Duana Names: A New Name
My name is Laura and I am writing to you about a bit of a downer - still with joy and excitement in my heart, and a little off topic. Maybe a lot off topic. I don't need help naming a baby - I need help legally renaming myself.
Firstly, I read your articles every day. I love children, babies, and the satisfaction and beauty that goes with naming! I am fascinated by people and their stories and their names. My favourite might just be meeting an elderly man in Shoppers Drug Mart. He stated his name was William Wrigley, and I told him that was absolutely fantastic. He later quipped ''I'm not THE William Wrigley - chewing gum empire extraordinaire, though I was born the day he died. I'm his reincarnate''.
But I digress. My name is Laura, middle name generic, British, pretty name (sort of like Alice). And my last name is also a common first name for boys.
I have struggled my whole life after being abused, violently, by two men. Both who shared my last name as their first name. I have Post Traumatic Stress and hearing my own last name makes me ill. I have wanted to legally change my last name for over a year - and I need your help deciding.
My last name is also all I have left of my father. He passed away two years ago and I have no family on his side.
I have tried the route of being a strong woman and reclaiming my name because I should be proud of it. But I can't do it anymore. And though bad things will inevitably happen again in my life, and I can't run off and change my name for a fresh start every time - this is definitely a one off. It's time, and something so simple would set me so free after a lifetime of cruelty.
I have always, always wanted to be a mother. Due to the nature of the violence I copped, there is a very good chance I will never be able to be a mother. It brings me to tears to say the least that one day I may not be able to give someone I love a child, or to name a child, because somebody did a horrible thing to me years ago. It hurts. Alas, there are many children in this world I can give my love to, biologically or not.
The last name I currently go by is that of a poet. It's Dutch in origin and is prefixed with ''Van.'' Similar to Van Gogh. My father was also a poet.
I am very used to using this ''Van Gogh.'' name now and many people already mistake it for my real last name. I believe I want to change my name to this, and incorporate my father back into my name by adding a middle name.
His name is Frederick James. And a character in many of his stories that he loved was named Martha.
Should I become Miss Laura Alice Frederick Van Gogh? Laura Alice Martha Van Gogh? Laura Alice Frederick James Van Gogh? I'm aware that Martha is not a terribly popular name.... I love it personally. And no, I wouldn't mind having the male spelling OR a male name as my middle names. I would not mind it at all.
I have left it so late that the time has come (for work and travel) that this name needs to get changed. Time is of the essence, but then again - I'm not expecting a baby any second. Priorities - I get it.
Wow. Thank you for sending us this letter – I so appreciate the complexities of what’s going on here, and of course it underlines my point: names have ramifications throughout our lives.
First and foremost, I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through. For the violence, of course, and for the effect it’s had on all the parts of you, including your name and your identity, but also for having lost your dad, and for your anxieties about becoming a parent someday. I really hope you have a support system around you, but I know that even if your day-to-day is a pleasant place to be, it can be hard to talk about things like this.
So yes, I agree with you that it’s time. That having a new name will give you the freedom to be who you want to be. The great news is that you know this already. Every day that you walk around as Laura Van Gogh, you are creating a world for yourself where you’re separate from the things that went before, and I don’t think there’s anything about that decision that’s weak.
Given that, you already know that even though you’re not currently using your father’s name, you still remember him and think about him all the time. So even if you choose something that isn’t directly a name he wore, you’re still just as likely to carry his memory with you.
As such, I think you should drop ‘James’. It’s the name that has the associations from what you’d like to distance yourself from, and taking it out of the mix doesn’t seem to me like it’s going to lessen the relationship between you and your dad.
When we carry names that belonged to other people or that were somehow associated with them, we do it because we’re carrying a bit of that person with us, their image or some qualities they possess. As such, I like the idea of Martha, because he loved it, but particularly because depending on the kind of work he did, I wonder if you think she’s a different version of you? If you share some qualities with her?
Laura Alice Martha Van Gogh is long-ish, of course, but as we’ve discussed, you’re not necessarily telling anyone about all your middle names or their provenance, so that’s no big deal. Having said that, the Laura-Martha rhyme-iness may bother you, though I don’t think it necessarily should. The key here is, when you say it out loud, or whisper it to yourself, does it make you happy? Does it remind you of all the things it should? Also, for what it’s worth, Martha isn’t very popular for adults of your age, but it is becoming very, very trendy and stylish for babies, so you may start hearing it a little more – factor in whether that would make you happy or not.
I like Laura Alice Frederick Van Gogh too, and I agree that there’s a charm to the balance of the traditional feminine names and the traditional masculine names. To me, the balance of lots of vowels in your first and middle names, and plenty of consonants in your dad’s name, actually makes this a little more rhythmic.
Another thing that might be a plus or minus in this regard is that by putting his name in the position right before Van Gogh, it’s kind of a variation on having gotten married and put a ‘maiden’ or birth name before a name that you acquire later in life. I don’t know if you’re married or hope to be, or if you’d have changed your name in that scenario, but putting Frederick there is kind of like a version of a name you grew up with, plus your ‘new’ name. That is, there’s a level of tradition to it, which might be comforting if you feel like not having your dad in your life means you miss some sort of the traditional gateposts of a father-daughter relationship – even if you’d never subscribe to them under different circumstances.
Overall, the key here is to choose something that sounds like you. I know that, unlike some people who rename themselves, you never expected to be here. You’re choosing from a couple of names and trying to make them fit with your new life, not from thousands.
But I assume you are doing this because keeping some part of your Dad’s name with you will make you feel more like yourself. Because you will feel more grounded and secure and like he’s with you, in some way, even though you’re not still wearing the last name you grew up with. I want to be clear that I think that is great, stylish, smart and healthy, and that either Frederick or Martha is a fantastic choice, (though I do lean a little toward Frederick because it’s a bit unusual and because the link is a bit more clear).
But – if either of these names starts to feel like a burden, if you’re aware, all the time, that you’re wearing them because you’re not wearing that other name, because of all the reasons you laid out above, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with shrugging off both names, and just being Laura Alice Van Gogh. If you don’t wear any name your dad did, well, he was part of choosing your first and middle names, chances are, so he’s a part of those too, and in the person you are.
While I’m sad that you’ve had these things happen, I’m so pleased on your behalf that you are able to face this and think clearly about what kind of decision you want to make. I really hope you feel great about whatever it is you choose, and though you may want to move on and not talk about the name that was versus the name that is, I know everyone will be happy to hear about what ultimately feels most right for you.