When Doug and I married it meant a lot to him that I take his last name, and so I did it to please him even though I had finally found peace in being myself, Annie Barron. I’d been married and divorced before, and also had changed my name to make my childhood nickname, “Annie”, become my legal first name (Public Service Announcement: please, for the sanity of kids everywhere, if you are going to call your children by nicknames, put those nicknames on their birth certificates...I thank you). Five name changes later, I now anticipate name change number six, which I am determined will be my last.
What’s in a name? Identity, belonging, acceptance, community…confusion, isolation, disorientation, longing…a name is a declaration of personal qualities and a pronunciation of membership to an exclusive group called “family.”
Last year at this time my name was Annie Wilson, part of a sacred union signified by matching last names. Last year at this time my days (and nights) were consumed by love, and suffering, and adoration. Doug and I intentionally cherished every moment together, knowing that the cancer was spreading and our life would be cut short, much shorter than we’d even imagined. We cried openly together, watched silly TV shows to make ourselves laugh, drank malted milkshakes, looked lovingly into each other’s eyes and held each other’s hand constantly. My heart swelled with pride when anyone called me “Mrs. Wilson.”
Then, on November 5th my reason for being called Annie Wilson died when my beloved took his last breath. “Who am I now?” I’ve wondered since then. “Who do I want to be?” I’ve asked myself.
Without my beloved, being called Annie Wilson didn’t feel quite right, but neither did letting go of Doug’s last name. Being Doug Wilson’s wife made me feel proud and having Doug’s last name reminded me of his joy in being my partner, his profound love for me, and his wonderfully large and nurturing presence embracing me.
However, I sense that it’s time to establish healthy independence, to rediscover my footing as Annie Barron, a woman who has survived the unthinkable, who is doing her very best to clear a path through the dense jungle of her life, who understands that Doug cannot return to hold her hand or proclaim that she is his cherished wife. Today I am not a wife. Today I am simply a “me.”
Today I filed a petition to change my name to Annie Saida Barron, and even though I’m crying as I type, I know this change will be good for me. Saida is the name given to me by my Sufi guide many years ago. It means “One who carries the happiness of God’s love”…my guide said that the name he gave symbolized the quality a person carried for the world and also the quality they most needed to experience. At the time I certainly needed to experience the happiness of God’s love, and today I can’t think of anything more healing for my wounded heart.
As Annie Wilson I relaxed for the first time in my entire life. And then one day I no longer knew my own name. And then I named myself.