What’s in a Name?

Chantal - Oakland, California
Entered on November 27, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: change, family

I believe a name matters.

My name is Chantal Noelle Laurie. Because of my name, people often assume I’m French. The truth is, my mother is a rabid Notre Dame fan from South Bend, Indiana and my father grew up on the New Jersey shore. But, my parents lived in England when I was born and became enamored by the charms of Europe. They sent my sisters to French school and named me, a December baby, Chantal Noelle. Through their experience abroad, they gained an appreciation for cultures and perspectives different from their own. In turn, they encouraged us to explore and challenge life beyond our comfort zone. My name tells the story of my family’s history and values and is an integral part of my self-identity.

In April 2007, I proudly married Curtis William Below and wrestled with whether or not to change my name. Growing up, I enjoyed being part of a family that shared a last name and signed holiday cards as, ‘The Lauries’. I want the same name and sense of solidarity for my eventual family. But, when I returned from our honeymoon and experimented with my email signature, writing Chantal Laurie-Below one day and Chantal Below the next, I realized that I still felt very much like a Laurie.

I’ve spoken honestly with Curtis about my hesitancy in taking his name. Curtis is a Prius driving democrat from the California Bay Area and I thought he might prefer that I keep my name as a stance against patriarchal tradition. Curtis, however, also sees a shared last name as a way to create family unity and he values certain traditions with which he was raised. Curtis would love for me to become a Below.

Since our wedding day, I’ve wracked my brain for creative solutions to the dilemma in which I find myself. Maybe we could both change our names and become improved versions of ourselves as the Laurlows or the Belauries. (I have concerns about the raised eyebrows we’d receive, though). I’ve considered hyphenating our children’s last names once we welcome them into the world, but forcing my children to explain why they have both a first name and a preposition as a last name seems like unnecessary punishment. I’ve considered keeping Laurie as my professional name and Below as my personal name, but I feel like a fraudulent celebrity — la Katie Holmes. I’ve even thought about keeping my name and giving Curtis’s name to our children, but that seems like odd compensation for enduring childbirth and leaves me as the family outsider. I remain perplexed as to how to move forward.

So, a year and half after getting married, I am unclear about how to have a shared last name and maintain my sense of self-identity. My romantic side hopes that once I have children I’ll want to change my name and tell the story of my new family’s history and values. The realist within me thinks I’ll always be Chantal Noelle Laurie.