Here’s a thing you’re not ready for in life: The day when all of a sudden you’ll get a new name. I think of the way, for decades, my kids called me ‘mom’ and they called their father ‘dad.’ But then we became grandparents and got issued new names, that now feel so permanent they might as well be on our passports.These days he’s “Papa,” a name that for me recalls the swaggering older Hemingway with his white beard and his blather, and I’m “TT,” a circus monkey of a name if ever there was one.
Of course, name changes happen in other ways too and certainly some people bring on the change themselves. The singer songwriter Car Seat Headrest certainly wasn’t given THAT handle at birth. Those in religious life also come to mind in this connection. A girl could spend years thinking of herself as Eileen Casey, until the day she took the vows and became forever after Sister Sebastian, after the Christian martyr who got himself so thoroughly shot through with arrows that in all the art he looks like a human pincushion.
Not so long ago, a woman, upon tying the knot, was simply expected to hand in her maiden name like a set of expired license plates. I began teaching school mere weeks after processing down two aisles, one to get my diploma and the other to be wed, and for that whole first school year every time anyone called “Mrs. Marotta!” I’d be looking around wondering what my mother-in-law was doing at my workplace.
But! There can also be an upside to the name-change-upon-marrying thing.
If, like me, you had a surname people mocked, you might almost welcome a change. I used to be Terry Sheehy and believe me when I say that was one hard moniker to carry around. The boys called me “Terry Sherry” or “Tee-Hee Sheehy.” Or sometimes they’d just yell, “Hey, HE-She!”
I think of that girl who gave up her name at 21. I think of her as she looked in her 5th-grade school picture with her tragically flipped-up bangs and the cold sore on one side of her mouth and how oblivious to her imperfections she remained as she, say, affixed baseball cards to the spokes of her bike to get that nice putt-putt sound.
I think of her eight years later, happily dressing for her senior prom, which she attended all unselfconsciously in a gown her family rented for $15.
Sometimes I even visit the old me on the top shelf of the linen closet where a version of me slumbers in my white heirloom-pack wedding dress box. I pry open the cardboard lid and peer through the plastic window to see a version of the young woman I was once was, lacy sleeves folded over beaded satin bodice, a Sleeping Beauty of an image if ever there was one.
So is Terry Sheehy gone forever then? I hope not. I think of old St. Sebastian, who survived his attack and kept on keepin’ on, as the saying goes. I think of the former Eileen Casey who lives happily on in the nun who took his name for her own. We are who we always were, only kinder as the years pass, let us hope, and more forgiving of both of ourselves and of others.