Tag Archives: Feminism

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

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.?