Friday, September 4, 2009

What's in a name? or why I'm changing mine...

When I get married next month, I'll be changing my name. Most of you won't notice because publicly I'll remain Stephanie Kuehnert. But y'know on my driver's license it will say something else and to the people in my private life I'll be named something else.

And I have terrible feminist guilt about this. My mother, the initial person responsible for my feminist beliefs long before I discovered riot grrrl or any of the other things that shaped me politically, kept her maiden name. She did so despite the confusion that it caused when signing permission slips and whatnot for school. (My parents didn't hypenate our names. Thankfully. I mean, seriously, do you really want to make Kuehnert more complicated!) She always had to put (mom) at the end, to the point that I sometimes wonder if she accidentally signed receipts with (mom) tacked onto her signature. It was that important to her to hold on to her identity, her name. Maybe because she was of a family of all daughters and no one would carry it on. Maybe because, seriously, who wants to take on Kuehnert? But mostly because that was her belief.

It makes sense to me. Women have lost their identities through marriage in so, so many ways for so many years. There was a long time that I never thought I'd get married because I had so many issues with women's role in the institution of marriage. I mean the pledge to "obey"? The symbolism of the dad giving the daughter over to the husband? Yeah. Yuck.

But then I fell in love. Hard. And it's that kind of love that just feels so sacred, like it deserves a ritual or a ceremony. I am a ritual/ceremony person. I like to declare permanence when something is really important (hence the huge tattoo with best friend). I want to celebrate and shout outloud how much I love this wonderful guy. So that's why I'm getting married.

But it's not why I'm changing my name.

Okay so it plays a role but just a small one. I do want to share a name with him. Share a bed, share a house, share a name. I like that, it feels right. But we could share either of our names or combine our names. So that brings us back slightly more specifically to the reason why I am changing my name to his name.

1. I fucking hate my name. Yes, a hate so strong I had to invoke the f-word. Ugh. I've spent 30 years saddled with this name that no one can spell, no one can pronounce. I hate it, hate it, hate it. I've wanted to get rid of it for as long as I can remember. I've asked my mom on many occasions, why she couldn't have take the feminist thing a bit farther and gifted me with much simpler last name of Napp. It gets missppelled at times (Knapp), but other than that, it's very nice and I like the sound of it. At one point in my late teens when I was ermm highly displeased with my father, I talked about changing my name to Napp, but I just never got around to it and eventually I reconciled with my dad and that seemed sort of mean.

Strangely, with the exception of the evil abusive one, every guy I've dated has had an incredibly easy last name. So I'd always thought, well if I end up with him, it would sure be convenient. Now, I've ended up with someone who has a name that you'd have to completely illiterate to misread, misspell or mispronounce. It's even easier than Napp. So I'm going with it.

2. This is about identity. Now Stephanie Kuehnert will become my professional name/pen name/public name. But my new name, that will just be me, privately. I put a lot of myself out there in public. It's just in my nature, like part of coming from writing zines I guess, but it will be nice to have that boundary because I'm sure at some point I'll need it. I'm also sure it will cause some headache... like with finances and paperwork and that sort of thing. But like it was worth it for my mom to sign everything (mom) so that she could stay true to herself, it's worth it to me to create a private side for myself, where I can just be who I am when I'm out with friends or at home with my kitties and especially my boy. There are really few people in this world (um like basically my mom and bff Katie) who know me as well as he does. So there it is. I guess it all comes back to love after all.

So I'm going to try to ditch the feminist guilt. I don't need to keep a name I've never liked just to make a statement. I can choose one that I like, one that has meaning to me because choosing your own identity is very feminist.

Anyway, names are very important to me, that's why I wanted to blog about this. I think out the names for my characters intently, searching for the right meaning, etc, but usually what it comes down to is what feels right for the character. This new name just feels right.

And I have to say now that I write this, part of me wishes I published under Stephanie Napp. But maybe having this strange, awkward, hard to pronounce name speaks to the kind of stuff I write somehow.

Well, now I'm off to write about a character I named Bender after graffiti I saw in a bathroom. Seriously. It was just right.


little miss gnomide said...

You could always choose a totally different last name for both of you. Mr. and Mrs. Awesome. Or Mr. and Mrs. Legendary. Yeah, I like the sound of that. ;)

Annika said...

My father-in-law cried (well, as close as he gets to crying, anyway) when he found out I was taking Will's name.

Brittany said...

That is a big step, and I for one am proud of your courage. I'm glad you're taking it for yourself instead of sticking with something you hated. Making a statement is only real and true if you're behind it 100%. Good Luck!

marina said...

i like my last name and my first name because hurley: skating company. marina: no one has that name. but marina is a really annoying name. teachers and other people call me all sorts of weird things i've gotten muhleeuh before and marissa. (i can't spell muhleeuh) i'm pretty sure the general public is bound to mess up on names. except a really awesome last name is askew. some girl at my school a few years ago was named angelika askew.


Clevelandpoet said...

everyone was rather shocked when they heard she was taking my name. I guess they felt she was some ultra feminist and so therefore couldn't possibly take my name. She is very proud of her Irish heritage and her name but she simply liked how Kat Remick looked and sounded.