Saturday, January 30, 2016

What's in a name?

Last year my husband and I went to the Pass & ID office on base to have my military identification changed to reflect my full legal name.

"Why would you ever want a name so long?" the woman helping us asked.

I didn't know what to say- do I tell her how awesome I think my family is, how my middle name is in another language, how all of these names so cool and important to me?

No- because it was none of her business and why would anyone ask such a question anyway?

But, yes, I have a long time. A four part name, in fact.

I used to hate my first name when I was a kid. People were always trying to shorten it to the point where upon introduction I started to tell them to never call me "Beth" (family was free to do this, but no one else!). I was originally going to be named Ashton but at the last moment my mother had a change of heart and named me Bethany. Bethany is a place referenced in the New Testament where Lazarus and his sisters lived. Jesus frequented there and based on the etymology of the name it is likely that many poor and sick people went there to receive care. Jesus' friends lived there, he was anointed there, and some great teachings and miracles took place in Bethany. (See John 11:1 and 17, Mark 11:1 and 11, Luke 19:29, Matthew 21:17 , Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, John 12:1-8, and Luke 24:50). As a 10 year old though, it just sounded funny to me. I was always the only Bethany in a classroom full of Laurens and Ashleys and Kellys. For some reason people would accidentally call me Brittany or Stephanie. I don't mind it now- or its variants that my family has adopted which include- Beth-Ann, Bethy, Betsy, B, and who knows what else.


My middle name was actually my maternal grandmother's first name- a woman who I never met but whose name is always associated with mine. It is a Lebanese name with Greek origins, meaning mint plant. Coincidentally, I actually hate mint leaves. There is a story in Greek mythology of a water nymph named Minthe who tried to seduce Hades but his wife Persephone intervened and transformed Minthe into...a mint plant. Still, this name represents my grandmother, my mother's side of the family, and the Lebanese part of my heritage. My mom actually calls me Mintha just as much as she calls me Bethany!

Then to the two last names. The question of whether or not to change my name at marriage was an ongoing debate- with myself. First, there was my maiden name. For my entire life, my sisters and I had been know as the Elias Girls and we had always been the Elias Family. I was entirely prepared to continue correcting people's pronounciation of this word for the rest of my life (E-lee-us or Ehl-ee-us NOT E-lie-us or El-lis!). My father had only daughters and only sisters so we could truly be the last of our family with this name. My husband even volunteered to change HIS last name to Elias because he adores my family so much and the name means a lot to him. Although I absolutely love this offer, I ultimately disencouraged it for one reason: due to the nature of his career he is called chiefly by his last name. I thought it would be very difficult to have been called one thing/known by one name for 6 years and then go through that drastic change. (In retrospect I guess this means that if I had been in the military or any other vocation where I am only known by last name there is no way I would have changed my last name either).

Then there's the other last name- Zack's last name. Easy to pronounce, easy to spell, English origins. It was my husband's last name so it of course has a special place in my heart, but it never felt 100% like me. I don't mind being called Mrs. Jenner by Marines and I am sure my hypothetical children's friends and teachers will call me Mrs. Jenner as well which will not bother me at all. Just because it's an easy to say name doesn't mean it's an easy to have name, either! The first few years of marriage I experienced the questions "Are you related to the Kardashians? Do you run track and field?" and so on. Then when Caitlyn Jenner made her debut all of the trans-phobic losers came out of the woodwork - "How about that Caitlyn Jenner, eh? *insert ignorant comment here*" It has gotten to the point where me and Zack have a standard answer- "No we are not related to Caitlyn Jenner but we would be proud to be related to her." That usually shuts up the complete stranger (cashier, bystander, etc.) who felt that talking to us about complex issues like gender, sexuality, and human rights was appropriate.

"Couldn't give up your maiden name, huh?" I've heard that. "Why don't you just get rid of your middle name and make your maiden name your middle name?" "I'm proud to have my husband's last name why aren't you?" Yes I've heard all of that too.

My parents chose Bethany for me. Mintha is my tie to my grandmother and an entire part of my heritage that took years for me to begin to identify with more strongly. Elias is my family, the six of us "originals," and the rich Mexican culture I've grown up with. Jenner is a reminder that my husband is always a part of me and that we are facing the world together (no matter how often we seem to be apart!) and the last name of my future children. So why can't I have it all? Next time I get the inevitable question- "Why would you want such a long name?" (that takes up two lines on my social security card, mind you), I will just answer in one of three ways:

"Why not?"
"Because I can."
And, my favorite,
"Because I'm awesome, that's why."

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