What's in a Name?

“Mommy were you always ‘Mommy’ or did you have another name?”

My son sat in the morning sun on the mudroom bench in the kitchen eating dry cereal with his fingers and posed that question.

What do you mean? I asked. Do you mean another name like ‘Heather’? That’s my name, too.

He thought this over, chewing Cheerios thoughtfully.

“Yes but do you have OTHER names?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer that one.

When I was a child, I decided that I really liked my middle name – Lynn – and so I used it regularly. Years later, I got married and my husband at the time was insistent that I take his name. So I acquiesced.

I used my maiden name as my middle name, and my husband’s last name as my own, but then my middle name disappeared. I remember seeing my ‘new’ name on some official document and I found it disorienting and unfamiliar.

Where was my name? Who was this? Where had I gone?

Sadly, those questions and many more haunted my first marriage throughout its painful tenure.

When we divorced, the first thing I did was reclaim my name, everywhere. It was excruciating to have to tear the scab of my recent dissolution of marriage time after time with strangers on the phone in customer service departments, but it was an important step in healing, in moving on.

One particular representative, who, upon hearing that I was changing my name after a divorce, gave me a rallying cry: “Well, you go girl! Hope you dumped his ass!” I confirmed that yes, I was the one who had made the decision and I began to launch into my usual script of the painful soul-searching process, when she interrupted me.

“Look, I don’t know you but you seem smart. I fixed your name on this account. You have your right name back. Good for you!”

Good for me indeed.

Even though it was a painful time, finding myself, finding my name, was thrilling and when I got my new drivers license, I couldn’t help but grin, despite my glassy-eyed DMV mugshot.

My reincarnated name was proud symbol of my own new chapter of life. I loved seeing it on business cards and presentations. I was myself again.

I began dating and when my boyfriend and I moved into the phase of discussing marriage, I was quite gun shy. I had tried it once before and I found it suffocating. That was probably more an indictment of my previous relationship and not the institution of marriage, I suppose, but regardless, why would I want to do it again? Once bitten and all that.

My boyfriend was patient and sincere. He was old-school, he said, brushing aside my suggestion that we didn’t need ‘a paper’ to make us a forever thing.

This will be different, he said, because it’s you and me this time. And he insisted that I keep my name.

“You worked too hard to get it back,” he said. “It’s who you are.”

I was sold.

And so, we married, and our cats hyphenated their names but I did not.

My boys have their father’s name, and sometimes we get mail addressed to “The Reid Family,” which my husband does not think is as humorous as I do.

But I don’t mind being grouped into the family name that we have created. I have no problem with those who have chosen to take their partner’s name, in whatever way they prefer. If it works for you, I applaud your life and ability for change.

For me, having my own name is a daily reminder that I am still myself, belonging to my husband and family with all of my heart. An independent being, in spirit and in name as well.

At home, I’m mostly Mommy or Mama but that is changing too. Sometimes my oldest son will give me a “MooOOoom!” and start to pull away from a hug in public before I’m ready to release. I dread the day when Mommy gives way permanently to Mom or even, as my friends of tween-age girls report, “MO-THER!” with the requisite eye-roll for emphasis.

My son was still waiting for an answer. I sat down next to him on the bench, feeling the warm cushion on my legs. I wondered how much of my previous life it was appropriate to share with a 5-year-old, how much he really wanted to know. He looked up expectantly.

“What do you want to call me? Do I need another name?” I asked, slightly fearing the answer.

He leaned in and hugged me, and I held him close, kissing the top of his head.

“No,” he grinned, dimples punctuating his summer-tanned cheeks. “You’re just my Mommy. That’s all.”

That’s all, and for now, that’s more than enough.

This piece originally appeared in the August 2019 issue of Fete Lifestyle Magazine.