“There was my name up in lights. I said, ‘Somebody’s made a mistake.’ But there it was, in lights. And I sat there and said, ‘Remember, you’re not a star.’ Yet there it was up in lights.” (Marilyn Monroe)
When I married the first time, it was the 1980s and I liked my name; I didn’t plan to change it. That turned out to be possibly the only “fight” I had with Shawn Merriman before I married him. I ended up changing my name. I became Andrea Merriman.
Twenty years of marriage and four children later, when I divorced, I kept the name Andrea Merriman. I laughed to think that as much as I hadn’t wanted to become “Merriman” when I married, it was the one thing I kept when I divorced! My decision to keep my name surprised Shawn Merriman, but I did it for my children: their dad was going to prison; their paternal grandparents hadn’t contacted them or their father through the whole Ponzi scheme nightmare (other than to send my two oldest birthday cards in which they didn’t mention our troubles or even offer a word of encouragement beyond what had been generically, pre-printed on the birthday card and then to send the judge sentencing their son a letter encouraging her to “give him the maximum, make him pay for what he did.”) I felt like my kids needed family; family that shared their name, at that difficult time. I didn’t want my children to feel they were alone; the only four Merrimans in the world. At least with me, their mother, there were five of us! The Five Musketeers, in our own way.
However, my children, initially, didn’t appreciate my decision. (Believe me when I say that back in 2009, I couldn’t seem to please anyone! It wasn’t just angry neighbors or victims that weren’t happy with my choices to put my children first! Even my own children didn’t always appreciate my reasoning or the decisions I made.) Several times they asked why I didn’t change my name to Christensen and why I didn’t change their names to that, too! It’s hard to describe or understand, but lets just say it was a difficult and humiliating time; we cringed every time the name Merriman was spoken, wondering who would realize we were related to Shawn Merriman if they heard it, what others might think of us, and how we would be judged, or treated, once the connection was made. In fact, my older children were pushing so hard for a name change I wrote it into my divorce: that I was free to change my children’s names, any time I wanted, without permission or consent from their father.
However, I refused to let my children make the decision to change their entire identity in the heat of a hard moment. They had lost their entire world as they knew it, and if they lost their name, their identity, in addition to everything else, they truly would have lost absolutely everything and I didn’t know what the ramifications of that might be in the future. So we held on to Merriman for the time being.
And then we healed. And then I got engaged. And we all continued to heal.
Shortly after our engagement, the first time #5 mentioned–assumed–I would change my name when we married I was surprised. I was almost 43 years old and had been who I am for a LONG time. Even through the trauma of my unexpected life. I had become ok with being Andrea Merriman again. I wasn’t ashamed or humiliated by the actions of another any more. I remarked, “Oh, I didn’t think I would change my name, I wasn’t planning on it.” From the look of surprise on #5′s face, I realized he had an expectation contrary to mine so I added, “Unless it’s important to you. Is it important to you? If it is, we can talk about it.”
He graciously said no, whatever I wanted to do was fine with him. I thought that settled it, except every few months of our engagement #5 would occasionally question, “So what about your name? Have you thought about what you’re going to do when we get married, if you’re changing your name or not?” My answer was always the same: no, I hadn’t thought about it. I actually thought our initial discussion had settled it, but after 2-3 such conversations I realized despite what he said, it was important to #5 that I change my name or he wouldn’t keep bringing it up. However, I appreciated the fact that he was very willing to accommodate my unwillingness to change my name. He didn’t pressure me, didn’t tell me he wanted me to change my name outright, he just “subtly” mentioned it occasionally!
Then one night we went to Costco. That evening sealed it for me.
We both had memberships that were expiring. Since we were marrying, we wanted only one account. I was digging through my purse looking for something while #5 took care of the membership. By the time he finished with the clerk, I’d found what I’d been looking for, he handed me my card without a word, and I put it away as we walked out. It was just an ordinary Costco card. But something about it caught my eye as I slipped it into my wallet. Could it have been the name “Andrea Ramsey” printed on it? I didn’t comment, but shook my head and laughed. The name change issue was resolved without another word. It CLEARLY was important to him. So I decided I needed to do it.
I just had to prepare my children.
At first I don’t think they were thrilled. I’d given them a very good P.R. pitch about Merriman and why I was keeping that name when I divorced. They even suggested I hyphenate: Merriman-Ramsey. But that is a mouthful, not to mention a lot to write, and it didn’t give me the same name as anyone–#5 or my children. When I explained I was doing it because I would be married to #5 and I sensed it was important to him, they didn’t say another word. (They have been incredibly supportive of every change that has come as a result of joining our lives together.) They only had one concern after that: did they have to change their names too?
From the relief in their eyes and on their faces I saw just how much they had healed in the two years since our unexpected life began. Their humiliation is gone! They are Merriman and want to remain that. I bet they don’t even remember the days they begged me to change their names. Their passion for their name showed me just how thoroughly and completely they are healing, and I am grateful.
So while I never ever expected my children would ever have a different name than mine, we’re learning it’s just one more unexpected aspect of…the unexpected life. So we’re rolling with it.
But just in case you’re considering a name change for YOUR children, for whatever reason, here’s a handy tip from Bill Cosby I thought I’d pass along: “Always end the name of your child with a vowel, so that when you yell, the name will carry.”