My name is currently Melanie Encinares Dunn. That will probably be my name for the rest of my life. It’s the name I gave myself when I got married almost four years ago.
My name was Melanie Mary Brookes. Melanie is apparently a character from Gone With the Wind, which I have never read. Mary was my paternal grandmother, and as it turns out, the only grandparent with whom I was ever close, as a child. Her husband died when I was young, and I never met my mother’s parents, who I believe lived in the Philippines their whole lives.
Have you ever wished you could erase part of your history, like starting over on a blank slate? I wouldn’t get rid of all of it, but I remember feeling like there were parts that embarrassed me, that were difficult, that should not have happened. Melanie Mary Brookes is the person who I associate with all those painful memories. A few years ago, I wanted to become someone else.
I learned that when you get married, if you are a woman, you may legally change your last name to your husband’s without needing to go to court, file anything “official” with vital records, etc. The same does not apply for men because of the way this system came about. Women were once automatically expected (legally required?) to change their names upon marriage, and at one time in this country were essentially treated as their husband’s property. If the word “chattel” comes to mind, you are probably in law school or an attorney, and yes, this would be an accurate time to use that word.
“Chattel” sounds like “cattle.”
I had no desire to partake in that sexist institution, but at the same time, I enjoyed the thought of changing my name for the purpose of making a fresh start in life. Also, my husband had this weird idea, which apparently a lot of men have, that it is somehow “important” for both members of the marriage to have the same name. Obviously that’s just silly. However, I was game, and whether due to sentimental reasons, or because of my desire to clean that slate I mentioned earlier, I made the change. All that is required is that you get a new driver’s license, social security card, and update anything else issued by the government with your name on it, as well as notify the non-governmental people who need your name for stuff — the bank, credit cards, etc.
I even started a new job when I got married. I have no idea if anyone noticed that I was Melanie M. Brookes on my resume, but that I showed up for work that Monday as Melanie E. Dunn.
My middle name is the unofficial part of my name. When you get married, it’s par for the course that a woman may change from Melanie Mary Brookes to Melanie Mary Dunn, or to Melanie Mary Brookes-Dunn, or to Melanie Brookes Dunn. The last one is a very popular style these days: dropping your middle name, replacing it with your birth-given (more old-fashioned: “maiden”) name, and taking the man’s last. I almost did that, but I hated the sound of “Brookes Dunn.” Oh, and if you dare make a joke about a former country singing duo in the comments, I will come over there and cut you.
Speaking of cattle . . .
Encinares is my mother’s birth-given name. In the programs for my wedding ceremony, I wrote that I was taking my mother’s name in honor of her and her family, who I never knew that well, or really at all, having grown up in this country and not the Philippines. I said that I was doing this because she always meant to give me her name — a common practice in the Philippines — but never did for various reasons.
It’s not that none of that is true. It’s just that I wasn’t telling the whole story. I wanted to be someone else. Also, I always liked Encinares. It’s like I get to be an imposter Spanish person. If you’re wondering, there is a lot of Spanish language and cultural influence in the Philippines, and that’s why you have names like Encinares and Buenaobra and Carlos and Felicia. That’s a topic for another post.
Anyway, I went to the DMV and managed to convince them that “E” is my middle initial. I have no idea how I did that with no proof, because I’m pretty sure you need to go to court to petition for a name change, again, if you’re not just moving around your last name to accommodate your new husband’s. I was not able to convince any other government agency, so my name is really something like Melanie Mary Dunn, I guess. I’m not exactly sure.
However, Melanie Encinares Dunn or Melanie E. Dunn is what I use, and for the most part, people don’t question it.
Looking back now, I kind of wish I had never changed my name. Silly girl that I am, I learned that you can never truly escape your past, because the past is impossible to change. All you can do is be in the present and look forward. Those things that embarrassed me, the less savory aspects of my history — it’s all over now and it’s all good. Those things were necessary for me to learn and grow.
If the name were not so ridiculously long, I would be Melanie Mary Encinares Brookes Dunn. I like that — it feels like a summary of who I am. Or I would drop the Dunn and just stick with my own blood. But four names is still ridiculously long. Even if I went back to middle initial “M.” or even Melanie M.E. Brookes, I still feel like it would be too much.
When my first child was born, I gave her my father’s name as a middle name. He didn’t have any boys, and commented to me when I was younger that it looked like the name would die out with him. That made me sad for him, and for me, in a way, so I told him that my first child would have his last name. Ok, so I’m not sure if a last name as a middle name really counts. Back then I honestly thought that someday I would just get whatever man ended up fathering my child to be ok with my name, and not his, as our kid’s last name. That was when I was both childless and single though. It’s amazing what kind of compromises marriage can bring about.
Why does identity matter so much to us? I think it’s because of our culture. We are told that identity is necessary, because we live life feeling like we need to define who we are and what our purpose is. Our name is, essentially, a brand. It advertises who we are to the world. But names don’t mean all that much, because at the end of the day, it’s what we do with our lives that truly defines us.
Because I’m still living my life, I’m still defining myself. It’s like my name is a signpost in the desert, and the sand at the base of the post that is furiously whipped about with the wind is made up of the grains of time that, over the years, accumulate to become the many aspects of my life. When the wind dies down and the dust settles, you can stand back and read the signpost. But the wind will eventually pick up again and send that sand flying, to be reshaped later into something not quite the same as before, but made up of the same substance.