I remember when I was very young, all the girls in my class wanted to be called Jessica.
Goodness knows why, or which Jessica inspired the trend – I was never trendy, and so far outside anything resembling ‘popular’ that I’d no clue the heritage of the craze – but I allowed myself to be swept along with it nonetheless. Perhaps it was a ‘fitting in’ thing, because I don’t remember particularly liking the name, but I wasn’t terribly imaginative, and only knew that I’d rather be called Jessica than my own name.
I was told (when I asked) that my name had no particular heritage. Although my Grandma’s name was also Elizabeth, I wasn’t named for her. No-one in our family was called Anne, so my middle name is still less connected, even by happenstance. It wasn’t even an intent to give me aspirations of royalty (though both names are queenly), and so I was destined to go through childhood with an unpretty, stuffy first name (to suit my unpretty, awkward self), and a middle name which sounded (to my mind) like someone trudging along in wellington boots *anne-anne-anne-anne*.
When I started college, I discovered (to my utter delight) that only a fraction of the bullies from my secondary school were attending the same institution, so I was freed of their association, their taunts, their long-held, low-viewed understanding of me, and I immediately reinvented myself as Lizzi. Not with a ‘y’, because one of the bully kids had been Lizzy-with-a-y, and not with an ‘ie’, because I just felt it didn’t fit, being more suited to heroines of classic fiction than an awkward, chubby teen, on the brink of reinvention and first friendships.
My last name, White, was perfect for twisting into cruel rhymes (it goes so well with things like ‘fright’) and for drawing embarrassing attention to my translucent skin, which never held a tan until my late teens. Once married, I was able to shrug off the awful associations with my childhood surname and adopt the uneasy mantle of more adult twists in the jibes about my new last name – Rogers (because verbify it…) – but still, was pleased enough to have moved onwards; another step further from that girl I so desperately wanted to escape.
Maybe it was because I never came to like myself, or I might have developed more positive associations with my name. As it is, the only person who refuses to call me by my preferred name, still evokes a soul-deep shudder of revulsion when he addresses me with the name he chose for me. He promised me (quite equitably) that even when I change my name, he won’t alter how he addresses me, which is another kettle of fish entirely, and can be filed quite firmly under ‘daddy-daughter-dysfunction’ and left there. Please.
I’m lucky. I live in a country where I DO get to choose, even unofficially, how other people might address me. I’ve already started switching (where I can) from ‘Mrs’ to ‘Ms’, as I enter the hazy middle world of women who want to cast off the memories of failed marriage, singletons not willing to be identified as such, and ladies who’d rather you mind your own business. It’s a place which feels as though it’s still kicking back at the (probably) Victorian, (certainly) antiquated notion that women’s relationship status be made public by title, as though it in some way confers validation or silent reproach for the way her love-life turned out.
*gets off high horse*
The thing is, names mean something. A huge deal. They’re part of our past, woven inextricably into our upbringing, and so into now-us.
Some might be already changed through adoption or marriage – life-rafts names filled with the buoyant promise of ‘forever’, taking over from the place where a not-for-good left off. Some might be changed through choice or circumstance – the realisation you’re not who everyone thought you were, or the sudden discovery that you need to be someone else – and so you can paint over your past with bold colours, pointing towards a new direction in life; a new you. Some might be anchors to heritage, to people loved and lost, to beautiful traditions passed down through the generations, cherished afresh in each new child to bear the given moniker.
Some might be shackles.
Again, I thank my lucky stars for the accident of birth which made me native of a country which doesn’t require such trappings to remain.
In 5-7 days, for a nominal fee (paid), my new name will be arriving, certificated, in the post. Freedom by deed poll, regardless of the status of relationship. I get to begin again; a few baby steps further on my way to Becoming; a clean slate on which to draw a new me.
I knew I wanted to make this change, as soon as the idea was brought to my attention as a possibility. I got all hot and cold and excited in the middle at the thought I could finally cast off the names which bound me to my former selves.
But then it struck me – in the same way as I never wanted to be Jessica, not really – who did I want to be? What name would I be happy to carry through the rest of my life? How did I feel people would perceive whichever-me they ended up addressing with a new name? Surely I couldn’t expect to retain my credibility, or the stability of an established presence, if I just went and changed *everything*?
I decided to stick with Lizzi.
The first important name-change I ever made, and one I still like. It’s how people know me, and more importantly, it’s the name by which they love me (though (freshly showered) I assure you, by any other name I’d smell as sweet). It’s quirky, it’s a pain in the ass to get people to spell correctly. It’s got two ‘z’s and rhymes with all sorts of fun things like ‘fizzy’ and ‘whizzy’, and sounds a little bit like sparkles might, if they were spinning in circles too fast.
For my last name, I was just as clueless. I didn’t want to change to something outrageous, and (for the sake of futureproofing and you-never-know) hoped to adopt something I wouldn’t mind seeing on the cover of a book one day. In a moment of
whininess sheer inspiration, I asked my wonderful BlogWife, (prize-winning author, supremely awesome person, and one of my favourite humans on the planet) Beth, who suggested a literary connection might be nice, and whether or not the name of a favourite author could be used. BOOM! WINNAH! Lewis Thomas, who wrote some of the most glorious scientific essays about such things as Bach being beamed into outer space (as a bit of a brag), nested parentheses (which I love beyond all reason (seriously (and if you can find a copy of The Medusa and the Snail, GET IT!))), and the deep meaning of whale-song.
Lizzi Lewis, then.
But what for a middle name? After all, I’d grown used to having one, and something in me rather likes the idea of a middle name, like cracking open the spiky outer shell of a horse-chestnut, and seeing the glowing, molten-brown gloss of a new conker inside. Or the mischievous joy of being triple-named having done something naughty (happens more often than you might think (well, maybe not)).
I mulled. I pondered. I considered. I… (you get the picture)
At some point it struck me. Heritage. Homage. Connection. Treasured names, and the tradition of continuing the people we love.
My great aunty Rene was most definitely and absolutely one of life’s BrightShiny people. She had a smile which could light up the room, eyes full of sparkle and mischief, and was perhaps the most adored person I’ve ever had the delight and pleasure to know. She was a legend. She was beautiful. She was glamourous. She populated family stories with her antics, her love for her husband, her love of theatre, her love of people, her devotion to her nieces and nephews (she never had children of her own – a parallel too significant for me to ignore, rendering her one of my inspirational people, as I grappled with the idea that I might never be a parent), and just how very, VERY much she loved. Oh. My. Gosh, did she know how to love.
You just *felt* it, the moment you entered her presence; that she absolutely, most definitely and completely loved you. YOU – for all that you were and all you hoped to be. For all of your mistakes, your dreams, your catastrophes and your triumphs. For the time you were with her, you were utterly enveloped in warmth and glory because SHE chose to see you with loving, cherishing eyes.
She was perfect. Wonderfully, humanly, incredibly perfect, and perfectly her. And in taking on her name, I know I step into big (terribly stylish) shoes, but it is with humility, with love, and with a twinkle in my eye, that I’ve chosen to honour the wonderful, amazing person she was.
And so, it is my great pleasure to introduce myself to you, right now (and with official paperwork to follow):
I’m Lizzi Rene Lewis. (Ms.)
It’s a pleasure to meet you.