Wednesday, January 6, 2010

People Change Their Names

If you know me and/or have spoken with me for longer than 10 minutes at a stretch, you probably know that I am fascinated with AMC's Mad Men. I love pretty much every aspect of it -- the production values, the art direction, the writing, the acting, the colors, the clothes, the shenanigans, the ad agency inside jokes, the historical references and sociological commentary.

Not long ago, as I worked my way through the first two seasons, the line, "People change their names" slid out of Don Draper's mouth, and my first reaction was, "they do?" Mere seconds later I realized how silly this was. Of course they do. I did.

When I was 18 and two years into a college career that would go on for three more years, I jettisoned my very Polish last name for the plain-vanilla one I have now. I picked the new one from a list I had systematically narrowed down over a period of weeks. I had spoken them out loud, written them, practiced potential new signatures, tried to imagine saying them to other people. Then, my seleciton finalized, I filed the paperwork with the court, placed the requisite ad in the local paper, and announced the change to my family on the back of that year's artfully photocopied Christmas card.

My father's reaction was much more low-key than I had anticipated. He wanted to know why I'd done it, and, as I'd rehearsed in my head, I told him the old one was a pain in the ass to spell for people (he agreed), and that it would be easier for my impending brilliant career in the music industry. He uttered a few understanding, innocuous words, and that was that.

I never told him the other reason: I'd wanted to separate myself from him, from our history as father and daughter, from his lackluster performance as provider and protector. I didn't see the point of prying open that can of worms; I'd tried to have the discussion with him, but it had gone nowhere. He simply wasn't capable, and eventually, I forgave him for that.

When I got married, among the myriad questions there was, of course, "Will you be keeping your name?" I decided to stick with what I'd chosen the last time I changed it.

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