Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Name Game

In the movie, “The Crucible”, Daniel Day Lewis, who plays John Proctor is faced with either admitting he was consorting with the devil or go to the gallows.  But in saving his own life, he would be putting his name on a piece of paper, for everyone in the town to witness.  He passionately screams out, “Let me keep my name!”  But his options are non-negotiable.  He chooses to hang, rather than live a life in the shadows of the only name he’s ever had, forever blackened with a false admission. 

I faced a challenge with my name when the attorney representing my ex in court, pointed at me and demanded to the judge, “She is using MY client’s name!  She still wants to be married to him!”  Unlike John Proctor, I bore the name of my ex with indifference.  My matter-of fact rational was merely sharing the same surname as my children.  The fact it was his name was of no consequence to me, as I had long ago lost any feeling for this man due to his abuse and control.  That name held no respect, but after losing everything in my divorce, I still used the name to prevent further distancing from my children    

I was engaged to my second husband before the ink on was dry on my divorce documents.  My ex husband mockingly asked what name I was going to use?  It seemed logical to hyphenate both surnames, so I still had a connection to my children, as well as my new husband.  Unfortunately, due to longstanding issues he could not conquer, my husband suddenly disappeared when our daughter was barely three months old.  After a year without contact, I again pondered the issue of names.  My choices were to use the name of a man who was missing or a name associated with cruel abuse.  I chose to claim my own identity.   

The name battle had been raging in the presence of my children when their new step-mother would scream at them, “Your mother is using MY name!”  It was more important for her to adopt a new name and ignore the name bond she shared with her daughters.  My children were inordinately stressed from her constant badgering.  I thought my decision would alleviate some of their tension.  At first they were confused and my daughter asked if I would still be her mommy.  “Of course I’ll always be your mommy!  But I think it will be easier if I have a name that’s just mine.”  They understood.

I began to think of what name to select.  My mother’s maiden name was Robinson, which would be a bit redundant   I though of surnames started with “R”…but it seemed too contrived.  How could I just pick a random name?  Should I use my maiden name of Schlager?  I never liked the throaty sound of 4 consonants coming together followed by a guttural “G”.  It did seem natural to select a name beginning with “Sh”, a bit simpler than “Sch”.  During a random perusal of an obituary page in the newspaper, I noticed announcement for Shaye, an elderly person from the Jewish community.  I tried out the name and repeated, Robin Shaye.  It had a pretty sound…but also sounded familiar.  Suddenly, I remembered the movie, “And God created women…”  The remake starring Rebecca DeMornay (also a name changer), who played a character named Robin Shea who was an incarcerated musician and escaped from jail.  It was almost metaphorical of my life.  I, too, was a musician, and had escaped from my jail of being married to an abuser who was so controlling I had renamed him, and called him the Warden.

Analytical and wanting to be sure, I did a quick numerology check on the name.  Utilizing my full name, the numbers added up to a lucky 7 – just like my birth date!  Not only that, Shaye sounded like an anglicized Schlager.  It made sense. 

I was excited to legally receive my new name.  After standing before a judge and stating my reasons, I was granted with a document imprinted with my new name and emblazed with a gold foil seal.  It was especially beautiful because it symbolized a new beginning for me as an independent woman. 

My baby had been using her father’s surname for about a year.  Because of his absence from her life, I thought it was be less complicated to explain different names when she got a bit older.  I learned she could use the name Shaye without going to court.  I informed her daycare and pediatrician that she would be using my name.  Even her public school allowed her to use Shaye, instead of the name on her birth certificate.  When she was eight years old, her father resurfaced.  He had been crushed by years of self abuse.  It took him over a year to dredge up the courage to telephone our daughter. He died two months later.  His death opened the door to a legal name change yet her father’s name is also her birthright. 

I will leave it up to her if she wishes to change her name legally.  Whatever path she takes, I will support.  She still is joined to her father’s family by a grandmother, siblings and uncles.  I am hoping she may someday experience a strong familial bond with her father’s family, regardless of whatever name she claims as her own.  In the future, I see a strong young woman who may never want to take the name of her future husband.  She is showing the signs of young adult independence as well as a self pride.  I am hoping I had a little to do with that.