Could I Have Been Anyone Other Than Me?


image: facebook.com

image: facebook.com

Play it; listen to this gem.  One of my favorite songs. Ever. By anyone. And no one sings it like Dave. The title: Dancing Nancies (speaking of names, who the hell is Nancy—let alone multiple Nancies), but so many of us think it’s “Could I Have Been Anyone Other… Than Me?” The question of my life. The question I stumble over, and look at, and wonder about… over and over, infinitum. Never ending. “I look up at the sky… I almost become dizzy… I am who I am, who I am. Well, who am I?” Dave, who writes for me, who sings my songs, it’s the mother question of all questions.  No real answers in those lyrics, but I could still play it over and over.

This tangent originated (this time) during some banter with Lyssa, in the comment section of her post What’s in a Name? Lyssa’s getting married; I’m invited and plan to sit with her aunt.  But that’s for later. In the post, Lyssa explains why she’s decided to take  her husband’s name, and use her own last name as her new middle name. Twenty-six years ago, I did the same thing, sort of. At the time, I had a few friends who found my decision very counter feminist. I got some negative feedback from women who thought I should hyphenate our names, or maybe keep my own name. In my own defense, the hyphenating of two names was still a fairly new concept then. Not out there, but new still. Creating a new name was barely heard of, and keeping my own name, well it seemed like a statement at the time.  If truth be told (and why not?) I didn’t give it enough thought. There were so many other issues we were up against that the name game didn’t really seem like an issue worth taking on. I remember vaguely thinking that I could figure that part out, later… what?! Yeah, I was young. Practically a child. My child’s age now, child.

image: pelumity.com

image: pelumity.com

So, I went to my wedding figuring that I’d take Smart Guy’s smart name, and deal with modern ideas later. However, my name was already complicated. See, when I was born my parents apparently had name issues too. They named me Jo-Ann Dawn. So technically, I came into the world with a hyphen. The problem from day one: no one called me Jo-Ann, except teachers, on my first day of school… every single year. My dad, apparently knew of a cow named Josie. He was sure that Jo-Ann would become Jo or worse, Josie, and he’d think of a cow every time he heard my name—or, that’s what I was told.  In reality, I was named for my grandmother, Jo-Ann, a formidable woman. A woman I admired; but, I’m pretty sure that neither of my parents wanted to be reminded of that connection every day (she was a formidable woman, after all)… which always begged the question, in my confused little head: Why not name me Dawn Jo-Ann. Really, mom, dad? I never got an answer to that one.

So, there I was each year on the first day of school, explaining why my legal name was Jo-Ann Dawn, but I went by Dawn. To take it up a notch, I didn’t use the name enough, so I often got confused and added an “e” to the end of Jo-Anne. Sometimes, I forgot the hyphen: JoAnn, or JoAnne. I was totally confused for years, I wasn’t sure what the hell my legal name was. I routinely checked my birth certificate to be sure. True story.  The fact that every single teacher said my wrong name every year, and I had to explain it in front of the entire class, was enough to give a young girl an identity crisis… without all the other stuff going on in said young girl’s life. By the time I was in 6th grade, other kids sometimes yelled out the correction for me on day one. Really. Also a true story. When I went to college, like so many other college students, I saw my big chance to redefine myself once and for all… I thought. I simplified the whole thing by becoming J. Dawn. That capital “J” just looked cooler all around. It was the new, maturer version of Jo-Ann Dawn. I thought I had a solution… finally.

I was pretty happy as J. Dawn: there was much less explaining; it was much simpler. It sounded sophisticated, to me.  A few people asked what the J was, but mostly people assumed it was just very cool. By the time I was getting married, I think all this name stuff had just worn me down, and I didn’t give another name much thought at all. Like I said, Smart Guy was a perfectly good name. I liked his name. Maybe I felt a teeny bit defensive when challenged about the giving up my own name or not taking on another hyphen. but mostly I took the easiest route.  Shit, hyphens had not been working for me up ’til then. I felt pretty justified in not taking another hyphen on. So, I dropped the J., the Jo-Ann. Poor Jo-Ann, that was lost all together. After years of neglect, she died a slow death, and was removed all together, at the DMV and city hall, where I got my marriage license.  My grandmother did not take it well at first, despite the fact that I’d never used her name anyway; but, eventually she got over it. She knew I was a lot like her, whatever name I used.

I made my middle name my first name. I moved the last name up to middle position, and took a whole new name for my last name. Who’s on first? Middle. Last is now on middle, and Smart Guy was the new last name.  I thought I was simplifying, if you can believe it. I did. For a little while I didn’t use the middle at all, and just settled with Dawn Smart Guy.

image, from Google images

image, from Google images

However, as the years went by I missed the middle. So I brought it back; initially as an initial: “Q:” for my “maiden name.”  Having a Q as a middle initial was both interesting and cool. When people asked, I told them (with a straight face) that it stood for Queen. However, I eventually realized that I missed the rest of the letters that came after the Q, so I started signing my name in three parts again: first, middle and last, sans hyphen. All of this name changing may explain why I hate those name tags that people have you fill in, at events.  Hate them.

Which brings me back to Dave and his Dancing Nancies. I’ve wondered; I’ve thought about this. “We turn, we turn, we almost become dizzy… Could I have been anyone other than me?”  The Jo-Ann me? JoAnn or JoAnne me? Dawn me? J. Dawn me? Dawn Q. me? Dawn Q. Smart Guy me? Or the three full names me? “Could I have been a dancing Nancy?” Are they really all one in the same, or would I have done different things with each of those names? I was a girl, a student, a therapist, a young wife, a mother— each name was a new identity, of sorts. For twenty-three years, I have most often been called “Mom,” a name I have loved. But even that does not define me, as a whole. Can I still choose a new path with any one of those names now? A nom de plume perhaps, or my AKA on the possible criminal record I might still work on. What’s in a name? Just as Lyssa is doing now, I once thought I knew, and I chose a new one. But maybe there was something in all that name game drama, that I missed. So I’m reclaiming some things I dropped along the way, and carving out a new “Anyone Other.” I’m me, regardless… I think. We’re all here. A final name complication: You can also call me: Tales From the Motherland. A writer. TFtM, if we’re friends. All here, and accounted for.

image: zeezoey.com

image: zeezoey.com

What’s your name? Do you like your name? Have you changed it over the years, and why? What would you like to be called? Share your thoughts.

About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
Aside | This entry was posted in Aging, Awareness, Blog, Blogging, Daily Observations, Education, Honest observations on many things, Humor, Life, Musings, My world, Personal change, Sarcasm, Tales From the Motherland, Women's issues and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to Could I Have Been Anyone Other Than Me?

  1. Cathy Ulrich says:

    Dawn,
    Great post. While I was kind of named after my great grandmother Catherine, my parents named me Cathy. For a long time, I wanted to have the full name. I tried it a few times but it never stuck, so I’ve just gone with it.

    I’ve been married twice and took my husband’s last name both times. It’s actually quite humorous to see the college degrees (three of them) on my office wall. The first is my family name, the second is my first husband’s name and the third is my husband’s name now. People look at those and surmise the history and I’ve gotten comments about it on several occasions. In retrospect, it probably would have been simpler to have kept the last name I was born with. But in some ways those names do represent who I am now – a history that demonstrates the tapestry of my life with different names interwoven for various relationships and phases.

    Cathy

    Like

    • Exactly! I hadn’t really thought much about the fact that the various incarnations of my name, have come during very different phases of my life. Interesting to think about what I did, who I was, etc, during the different name stages. Thanks for sharing!

      Like

  2. nantubre says:

    This post gave me a chuckle. My name got complicated because I chose to keep my former husband’s name after we divorced. By the time I re-married 20 years later, well, that’s when it got confusing. It was easier to keep my former name rather than change everything. At least I thought so at the time. The solution, albeit a temporary one, was to keep my former name in the middle, then my new married name. I was Nancy T. Married and became Nancy Married New-guy. I never did like my maiden name so I don’t miss it.
    I wonder who came up with all of this crap anyway? I know someone who’s husband took HER last name when they married. That’s awesome, don’t you think?

    Like

    • I’ve known a few men who took their wives names. I know a family where the mom and kids have her name, and the father/husband has his. I have family members who kept her maiden name as her middle name, his middle name, and each of their kids’ middle names. So they all have the same middle name now, her name. Not hyphenated. So many options, that my decision looks more and more antiquated as the years go by! Alas. Thanks for taking the time to read my post, and for sharing your thoughts. Much appreciated!

      Like

  3. Name stories are always interesting. Your maiden name is very unusual; I can’t imagine you as a Jo-Ann(e). My mother always used her middle name and changed it legally to her first name. I too took my husband’s last name- just seemed easier at the time– though many of my college friends and one of my sisters kept their maiden names. College friends will still refer to me by that name and it sounds odd.

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    • I never felt like a Jo-Ann, but sometimes I wonder. It still strikes a chord. There is some deeper tie to that name. It is what I came into the world with, and now that I’m older, I often wish I could ask my parents some deeper questions about their choice. Interestingly, to complicate things more… had my paternal grandfather not been adopted by his step-father, my name would have been Bullen. No Q, a B. Hmmm. A tangled web indeed.

      Like

  4. susanissima says:

    Loved reading your thought-provoking blog this morning while listening to Dave! Great idea. I went they hyphenated route when I married my first husband, the father of my wonderful children, so I kept my own last name, too. We were married for 30 years and it was a beautiful, important marriage. That’s why I chose not to take on my current husband’s name because it would have been a very long one adding another hyphen and another last name, though here in Spain women have extended names and nobody seems to mind. I also wanted my children to know how significant their father was in my life. Works for me.

    Like

    • THAT is a beautiful love story Susan! Knowing how wonderful you and your current husband are together, it is such a respectful and sacred thing that you honored your children that way, and the history you share with their father. Beautiful!

      I can’t wait to hear all about your trip. I’ve been dreaming of Spain lately, and thinking of El Camino. We really need to break bread when you return, and catch up! Thanks for sharing. xo

      Like

  5. Anonymous says:

    Dawn, this is a fun post, and I can relate to your story. Even though I have been “Mike” all my life, it is my middle name. When people ask what my middle name is and I say “Michael”, I often get the response, “No, I mean what is your real name?” Like my middle name isn’t real? Going by a middle name isn’t that weird. Lots of famous people are ‘middle namers’: F. Lee Bailey, F. Scott Fitzgerald, H. Ross Perot, J. Edgar Hoover, J. Paul Getty, R. Buckminster Fuller, T. Boone, Pickens, and so on. – Your friend, L. Michael Lince 🙂

    Like

    • Which begs the question: what does the L stand for?? I suppose I could have kept the J., but then it would have been J.Dawn Q. Smart Guy… a wee bit long! :-p Thanks for sharing L. Michael. I think I’ll still call you Mike, though. Safe travels, friend.

      Like

  6. Carrie Rubin says:

    I took my husband’s name, because, like you, I married young, and that was the typical thing to do. Plus, I liked the idea of us having only one name as a family. I’ve never really regretted it, but I do not like being called Mrs. Rubin. And I really, really don’t like when letters come addressed to Mr. and Mrs. (husband’s name) Rubin. I feel like I get tossed out of that equation completely!

    Like

  7. Lyssapants says:

    Lovely post – it was very validating for me to read! Like you, I feel a pang induced by taking my husband’s name – that it’s anti-feminist. I may struggle with this for a while….who knows, I may never feel 100% ok with it. But I do know that us feminists just want choices – the freedom to choose what we want. I know I have options, and this is what I want. No one is making me choose this. And hell, nothing’s certain except death and taxes, so if I end up hating this, I can always go change it back.

    Like

  8. The Waiting says:

    Loved this! Have you ever read “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri? The way you described being confused by your name as a child reminded me a lot of the protagonist in the book not understanding the difference between his family pet name and the name he goes by in kindergarten. It’s a great book and I would encourage you to check it out if you haven’t!

    I also changed my full name after I got married, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m now stuck with it for life, but I really like it. To me, it’s a lot more pleasing to the ear than my name before I got married. It sounds really literary. Sometimes I miss the middle name I was given at birth (it got the boot when I changed my name), but we gave it to the baby as her middle name. So far, it seems to fit her a lot better than it did me.

    Great post, Dawn!

    Like

    • The Waiting says:

      Also, I am totally jealous you get to go to Lyssa’s wedding!

      Like

      • I should have clarified… that was totally fiction. Given that you are her cyber Maid of Honor, I would hardly expect to go without you! Maybe we could both vie for a real invite… and go! THAT would be a blast!!

        Like

    • Thanks Emily! I have read The Namesake, and love Lahiri’s writing. Any comparison is a compliment I’ll run with! 😉

      It’s a really good thing when you change your name, and like it better. Kudos to you, for being happy with the change and not spending any energy second guessing. Thanks for all the nice input and feedback; much appreciated!

      Like

  9. Naming is such a big part of our identity. Reminds me of T.S. Eliot’s poem about the naming of cats. Besides legal names, there are the nicknames. It’s kind of cool to look back and see how our names impact our existence. 😉

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  10. Katalina4 says:

    Oh well look at that! Just saw this. Many nickname possibilities suggested here. 🙂
    Wonderful post about all that identity stuff tangled up with a name. My son is a hyphenated last name child who is now beginning to debate whether or not he wants to keep both. We shall see where he goes with it…

    Like

    • Thanks for weighing in Katalina. Not sure how old your son is, but I imagine it gets complicated as kids get older and start debating these things… after you (no doubt) gave it so much thought on the front end! :-p I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.

      Like

  11. Valery says:

    “A rose by any other name would still…” aww, you know. Could not resist.
    Great topic. I bet guys struggle with all of these name issues, too: NOT!
    Do you by any chance remember a time back in high school when Judy and I started this thing with old-lady names? There was an Agatha, Hortense, Mildred, etc. I was Gertrude; I balked at Harriet, though 😉 Actually, it may have been Jr. High…

    Like

  12. Israel says:

    I have one name in one country and another name in another country.

    One name is a very typical and common English name, the other is one of the rarest in the Hebrew language.

    One name my loved ones have always called me by. The other one is my my adult name, a name that fascinates and scares people to who speak the language.

    Soon I will have two passports, with two names in two different languages.

    But to have one of the people you love most only know you by name that you have only been going by for 6 months… is sometimes terribly confusing.

    Ahhh, identity crises.

    Like

    • I think that person will have to get to know “both” of you… you will always be both names. I’m so proud that the other name I picked, is even half as special as you. And remember, that first name is anything but typical and common, on you. xo Very powerful, and interesting points here!

      Like

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