Name Change, Life Change

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What’s in a name you were born with?

The name you were given since you were brought into this world that when you first heard that name being called you knew it was about you, involved you, part of you, meant to catch your attention, almost like when hearing your name being called or seen on paper, learning the letters of the alphabet in kindergarten that spelled your name then learning how to write those letters together to complete your name in sequential order for you to mark that piece of writing, paper, your territory.

Adiyogi-Shiva-statueYour automatic physical action of doing that is to leave your mark like a fingerprint so it represents you, to claim it as yours, almost like the involuntary validation of when walking past your reflection in a mirror or the glare from a storefront window you know it’s your face staring back at you and could be no one else’s.

Does our name have any impact on our lives? And if it does, how so? In what way? Good or Bad? Or Both? And why does a name take precedence over our existence?

We are born and along with being brought into this world and learning how to speak, think and learn to grow up to become independent adults ourselves we come with a name at birth – on our birth certificate once we enter this world. After 9 months of our mother being pregnant with us, learning how to adapt and take care of their fetus that is growing into a live human being who is their own flesh and blood that will eventually fully develop into a human being – she is programmed by evolutionary standards to innately love her child to a fault and do anything to protect her newborn, it’s her maternity instincts kicking in…….

The world is a big place and a lot of us have different stories as to how we got here – some people were born in strife, poverty, abused and some people never even met their parents. They might’ve been adopted at a young age and abandoned right when they took their first breath…..

Personally speaking, my parents got married and I was their first born. Both my parents grew up in the Bronx, they actually knew of each other for years because they both grew up in the same apartment building. They’ve stolen glances in the elevator together for years to come.

My mom is 5 years younger than my father. My mom would enter the elevator of the building on Irwin Avenue at 15, an impressionable teenager making her way in New York City, growing up in a small apartment in a typically placid family dynamic with only one sibling with whom she shared a bedroom within a very small two bedroom apartment. My dad was approaching 20 years old once my mom moved into the building in that stage of her life. No one left that apartment building. Once families bought the apartment and moved in, they stayed there till they were carried out.

Both sides of my family had a cold war with each other – My mom’s mother (my maternal grandmother) never liked my father’s family and vice versa. “Ugh, I saw her in the elevator again” my mother used to rehash to me the days when her mother saw his mother, “I saw him on the train coming home from work”, her father used to tell my mom and grandmother on his way home from slaving away as a pawnbroker. Those were the comments my mother used to relay to me growing up as a child, describing the acrimony and bitterness that was felt from her and her family after inevitable run-ins with each other due to living in the same building.

My mom especially couldn’t stand my father’s sister. I’m phrasing this mildly, I just want you to gain an understanding of the picture I am painting.

Fast forward years later to when they reached their 30’s, they started dating, my mom fell in love with my father, my mom fell so in love with him and for all intents and purposes, moved into his apartment on the Upper East Side – that’s where my father was living at the time they started dating. My mom was still living at home and had no plans of moving out until she met her future husband.

My father already reached financial success as a C.P.A., quickly after he started his own accounting practice. I use the phrase “intents and purposes” when describing my parent’s initial courtship because my mom continuously stayed over nearly every day for months without clearly moving her stuff in and just decided to omit the part of running through the motions of boldly stating that she lived there. Around 6 months later they were engaged. My dad never admitted he loved my mom, he would just tell me growing up that it was ‘convenient’, he found my mom to be attractive.

My mom, on the other hand, turned all of her acrimonious feelings of his family, uncomfortable vibes of those beginning years she spent with my father shared in those endless ‘unsettling, and discomfiting glances” she shared in the confines of the endless elevator rides with my father as an adolescent into pure, mad love. She decided that she would make it work. She had faith that she could cozy up to his sister and mother and magically grow close to them where the unspoken rift between them would be lifted.

My mother had told me that in an effort to become close to his mother (my paternal grandmother), she offered all her jewelry to her after they married.

My mom’s jewelry means the world to her. Her incentive of gifting her collection was an attempt to appease and gain Judy’s (my paternal grandmother) love and acceptance; it didn’t work. Not only did Judy decline the offer but her surly attitude never waned nor make it any easier for my mom to get along with her and Rona (my father’s sister). To make a long story short, the peril that ensued since the beginning of my parent’s marriage only erupted into a volcano once Judy passed away up until my parent’s divorce.

My mom’s goals since a young girl were to find a man to fall in love with and marry, raise children and be a great stay at home mother at the same time as having a picturesque, idyllic marriage. Once she reached 32, she magically became convinced that my father all of a sudden fit the bill.

Those are very admirable and genuine qualities to possess which my mom really felt but unfortunately for her she had extremely poor taste in choosing the right people to be in her life who failed to serve her any purpose or benefit for her well being other than learning extremely harsh, life lessons urging her not to get involved with the wrong ones again.

She had been engaged before my dad, and in plenty of lengthy relationships before him but after many trials & tribulations with several long-term boyfriends, she still never felt that tug in her heart indicating that she fell madly in love, that one person who she was searching for to fit the piece of the puzzle to complete her fairytale marriage until one fateful day my mother and father had someway and somehow finally spoke to each other and embarked on a relationship. In the beginning, it was a clandestine exchange. She kept it hush-hush because she didn’t want to tell her parents and sister who she was really dating because she knew she would receive harsh criticism mixed with repulsion so in order to avoid that backlash she changed his name. My father wined and dined her and most importantly generously offered to pick her up from the train station. My father drove and had a car, my mom didn’t. She took advantage of the convenience of New York City’s mass transit to help her get around.

She had plenty of time to pick and choose a mate, even spend a few years of monogamy and test the waters to see if her partner she chose to be exclusive with could be ‘the one’ because my mom married at around 32 years old. In my opinion, she did the right thing to hold out and date different men until she was sure that this particular partner was the ideal mate to plant roots with and live the American Dream of a white picket fence, a house, a dog and two kids with. Some women meet their husbands since children, they’re high school sweethearts, or even dated as young as middle school and marry right away in their 20’s. I’m not saying that’s wrong to do, I’m saying that people who settle down so young typically become repressed years later after having a family so young and wish they could’ve enjoyed their youth while they had the chance to.

I’m just saying that I think my mom did the right thing by being more selective and holding out for the ideal mate. The luxury of not finding a man at a young age to be tempted to spend the rest of her life with afforded her the opportunity of developing her taste buds by picking and choosing several suitors over time to the point where her palate was fully developed to her liking; the same way a child learns to love foods over time once their taste buds matured from eating PB&J sandwiches, applesauce, grilled cheese, juice, all the way up to finally reaching an acquired taste for tuna fish and coffee one could only enjoy as they get older.

Now I’m going off on a tangent. Let me get back to my topic at hand: A lot of children who are born out of love and support like I cherished their name, they are proud of their surname. Their last name is symbolic, it represents their family and continuing on the legacy and mark on this world as you flourish and get older. People that achieve great success in careers such as becoming a doctor or an attorney make their bloodline look good – their family name is very well respected thanks to a successful relative who achieved a great career and achievement, they add a well-polished touch to the family name by finishing it off with a fancy title next to it such as ESQ or MD. That professional achievement, done by one relative typically, contributes to the passing of the torch to other future relatives that persuade them in also achieving a high profile career. A lot of families start the “trend” of the same profession where it almost becomes a business of the whole line of family members all contributing to the same fancy, prestigious title at the end of the family name where it’s more like an exclusive, members-only V.I.P. club. Individuals who are born out of well-respected families, pillars of the community, opulence and noteworthy philanthropy, I’m more referring to males, are extra choosy when choosing the ideal woman to make their bride. After all, this woman is going to carry on the family name, bear his offspring and represent his prestigious family’s legacy and contribute to his ever-growing family tree.

Now switching gears to the American custom of when women get married, they are expected to take their husband’s name instead. I could firmly relate since I am a female. Some women choose to hold on to their maiden name once they marry. They keep their maiden name entirely and refuse to erase it once they tie the knot. Maybe it’s because they don’t want their husband to take implied control of them by now switching sides to their family by now having their last name and carrying on their legacy or some women want to keep a piece of their independence. Some might argue it sounds like a ‘feminist’ action to take. The term ‘feminist’ is unsavory to some people and I’m not debating that. Or, they keep their maiden name hyphenated – so it’s their first, maiden name then married name. They want to feel proud they married the love of their life and have the honor of carrying their partner’s name but at the same time do not want to forget and wipe out their maiden name that they were so proud to carry their whole life until achieving wedded bliss.

On another note and perspective, studies have been shown the impact names have on people. Psychologists do all these studies to see if it is true that the names children are being given at birth have an impact as to how their experience growing up will be. I’ve heard over the years that according to statistics, people with common names score higher on exams and excel academically.

Most recently, I saw a documentary on Netflix that was based on the book, Freakonomics. Economist Steven D. Butler and Journalist Stephen J. Dubner explore the role human nature plays on a series of life events and the way we are raised, an unconventional approach executed by people in the field of finance and news reporting who typically conduct studies on human nature related to business practices and the effect it has on society.

The segment based on names caught my attention.

They interviewed people with unsavory names that are an easy target for children to poke fun of.

I’m not going to delve into it; I recommend seeing the whole documentary for yourself or even read the book. It is quite interesting. I am mentioning it because it reminds me of how I feel about my name growing up until I reached adulthood.

My name stamped on my birth certificate is nothing to be embarrassed about or the butt for any jokes. so as a child the issues I faced socially and in my own skin had nothing to do with my given birth name. At first blush, my birth certificate is idyllic to me if I pretend I am an outsider looking in. I was born in Manhattan. Both my parents took the traditional route of having children after marriage like I still honor and find to be the proper approach when starting a family. I was the nice big surprise, bundle of joy, after my parent’s married, the added addition to the matrimonial nest they made themselves in the opulent, enchanting East 61st Street, adjacent from the landmark Serendipity 3, highly noted by their frozen hot chocolates where all Hollywood films when based in New York City make sure to include a scene of.

Once I reached adulthood into college I began to feel a strong distaste for my last name. The emotions behind the origin of my father’s last name that I was chosen to have back in June of 1984 left a sour taste in my mouth to the point that I wanted to erase it from my existence entirely. All of those years of acrimony and peril that I ended up developing myself with my forced relationship with my father led to my surname serving as a sign of punishment and catalyst for the turmoil that resulted from my upbringing.

Let’s just say, out of respect for saving time and not wasting my energy of beating a dead horse that all of those old feelings from the archives my mother and her family felt for my father’s side that I went into detail about at the beginning transferred to me times 1000. His last name leaves me with knots in my stomach and vomit foaming in my mouth – nothing but repulsion, discord, enmity mixed with the physical reaction of nausea.

I’m kind of jealous of my mother. After the divorce at least she could wash her hands clean of him. They’re not related, not even by blood, and they happened to divorce once their kids were grown up, so they didn’t have to deal with any messy custodial battles. My mom could go back to changing her last name to whatever she wants without any semblance of being involved with my father and his family, almost like it never happened, a clean slate with no trace of any kind of it ever existing.

Me on the other hand, sure I could easily change my last name in order to feel some kind of relief, but I still share the same blood as him and still catch a few physical similarities of his resemblance in the mirror which also leaves me with even fewer relatives to one day try to seek solace from, but so worth it – a minute price to pay for burning those bridges. It makes me sick even thinking about that whole scene.

Your name is something you have to recite repeatedly to everyone your WHOLE life, to everyone and it is written besides. Whether you write it yourself or see it typed, printed or handwritten, it is addressed to you because you symbolize that name, you are carrying that name. When you first meet someone and introduce yourself you start off by telling the person your name and finish it off by asking them what their name is in order to establish a rapport and take it from there. Your name is your calling card. Your name is the most important fact to remember once someone first meets you in order to remember you and distinguish you from the other countless people they cross paths with and become acquainted with and vice versa. When you attend a mixer or convention of some kind, typically once you sign in to mingle with others you are given a name tag to place visibly on your shirt to make it easier to strike up a conversation. Essentially, your name is a piece of you and establishes your identity.

As the years progressed and I matured, I discovered that my last name was more haunting and an insult to have than anything else. It also sparked opening the floodgates of my 34 years of animosity. I no longer wanted to be associated with that name at all. I wish I could’ve done that with my DNA too, but changing my name for good would suffice, after all, that is the only thing I have control of changing. At least I would never have to hear it again and have to utter it from my own mouth by introducing myself to people orally and through written communication. Every time I met new people and told them my name they would ask if I was related to this or that person; they knew or heard of another person who had the same last name as me. I would do my best to resist the negative emotions I do my best every day to suppress and leave bottled up inside and just answer in a sing-song voice, “No, I’ve never heard of that person but my last name is pretty common”. Which is true. It is a very common name and unlikely that out of all those people who represent that bad omen mentioned to me, is traced to me; I have very little relatives to begin with.

After I entered graduate school and approached 25 years old, that big, shiny bright, yellow light bulb (epiphany) flashed in my head to change my name to the point of the bright light blinding me. I had sought comfort in one of my education professors at the time. One of the kindest human beings I have ever met; not just an exemplary professor. I will never forget him. I had spoken to him privately almost like a therapist over many things, that’s how comfortable I felt with him. After divulging my epiphany of legally changing my last name, he highly dissuaded me. He told me it would be a lot of work to legally change it; I would have to go to court and so on and so forth to finally do it. At the time I was bogged down by plenty of school work and did not have the stamina and energy at the time to exert into going through the legwork of doing that so I left it in my subconscious mind instead.

Nearly 10 years later after acquiring two degrees and becoming an independent professional, I acted upon my burning and deep yearning desire. I already made the healthy and logical decision of severing ties but finally made the finishing touches of sealing the deal by the judge of the Queens Courthouse granting me approval of my name change. It took a lot of work to submit all the paperwork and pending approval to accomplish this monumental and meaningful task just like what I was warned about but well worth it. September 18, 2018, is a very special and honorary day for me. I am elated to finally have my own name that I am happy to have, represent and most importantly, love.

My mom chose my first and middle name and I always loved it; I love the story as to what led her to become inspired behind choosing that name for her first born and only daughter and why she thought it was so appealing. After hearing the name “Dara” at a legal practice she was working at, one of the attorneys had that name; it struck a chord with her ever since. She never forgot how much she loved it after first hearing it years prior. Even now when I think back to my first name, it helps me visualize a successful and attractive attorney, a tall, slim woman with long brown hair in a trench coat, pumps and leather briefcase sauntering into her elite, law firm she arduously worked to become a partner at in the upper echelon of New York. Funny enough, I once had the aspiration of becoming a lawyer myself and still have a strong passion for social justice reform.

It is still my name, my birth name but with a unique way of spelling and of course the omission of my last name – the reason for my name change that led to the finishing touches of my life change.

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