Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Name Game


     A long, long time ago William Shakespeare penned the all too fitting line “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” and although I am not one to disagree with good ol’ Will, I think it is a pretty small-minded assertion made by a thirteen year old.  A rose would certainly retain its smell if it would have been named begonia instead, but then it would belong to an entirely different family or whatever.  Sure, a rose does not derive its identity solely from its name, it’s just a word, but its name comes from its discovery and its  development, which stem from its familial DNA.  Similarly, a name does not define a person, but my guess is that it is a reflection of their history, of their background, of their family.  I know that if I decided tomorrow to change my name to Princess Consuela Banana Hammock I would still look the same, think the same, have the same friends and family; none of what is important in my life would actually change.  However, what would this name reflect in terms of me and my history?  Nothing.   That name would have no trace of my ancestors’ struggles, travels, and unions.


     We all come from somewhere, and our names are a fascinating clue as to where that somewhere may be.  Tracing back and linking our names with others, and theirs with others still is basically all we have to know where we come from.  It is how I know a certain Tuscan gentleman traveled as a sailor on an English fleet to Cuba, fell in love, and got married in a church I’d never even heard of before.  It is what I looked for  in the very long list released not too long ago to learn if I had any connection to the Sephardim.   It is what anyone studying genealogy goes off of to reach as far back as possible. How can anyone just hit delete on all of that?
     You may wonder what brought on this very thoughtful rant, well, I am glad you asked.  This is yet another thing I have to think about thanks to my project of the year: The Wedding.  Everyone keeps asking what my name “will be,” if I am “keeping” my name and just about everyone seems to have an opinion.  Here’s why this is not as easy as it seems:  First of all, because of how names are used in this country the only way for my future children and I to share a name is for me to take the name of their father, which is totally not cool.  I get it, you cannot possibly keep all of your ancestors’ names because then the list would be endless, but in many other countries you at least get to have your father’s and mother’s last names.  It was totally puzzling when I came here and I was suddenly informed my mother’s last name was no longer part of the name I was legally given at birth, the name on my birth certificate.  So there that went, a part of my identity, the history stemming from my maternal side was suddenly nothing but a memory.  Sure, okay, it sounds dramatic, because I will always remember my mother and her history and her background, but what about the future?  I know, we are still stuck in a patriarchal society and this has been the case for far too long, and I won’t go into a rant about it, but c’mon, we both know that plays a very significant role in all of this.  Still, that is not the point of this exercise.  This is about who I “will be” and what of myself I will be “keeping” for future generations.

     Where I come from is a major part of my life and of who I am.  I want to reflect that wherever I go, from the second I introduce myself.  I don’t want to hide my heritage or my history in any way.  I may have adopted a different religion, moved to a different country, speak a different language, but those things don’t change who I am at my core. Instead these things add to my heritage, to my history.  So I had to take all of this into consideration when asked about changing my name.  Like I said, I want to share a name with my children and I definitely want to reflect the fact that my fiance and I are becoming a family, and with that we are also merging backgrounds and histories.   Still, I can’t help but wonder why can’t men do that same? Probably because even the most evolved man still lives in a patriarchal society and it is not a concept that is even entertained… but I digress.


     I have definitely struggled with this topic, I have thought about it, I have gone back and forth, I can see both sides.  My parents carefully and thoughtfully chose my first name and my last names are an occurrence of life and circumstance.  My surnames reflect so much history and connect me not only to them, but to their parents, and their parents’ parents.  It is a daily reminder of where I come from and the lives that were led before me.  When I introduce myself I am sharing so much history in a brief moment and  I know that so much of that history and that identity is already hard to see through my red hair and my Miami dialect.  I am unwilling to part with anymore of myself.  I am, however, ready to connect my story, my history with someone else’s. I have no doubt that the differences in our backgrounds, in our heritages, in our beliefs will enrich future generations.  Thus adding his name to my name seems like an important symbol of this steadfast belief.  I will gladly carry that weight of complex emotions, of unsettled feminist contradictions within myself, of attaching a name to myself despite not being directly connected to it.  I will learn as much about it as I know of my own and I will pass that down to future generations.  Yet, at the end of the day I “will be” the same person, with the same name my parents gave me and I will be “keeping” my name and the identity attached to it.  But I will also be adding a name, a new aspect of my identity and my history, a symbol of our love, our connection and most importantly  our future.

Shabbat Shalom and, if you are observing, may you have a meaningful fast.