By Any Other Name

Y’all want to go on a wild ride? Let’s talk about that time I decided to change my name in my mid-30s. 

Why would you do this thing?

I have always hated the name Laura. Soooo much. It feels heavy. It feels like…well, not like me. Even when I was very small, I hated it. I was about six years old when I first asked how one goes about changing their name. I was told that every kid goes through phases of hating their name and I would grow out of it. 

If anything, I just hated it more and more. Every time I complained about it, I was invalidated with “Oh, I LOVE your name/But that’s a GOOD name/At least it’s not…” Cool. Change your name to Laura. Wear it in good health and enjoy. It ain’t me, pal. 

Girl, lots of people aren’t excited about their name. Why are you so extra? 

Okay, well, first of all, you must be new. Extra is kind of my thing. Also, if you’re a regular reader, or if you know me in real life and this is your first time here, you may have gathered that I don’t have the best (read: any) relationship with my biological parents. My given name is closely related to my father’s sister’s name, whom I will never meet. Let’s assume it is a coincidence; the connection still feels icky. 

My middle name is the name of a great aunt who died before I was born. It’s not offensive in and of itself, but there is a question mark about whether that name was purposely selected to be a little provocative to someone I loved very much. This person saved me from homelessness (twice), and helped give me some semblance of stability in a childhood otherwise defined by mental illness, addiction, and the nastiest kind of gaslighting. Knowing that my name was perhaps an intentional middle finger to her, is painful. It’s also THE basic middle name of the century, so even if I’m wrong on the intention, I’m not particularly attached to it. 

Regardless, I reject entirely the idea that I must wear this name. But your parents chose it for you! Why should I allow people who beat me, abandoned me, mocked me, let me go hungry, used me for their own validation and gratification, and broke my brain until I believed that everything that happened was all somehow my fault, determine what I should be called, from cradle to grave? Words have power. And I am under no obligation to carry these words one more mile. 

When I carry my given name, I am defined by the abuse. When I carry my chosen name, I am defined by the healing.  

Read it again.

If this is so important, why didn’t you do it ages ago? 

I almost did! This actually very nearly happened the minute I turned 18 and could legally do the thing. I spent hours obsessively searching for exactly the right name. I would have pulled the trigger, but for four key reasons:

  1. Name changes cost money, which was in precious short supply when I was 18. $300 buys a lot of ramen noodles.
  2. I wasn’t 100% confident I had found the right name. I really do enjoy overthinking.
  3. I was still trying to placate my primary abuser, who made a great show of how personally offended they were that I was rejecting my given name.

The fourth reason was kind of a big one. My primary impetus for going through the whole hassle in the first place was that I carried my father’s last name, which was entirely unacceptable. But right in the middle of this process, I met Husbandman. I quickly surmised that I was likely to marry this dude, so I decided to pump the breaks a little and see if I didn’t get myself a new last name with a lot less headache and expense. 

Spoiler alert!

At the time, I opted to keep my first and middle name, because (again) I was still afraid of upsetting my abuser, and I was hopeful that changing the last name would make me more okay with everything else. It did help some, but not enough. 

Okay, but why now?? Aren’t you old af?? 

Wow, pretty rude way to ask a very personal question, but sure.

Short answer: I’m leveling up. While I have done a TON of healing over the last seven years, I have still been living in some level of fear and denial. I want to write about my experiences, to be bold about my healing process, in the hopes of helping others. But I look over my shoulder a lot; afraid of “waking the dragon,” as it were.

Eh. I’m kind of over it, tbh.

I realized that by continuing to shy away, living in fear of her response, she still controlled me. For seven years after I told her I would never see her again, I’ve allowed my actions to be dictated by her potential reactions. I’m over that noise. I’m living my life, doing my thing, and speaking my truth. The point is not to tear anyone down, but to lift up others. If the truth upsets anyone, their reaction is not my concern. That I’ll never have justice is beyond my control, but my silence has been a choice.

Part of living my truth is claiming my name. I am cutting the last fragile thread that binds me to the people who would do me harm, and declaring my full independence.

So, are you going to call yourself something wild now, or what?

I mean…I could! It’s one thing to saddle a child with a wackadoo name, and quite another to choose it for yourself. I’m a grown-ass woman, and if I want to Rainbow Justinia Great-Googly-Moogly Darr, that’s my prerogative. This is America, after all. Making an ass of myself is my inalienable right.

::eagle screech::

But alas, the name I have chosen for myself is simple:

Go ahead, sing the song. I know you want to.

Hi, I’m Caroline. It checks a lot of pragmatic boxes: It’s easy to spell and remember, timeless and never trendy. Caroline is generationally and culturally appropriate for me. As a feminization of Charles, it means free woman, grown woman; it may also mean strong. I’ll take any and all of those definitions, thanks.

Most importantly, in all the dozens of times people have heard me complain about my name and asked me, “Well, what name would you choose?” this was the name that immediately popped up in my mind.

When I finally gave myself permission to mentally “try it on,” it felt comfortable, and comforting. And once I began leaning into Caroline, “Laura” felt even more alien than it had before. Whereas Laura has felt like a backpack full of rocks, Caroline feels like a fuzzy blanket that I have wrapped around my soul. It feels like home. Like…me. 

My last name won’t be changing again. I’m happy to be a part of this family and let my last name reflect that sense of belonging. I am going to go a little buckwild with the middle name, because seriously, why not? So, I will be Caroline Avonlea. Yes, like that Avonlea–the fictional town in Anne of Green Gables.

If you know much about Anne at all, you can probably understand why she would resonate so deeply with me. As an occasionally homeless, often unwanted kid, with a downright unfair amount of freckles, Anne was Everything to me. Like her, literacy and love were my tickets out of a shitty cycle. My life now, as a mother of four who finally gets to experience a loving family from the inside, is my Avonlea–the place where I am safe and loved and wanted. It’s a little gift to myself. A reminder that we are who we make ourselves to be, and home is wherever we are loved.

Anyway, legalities are underway and this is going to be A Thing, for real. Casual readers won’t notice much of a difference. People who are near and dear to me, I expect this will be an adjustment for all of us. But y’all have supported me through way wilder stuff than this (I had three of my babies at home in an inflatable pool and haven’t eaten bread in three years–we both know I’m already your weird friend), so I know we’ll get there.

Thanks in advance for your support and understanding. I recommend starting with changing my contact info in your phone. That has helped the people closest to me adjust pretty nicely. If my husband can do it, you can, too! Caroline has a wealth of potential nicknames, so enjoy coming up with something new and hilarious, if you like. May I be the first to suggest Car-Darr*?

*I am kidding, please do not.

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