In true LA style, we stood in line at the Beverly Hills courthouse to change my name on his lunch break. We were getting married in Mexico a few days later. A marriage that wasn’t valid here in the U.S. So, we arranged a court house wedding before, along with my best friends, Heidi and Mel as witnesses.
To my surprise, it was a real ceremony. An actual officiant, fake flowers, a plastic cake, decorations and real vows. I wasn’t expecting that from a courthouse. Assuming it would be all legal jargon and stiff feeling. Instead, it was emotional, intimate and now legally binding.
Excited, nervous, just coming off the high of saying our “I dos”, we now stood in line to do the official name change. In hand was all my needed paperwork, my drivers license and birth certificate. We walked up to the window. They handed me the “Legal Name Change” form and I froze. I looked down at the line of what I wanted to change my name to. Knowing I was taking my now husband's last name. But never thinking it through. Never considering I was becoming someone else. A new identity. I stared at that piece of paper for what felt like an entire minute, until Todd, my new hubby, asked, “Are you ok?”
I looked at the spelling of my name on my license. The last time I would be using it with that name. I stared at my first name. Jo Anna. Fixating on the space between the two words. Then, looking at my birth certificate. JoAnna. No space. Vividly remembering the day that space happened.
I was 16 years old. It was my first day living back with my father. Moving into his girlfriend’s apartment that I had never previously been to. I had been living with another family. Both of us nervous. Jittery. Unsure of what to do or what to say to each other. My father picked up the phone to enroll me into the local high school. He said into the receiver, “Her name is JoAnna. J-O-space- A-N-N-A.”
The moment was jarring because that wasn’t how you spelled my name. Hearing his voice misspell it jolted me into our reality. In a split second, all the events that brought us here came flooding back. The fights. The yelling. The division. The running. The tension. The avoidance. The other families. We had been through an emotional hurricane. We had miraculously made it through together on the other side. Albeit, on rocky ground and an unstable foundation. Now with a space in the middle. The spelling now matching our relationship. Being family only by “name”.
I remembered my mother telling me why she gave me that name. She wanted something as unique as our circumstance. So, she choose JoAnna. She chose to spell it with a capital in the middle. No space. On purpose. To be different. She told me that story a million times. I could only imagine how much she talked about it while naming me. When they adopted me. Him by her side. Yet, now, he forgot.
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to threaten our fragile reunion over something as mundane as the spelling of my name. I wanted to pretend it never happened. Telling myself It was only a mistake. A tiny mistake. A father not knowing how to spell his daughters name. The name I have had since the day he got me. That was said and used daily. Written on every school paper, report card or piece or artwork. On my trophies. Diploma’s from kindergarten, elementary and middle school. A name he gave me. Now with a space.
I knew I was spacing out, so I felt the pressure to speak in the courthouse line.
I asked the clerk, “Do I keep my maiden name?”
“Some do.” He said, “Some change it to their middle name.”
My family name. Who I was. Who I ran from. Who I returned to. A name I share with him. From his family. A bloodline not my own. Picturing him air quoting the word “daughter” when he referred to me. The holidays he uninvited me to as he tried to move on with his life after her death. My wedding he didn’t want to pay to come to. All the painful stabs I felt from my past, all stinging and coming to the surface. In this line. On this paperwork.
Noticing it was also a name I shared with her. As her daughter. My mother. The relationship I feel so grateful to have had. The one that saved me. That showed me love. So much love that I was able to carry it far past when she left. The love that taught me to trust. Without her, without it, I would never know it was attainable. The love that gave me a baseline to how I wanted to feel. How I wanted to be seen. A love I recognized in my husband’s eyes when he purposed. The love that is the reason I am standing here at this window. Only a possibility because of her. And in spite of my father.
My hand laid on the paper to begin filling it out, but I only focused on the space. The space that has followed me since. The space that was on my high school diploma, and then on my transcripts. The space that followed me into college, and then on my degree and my national boards and then my career license. That fucking space. A space that isn’t real. Isn’t legal. Yet has taken over my life. A space that he created. A space I have had to live with. Become. Accept. A space I have felt since she has been gone. A space in every empty chair at every graduation, special event or courthouse wedding. A space she used to fill. The space of being adopted. A space I never felt with her. My mother. Only a connection. Only love. An unconditional love that was real. That I never questioned. Because I felt it. A love I have always craved to have again. A love I have found. A love changing my name to his.
“Can I change my first name too?” I asked.
“You can change everything. That’s why you’re here.” The clerk patiently said.
I felt Todd look at me sideways, like the way Scooby Doo does when he’s confused. Knowing the story, he gently tapped my shoulder. I looked at him.
“Why?” He whispered.
“Because its there.” I whispered back.
I watched as my pen met the paper. My new last name, a new identity, a new beginning. A new chance. A new family name. Along with the old one in the middle. A name I ran from, returned to and shared with my mother, a pride I hold deepest in my heart. And my first name, now with a space. A space I now accept. A space I no longer will be disappointed in. A space that is true. Honest. A space he created and I am making permanent. A space I will always hold for the loss of my mother. A space that will always be there. My past, present and future all in one name. Together. Written down on the legally binding application. Making it real. Making it a name I chose. The name I was. The name I am.