Sunday, November 15, 2009

Who the hell am I?

When I first fell in love, I did what every future bride does with her groom to be. I checked if our names were compatible. Mrs. Ellen Stephanie S-k-y-w-a-l-k-e-r. It rolled off the tongue at the time. And when I double checked our destiny with AEIOU/12345 test (remember that?), I knew Luke was my future. Unfortunately, my beloved at 12 had other plans for himself --like kissing his sister and saving the galaxy—so I never did become Ellen Skywalker.

At 27, I did decide to go all out traditional and change my name when I got married. My grandmother did. My mother did. And, as I wanted nothing more than to meld my life with my then fiancĂ©e, I decided to do the same. The notion was a charming one. And I wasn’t alone in my thinking. Even today, some 70 percent of the respondents in a study conducted by the Center for Survey Research at Indiana University, felt they should take their spouse’s surname - and 50 percent said that it should be a legal requirement for a woman to take her spouse’s last name. Rush Limbaugh can do the happy dance.

It sounded simple enough but actually taking on another name and using it day to day kind of flipped me out. If after 27 years, I was no longer Ellen Stephanie Simon, who was I? Names are a big deal in Judaism. We name our kids after deceased love ones in the hopes that they will be imbued with that person’s positive traits. I was named after my great grandmother Esther, who was considered a very strong woman. I’d been told that my last name, Simon, was originally Siminovitz but it was hastily shortened by some lazy scribe at Ellis Island.

My name had meaning to me. If something that was such a big part of my identity, could be changed so easily (“sign right here”), who was I? I reasoned that nothing important was changing. It was just a label. And I started to think of myself, not as Ellen Stephanie Simon or Ellen Stephanie Pifer or Ellen Stephanie Simon Pifer or even Ellen Simon Pifer, though I tried them all on for size. I started to think of myself as simply “Ellen.” I figured, I’d follow in the footsteps of a long line of powerhouse women like Cleopatra, Cher, Madonna and Pink. Did they even have last names? Or did they change them seasonally?

Now with the dissolution of my marriage, I have the opportunity to change my name yet again and I find myself craving old me, wanting to shed this now ill-fitting name. It might be nice to symbolically slam the door on life as Ellen Pifer. But, as with most decisions there are other issues at play. Three big ones. My three sons have their father’s last name and I wonder how reclaiming my maiden name might affect them. I would never want them to feel I was leaving our family or rejecting them in any way. And Lord knows, I’m no longer a “maiden”. So, I’ve got a lot to think about in the coming weeks. And in the meantime, I’ll just be imagining my name up in lights “Ellen” On second thought, I’m shortening it to the much hipper “Elle”... Elle Skywalker. Yeah, I like the sound of that for my next great adventure …This is Red 5, I’m goin’ in.

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