I guess I never thought changing my name would be that big of a deal. It seemed like a normal thing to do when you got married. My mom had done it, and most (though not all) of the moms I knew had done it. Besides, when you’re a girl, and you’re young, you pick up things like writing your name with the last name of the boy you like, or maybe Mrs. Boy’s Name, possibly surrounded by a lot of hearts. I did this.
By the time Jon and I actually started talking about getting married, I didn’t really know anymore. I chafed at the thought of being called “Mrs.” (Seriously, a title change based solely on relationship status, for women only?) I got actively grumpy at the thought of being called Mrs. Man’s Name. And I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with the rest of my name.
On the one hand, I was fine with who I was as Allie Rosner, I had accomplished a lot as Allie Rosner, and I kind of wanted to stick it to the patriarchy, also. On the other hand, I wanted to have the same name as my potential future kids. Jon said he didn’t care what I did, and I yelled at him that he didn’t understand that this was a real crisis of identity. Jon also didn’t like the way our names sounded hyphenated together, as much as I insisted he was saying it wrong. He said to go ahead and call the kids Rosner, but I think he was bluffing, and in the end even I was a little too old-fashioned for that.
In the end we decided that I’d add Bass on the end and he’d add Rosner in the middle, and I would try my best to go by all three names and keep Rosner in the mix. It seemed like a fair and adequately progressive compromise, and I was happy with it.
Since then, legally changing our names hasn’t been a hard process for either one of us, but emotionally it’s actually affected me more than I thought.
We came home from the DMV the other day with promises of new licenses in the mail, and I was happy about getting that done. But later I started feeling a little sad. BASS would be in big bold letters at the top of my license now, and Rosner relegated to the middle, where no one cares. I also had to drop my own middle name, Gail, because I knew if Rosner was my second middle name there was no way anyone would end up using it. I couldn’t really put my finger on why I felt sad about all that, except that it’s who I’ve been for 30 years, and it’s hard to give that up.
I started to think that maybe there’s something wrong with me, that what I’m called is so wrapped up with the core of my identity. Shouldn’t my identity come from somewhere else—from everywhere else? From my baptism? From my relationships? From my accomplishments? From my vocation? I’m a pastor, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a writer, a world traveler, a vegetarian, a runner, a cookie baker and milkshake lover, a child of God. Those things haven’t changed.
But then again maybe I shouldn’t have ever thought that changing my name wouldn’t be a big deal. I should have remembered that I preach on stories where changing your name is a really big deal. Jacob becomes Israel, the one who wrestles with God. Simon becomes Peter, the rock on which Jesus will build the church. Saul becomes Paul, a Hebrew name to a Roman one, symbolizing a complete about-face in his life and ministry. For all these people, their names carry a deep sense of identity.
Names were powerful back then. You weren’t even allowed to say the divine name, because that’s how powerful it was. Changing your name when you get married isn’t that powerful, but it is powerful. Still.
And I should have remembered, too, how in fifth grade I decided to go by Allie instead of Alison, and I spent a year fighting for my teacher to agree to call me that. It was important—if only because it was me deciding on a name for myself.
I should have remembered how when I started college I thought maybe I’d go for a new start and go by Alison again, so at an admitted students weekend I just let people call me Alison and didn’t correct them. It felt weird in a way that made me sure, inside, that I was still Allie.
It’s not that I regret my decision. Sometimes I really like introducing myself by my new name, even in scenarios where it sounds overly fancy to go by three names. I like the reminder that I’m married to Jon. I like the symbol of a new identity in that way. I’m gaining something in that, but I’m losing something too, and that is hard.
One of the hardest parts is in this kind of name-change limbo period. I didn’t know where to look for my name tag at the district clergy meeting a few weeks ago, under B or R. When I ordered a sandwich at the Cheese Shop the other day, they asked for my first name and last initial. It didn’t matter whether I said R or B as long as I retrieved my sandwich when I was called. But I felt like I really didn’t know. I have a flight booked for Monday, as Alison Rosner, and I honestly don’t know what my ID is going to say by then, so I can’t even call the airline and change it until I do. One group I’m part of didn’t get the memo and still listed me in the directory as Rosner, I noticed today; I also played around with some online database for our District Committee on Ministry trying to make it display all three of my names, but when I got an email from the committee chair, there I was on the roster as Bass, Alison.
When I’m called Bass, it’s this strange sensation of being called a name that is very familiar to you, because it belongs to someone you love, but that in any case still isn’t quite yours. But when I’m called Rosner, that feels wrong too. In this limbo period, there are times when I’m not sure I know what my name is at all. Depends who’s asking. It’s a pretty unsettling feeling to not know what your own name is.
I know the limbo period will be over soon enough. I know it’s likely that eventually I’ll stop trying to make sure everyone keeps Rosner in the mix and just go by Allie Bass, because it’s easier. Right now I do not like that thought. Because that’s not who I am.
But maybe I’ll see that I am still all those things I was, that I am still the same person I was, no matter what it says on my driver’s license. And it won’t seem like such a big deal anymore. For now it is.
“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare wrote. A lot, as it turns out.