrictions rooted in patriarchy.

In a conversation a few weeks later he said, “Well, what would your father want?”

My father passed away ten years ago. I would hope he would want me to be happy. But that question, what would your father want, misses the point. As long as I am not doing dastardly things and hurting people, isn’t this about what I want? In this life each of us has to follow their own growth path to become their most authentic self. For it is then that they can bring authentic compassion and deeds and love into the world. Many psychology books say so…

Plus, I know my dad is fine with it. He’s been in my dreams. I’ve seen that he is content and strong and doing his own thing in the spirit realm. He doesn’t care what my last name is. He still comes around. 

What it comes down to is acceptance and choices. I have to accept all that is going on—in the world and in my family. I don’t like some of it. And I very much wish things were different. I choose to accept folks where they are at. I wish some could accept me where I am at. The troubles in the world will unfold as they may, whether I adhere to “lineage,” or act “weird” and change my name. To offset the negativity in the world, and my own despair, I choose what brings me delight. A beacon of hope. A name of kinship with trees. Delight spreads outward. Delight is radical. From inside me, it helps to change the outside, the physical realm, one smile at a time.

33

Dickens on Pip as a Name

For a lover of classic novels, I remained woefully under-Dickensed all my life, having slogged painstakingly through A Tale of Two Cities in 7th grade. The discomfort of its sophisticated density – for a girl my age – prevented the future urge to return to Dickens ever again, until now. (Although, I did relish periodic viewings of A Christmas Carol and it’s comedic counterparts… Bill Murray’s Scrooged, “An Extra Christmas Carol” from the 2018 season of Saturday Night Live, etc.)

Recently, a friend recommended her favorite book to me: Great Expectations. She brought me her tattered copy of it while I peddled goods at my chocolate shop the next day, and I tucked it in my backpack for a trip to Austin, Texas. It made my trip; a fantastic tale to traverse during those moments and hours between departures, arrivals, connections and escapes. I resonated with Great Expectations’ fundamental theme of wealth inequality, which is a philosophical centerpiece of modern existence some 200 years later, unfortunately, as well.

We get to know a blacksmith named Pip who’s about to be mysteriously propped up as a gentlemen, essentially lifted from the impoverished class to the wealthy one. Upon his journey, he is paired up with a friendly chap, “Mr. Pocket,” who reconsiders Pip’s name. In the spirit of our anthology in the works, A Tiny Death: Stories of Identity and Transformation Through Chosen Names, I am giddy to share this Pip passage with you below. Continually, as Amabel and I traverse the sociology and history of chosen names in service to this anthology, I encounter these kinds of passages in both literature and life, about changing and attributing meaning to a name:

“I dare say we shall be often together, and I should like to banish any needless restraint between us. Will you do me the favour to begin at once to call me by my Christian name, Herbert?”

I thanked him, and said I would. I informed him in exchange that my Christian name was Philip.

“I don’t take to Philip,” said he, smiling, “for it sounds like a moral boy out of the spelling-book, who was so lazy that he fell into a pond, or so fat that he couldn’t see out of his eyes, or so avaricious that he locked up his cake till the mice ate it, or so determined to go a bird’s-nesting that he got himself eaten by bears who lived handy in the neighbourhood. I tell you what I should like. We are so harmonious, and you have been a blacksmith—would you mind it?”

“I shouldn’t mind anything that you propose,” I answered, “but I don’t understand you.”

“Would you mind Handel for a familiar name? There’s a charming piece of music by Handel, called the Harmonious Blacksmith.”

“I should like it very much.”

“Then, my dear Handel,” said he, turning round as the door opened, “here is the dinner, and I must beg of you to take the top of the table, because the dinner is of your providing.”

 

 

What Should They Call You?

by Elizabeth Matthews

Call me a Lucy Stoner, after the equal rights activist who kept her maiden name in 1855. When I became engaged twelve years ago, I knew two things for sure: I would not wear a veil and I would not change my name. As Claire Cain Miller and Derek Willis reported in a recent New York Times article, we Lucy Stoners are in the minority:  “Roughly 20 percent of women married in recent years have kept their names.” I was prepared for – and have encountered – much opposition for this latter choice. What has caught me off guard is the discomfort I’m faced with when fellow parents cannot figure out what to tell their children to call me.

Call me sentimental. My Armenian paternal grandfather, Lee, changed his last name from Kougasian to Matthews during a brief and ill-fated run at acting before becoming a decorated First Lieutenant during World War II. One may question why I refuse to let go of this name that does not even accurately reflect half of my heritage. But, for me, that story becomes diluted when we substitute one name for another based on my sex.

Call me a stickler. “I’m sorry. It’s confusing,” a close friend recently complained. “Are you Mrs. Severud? Mrs. Matthews? What should my kids call you?”

Though I want to answer with, “Liz. Call me Liz,” I understand that many adults feel that a lack of respect is connected to using first names. I answer, “Ms. Matthews.”

“Okay, Mrs. Mathews?”

“No, Ms. Ms. Matthews,” I enunciate the “zzzz” sound to make my point.

“Okay Miss Matthews.”

Call me a thinker. My eight-year-old daughter has never questioned the fact that I have a different last name. My five-year-old son, on the other hand, often calls me “Liz Matthews,” rather than “mom” – as if calling me out for this decision. Although he is too young to understand how this moniker could potentially be read, there is no questioning that my decision unnerves him on some level. And sometimes I wonder if these opposite reactions reflect personalities or some anachronistic gender norms.

Call me a provoker. I recently asked my daughter, “How do you feel about the fact that I have a different last name?”

She did not look up while she colored at the kitchen counter, “I don’t know. It’s kind of like you’re not part of the family.”

I took a deep breath. These are the words that a lot of women fear. I’m grateful I waited until she was old enough to begin this conversation, and that’s what I did. I began to explain my decision. She didn’t respond. She kept coloring.

Call me a historian. During my senior year of college, I began craving a stronger connection with the community I had lived in for nearly four years. I became a volunteer at the Women’s Rape Crisis Center – focusing mostly on outreach and education. During my training, I learned that violence against women exists on a spectrum. If abuse and assault are on one end, language is on the other. Attitudes towards women are slowly eroded when people use disparaging language that objectifies women or glorifies men who abuse them. “Wife-beater,” for example – a term so ubiquitous, it makes me cringe each time I hear it. I see my decision of not changing my name falling along this same spectrum.  

Call me a teacher. Fifteen years ago, I taught middle and high school in Brooklyn, and at least one-third of my students’ mothers kept their names. When I asked some of these students how they felt about this, many of them were confused. Their responses were mostly unanimous and impressive.

“I guess I’ve never thought about it.”

“My mom is really independent.”

“It doesn’t bother me at all.”

“I like it.”

“My mom is very successful, so why would she change her name?”

For a creative writing assignment, one of these students wrote a poem about walking to the bus with his mom each morning. This was their time together, he explained, to talk, to catch up, without the other siblings around. His mother was a very busy casting agent, and it was clear that he relished this time alone time with her. No mention of names. No mention of feeling distant from his mother – the woman who birthed him – for having a different last name.

Call me a nasty woman. Armed with this knowledge, I became more confident with my decision, but this doesn’t stop me from being somewhat disappointed with my generation. I personally know very few people who have decided to keep their name. Now, as we witness the perforation of the ultimate glass ceiling, I hope that it will become harder to justify why a woman would not keep her name. Lucy Stone did it over one hundred sixty years ago – nearly sixty years before the 19th amendment was passed. At this moment in time, things feel more charged.

Call me Ms., please. And while I have your attention, do you mind if my children call you Ms. rather than Mrs.?

 

X Is How I Sign My Name

Contributed by Dr. S. Cooper

In my early teens, at school, we were signing documents for particular events and official reasons. Not only was my teacher on my case about my ever changing writing patterns and style, but it struck me that signing my name SUSIE was dull. The more I thought about it, the more becoming an adult, all those responsibilities, and the signing of my name became real and grew in importance. Susie was ordinary. There were two more SUSIEs in my class, a SUE and a SUSAN and I could not relate to them. The search was on to find another way, a more exciting method of signing my name, of getting it down on paper and being memorable.

The written letters presented nothing of any visual delight, whereas the spoken SUSIE was hissing, oozy, raising the voice tone up at the end. My name was an oral sensual delight, the written version of it deflating.

In the late 1970s and ’80s in the UK, there was this popular punk band SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES. What a great spelling of my name. Later, when reading radical feminist literature I was also introduced to the reclaiming of the word BANSHEE, which added to the intrigue and history of that name and music band. In particular, the “X” in the SIOUXSIE configuration was a visual and design possibility that excited me and caught my eye.

Not telling my parents of my plan to change the spelling of my name added to the excitement. It was like an act of high treason. At school we were reading about the kings and queens of England, looking at how their signatures brought to life their worldly actions and presence. I wanted to be more present in this world. Queen Elizabeth I’s signature was an outstanding example, so with a flat-headed calligraphy pen I started to write out SIOUXSIE carefully, in a considered as well as illegal act of rebellion: x-rated acted of resistance – my classmates thought it was cool.

To this day, I have comments from official bodies, banks, companies, friends and lovers who state “what an unusual spelling,” or “what a lovely name.” The one I find particularly amusing is “were your parents hippies!” My mother still, 30 years on, struggles with the spelling. The best way to remember is SIOUX as in the SIOUX tribe and then SIE. When a telemarketing campaign calls, I always know because their pronunciation of my name is illegible like “SOOGIE” or “XUXXIEE” – easy to identify and put down the phone on them.

It turns out that the original singer, who is in the process of revamping her career, found out out about me and bought up all the webpage configurations you can think of with the name SIOUXSIE. She even blogged about the famous BELLYDANCER with her name. I did make a name for myself as a dance artist, PhD researcher, and teacher in the UK. The name, quite rightly, is distinctive and it helped with my performing career.

Sometimes I wondered if I should relent and return to SUSIE. Especially during the moments in my life when being not so identifiable was a good plan. Escaping a particularly violent and abusive relationship was one incident when going into the beige of society could helped. However, the bubbles of rebellion grow and I have even contemplated a spelling of XUZU. I met a woman whose online avatar is a SUSIE and she gave me over 25 spellings she used. Another funny occurrence was when a SIOUX Indian moved into our shared house and noted my name with a notice on the board saying, “Oh good there’s another SIOUX living here: It will feel like home.” We did meet, we laughed and he said to me he couldn’t think of a better person to have OUR NATION’S name: I felt honored.

SIOUXSIE is also very official; I changed my name by deed pole in 2016, and now it is the name and the spot I sign on official documents. The irony and hilarity of that defiant act never ceases to amuse me.

Narratives in the Autumn of Human Consciousness

Driving through the orange-bursted hillsides, I am juiced by the spirit of change, changes in patterns of thinking. The antithesis to change – to transformation, differences, diversity – is sameness. I am reminded of white bread in the fifties, the apron-on-housewife/man-with-grill-hat-spatula image of early industrial homogeny. Of the lynchings and reservations, the chemicals and warfare under the surface, and how the fifties narrative built a myth of sameness with the shiny punctuation of “commercial breaks” in every household and the innocuously insipid advertisement in Homemaker magazine. This myth of sameness is the antitheses of change and acceptance. The myth is decomposing in America now like fall in Vermont: a rapid, gorgeous, irrepressible triumph of change. Our collective consciousness is taking time to relate to the universal experience of oppression that dwells in the subsurface of the billions. That’s a big change! And why?

It’s happening because of people telling their stories. And others listening. And the catalyzing of more telling, in turn. Stories are irrefutable proof of difference. Every individual story exposes the falsity of the myth of sameness, and indicts resistance to difference and change. (Interestingly, and hope-fully, a story gently soothes that resistance. That’s why storytelling is extra rad: it fights the war while healing the enemy.) And then suddenly, so easily, as a red leaf floats to the ground, I am struck by a the explanation of why certain people in my own life were once resistant to a change in me.

It started in my early twenties when I opened a business I wanted to call The Vermont Granola Company. A perfect name, but while no such company existed in Vermont, I learned from the Secretary of State that the name was already taken. I brainstormed a new name with my friend Rosha at her tiny Burlington apartment. It stood at the crotch of the “T” on a side street on the North End and one October night in 2003, she prepared grain bowls for our dinner. She suggested that a business, (especially a small food company in Vermont,) possesses a strong, magnetic identity when it includes a person’s name. We sought a good-sounding Steph’s Something or Something Steph’s. I told her about the qualities worth mentioning: our distinguished taste resulting from pure maple syrup. The vast quantity of nuts: whole, fresh nuts, not like the chafe you find in other so-called nutty granolas. She then hit on it immediately: Nutty Steph’s. And that was it.

There followed, for me, a fairly rapid and unanticipated transformation of the title for my own personal identity from Steph to Nutty Steph, particularly among my local community and anyone new that I met after 2003, who, in this career-obsessed American social script, would, within minutes of learning my name, Steph – inevitably learn of my profession, Nutty Steph’s.  But that was fine. Super cute and memorable. Great for business. And what better for building character than to be able to take yourself less than seriously? I was now “Nutty Steph.”

Nonetheless, four years later, in part because of the superimposed adjective that longed to become me, and for other reasons as well, even yet-to-become reasons still , and because it marked my coming of age, I chose a new first name. It was almost beyond my choice, like when you fall in love at first sight. Someday I’ll tell you the story, but the story today, on this October day when I am pondering change, is how terribly awkward it was after I did choose a new name, an awkwardness I had absolutely not anticipated. I failed to write a letter to all who loved me about how I felt and the simplicity and beauty of my request to be called Jaquelyn. This absence of my story left them fearful of me.

The moment of change for me went beyond a new name and involved a transformational phase of my being, a multi-dimensional phenomenon, something complex, something a computer would fail to understand but that a human being would feel their way into, through narrative, through story, by absorbing the complex spiritual journey of my individual tale, had I told it. I am as a result more interested in change management and diplomacy in the face of fear and disorientation. These skills intrigue me since I so clearly missed an opportunity to use them, and experienced, in turn, great discomfort of my own, in addition to that of those who loved me.

An emotional shift occurs in a listener when they hear the story of someone different from themselves, and this moves them to an expanded capacity for thought. We cushion the awkwardness of difference when we bow to vulnerability and narrate  our unique experience. In order to expose those around us to difference, we must tell our stories. Change is a superpower available to everyone, always pending, a virtual October, waves of profound understanding waiting to crash upon us. Swim, swim in it! All you need is a tale.

New Name

by Amabel Kylee Síorghlas

This pulling apart at the elemental level. Terrifyingly beautiful. I can be, now, a nebula, an interstellar cloud of dust, a veil swirling in random patterns against the backdrop of deep space. I can be a supernova, or as invisible as dark matter. It’s my choice. My middle name may be Kylee, or is it Aurora? Someday I will become particles of solar flares. Parts of me will float past Earth in vivid pinks and fluorescent greens. Síorghlasevergreen. Below, some children have flopped on a plaid blanket in a hayfield in summertime under the huge black cape of night sky. As I dance over them, they laugh because they are happy to be up way past bedtime.