When hubby-to-be and I were engaged last year, other than questions on dresses, hair and makeup (don’t get me started on how I feel about those questions!), the main question I was most often faced with was “are you changing your name?”. Initially, my gut response to this was “no”, because hey, I’m a Gen Y-er! Bowing down to hegemonic patriarchal social conventions has been eliminated from our very DNA, right? But there was a niggling voice in my head that started asking, well, what if I did? How would I feel? Who would I be? As a committed feminist and hater of the status quo, I felt pretty conflicted about the whole issue, but I decided to explore those questions a little deeper and I was surprised by what I concluded.
I’d say that most of us feel pretty strongly about our names. Love them or hate them, we always feel resolutely this way or that about them. In my case, I absolutely love my first name and feel that it’s 100% me. Lisa is easy to spell, easy to pronounce (even across different languages, I’ve found), and I love the simple, down-to-earth ring to it. With only four letters, it just happens to fit in with my pursuit of a simpler life, too. During my time on this planet, I’ve become incredibly attached to my name and it has become inextricably linked to my identity. I love that it was chosen out just for me and that I have really made it my own.
My surname, on the other hand, is not unique to me. It’s more of a hand-me-down, if you will. Surnames represent a wider, shared identity that links us to those who have come before us, and – potentially – those who will come after. My problem with my current surname is that I’ve never really made it mine, because it’s tied up with the paternal side of my family, something I haven’t felt any connection with for a very long time.
(Now prepare yourself for a bit of a tangent, but I’ll get back to the name thing.)
It all goes back to my parents separating when I was 8 years old, and then divorcing. Now that’s pretty standard these days so it wasn’t anything too out of the ordinary, and I don’t relate that to you here with any kind of dramatism. Of course, it was difficult at the time to process given my age, but it was most certainly for the best and I don’t feel that I’ve been a victim of some sort of horrible domestic breakdown. If everyone ends up happier at the end of the day, then I say that’s a good thing.
Following the end of my parents’ marriage, I spent the majority of my time at my Mum’s house. My father began to play less and less of a role in my life, and as I grew older, I realised that I didn’t like him as a person and I didn’t respect what he stood for. I couldn’t stand that he was selfish and insensitive. I didn’t like the way he ignored me, then tried to buy me back with gifts on my birthday or at Christmas. He tried to use his authority to intimidate me into keeping the peace instead of speaking my mind about what was going on. My interactions with him were unpleasant, constantly fraught with resentment and anger. At the age of 13, I decided to no longer visit his house, and following that decision I saw him very rarely. Now fast-forward to my mid-twenties and I have consciously chosen to not see him or speak to him for long enough that I would say we’re well and truly estranged from one another. I’m unsure if I’ll ever see him again in my lifetime.
During my teenage years and even my early twenties, I struggled a lot with coming to terms with the loss of this relationship, but now that I’m seeing the world through a different lens, I’ve taken an incredibly positive message away from the whole process. The Minimalists posted on social media just recently the following maxim, which I think perfectly summarises what I took away from the experience:
You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you.
Each time I read that, it just seems more and more brilliant. It’s so logical. I couldn’t change my father – biology had already taken care of that – and I couldn’t change his behaviour towards me. But I have the ability to create my own reality and choose who is, and who isn’t, part of that reality. I have realised that that relationship, and the pain I was feeling from the loss of it, wasn’t adding any value to my life, so it was time to just let go and consciously, intentionally, construct a reality that brings me happiness. I finally understood that while the loss of that relationship is sad, it doesn’t have to make me sad. The idea of letting go of my father’s surname and the baggage that for me is associated with it feels like an empowering way I can continue to let go of the past and move towards a more positive, more intentional future.
So, how did we get from marriage-related name changes to minimalism? Well, that’s the beauty of minimalism! It can apply to any area of our lives if we let it work its magic. Minimalism has helped me to realise that it’s ok to make a decision that may seem counterintuitive to my long-standing beliefs. If that decision brings value to my life, then it’s the right decision for me. In this instance, I won’t be changing my name because I feel obliged (in fact, my partner feels a bit weird that I want to do it at all), or because society expects it of me, but because it fits into my wider picture of living a life that brings me happiness and contentment. In all honesty, that’s much more empowering than feeling that my name no longer aligns with the reality I have worked so hard to create for myself, and the identity associated with that.
What are your thoughts on names and name changes? Are there any areas of your life where minimalism has unexpectedly brought insight?