Friday, January 21, 2011

Name Game

In 1975 when I was getting divorced, my lawyer asked if I wanted to go back to my maiden name. Ahh, well, no. I actually felt closer to my almost ex-husband than my father. But that's another story.

The divorce was final in the summer of 1976. Just weeks afterward, I was in the Ann Arbor Art Fair. The sign on my booth had my ex-husband's last name. People came in the booth, saw the name and asked if I was German. 

Now, there's nothing wrong with being German. I just don't have any. I was a fraud. I was mislabeled. My father's family was all Norwegian. My mother's ancestors were Mayflower English and coal-mining Scots. No German.

Then and there I decided I needed a new name. 

There is a great deal to be said about timing. Right around that time there was an article in the paper on "how to legally change your name". A month earlier or a month later, I would have missed it. There wasn't Google back then.

So what name did I want? My maiden name began with a C. My married name began with an S. By getting married I had moved myself to the back of the line. I needed an A name.

Also around that time I read artist Judy Chicago's autobiography, "Through the Flower". Judy Chicago had renamed herself after a city. A city! The feminist me liked that. No patriarch or even matriarch name for me. A City. 

Which city was easy. I was born in Ann Arbor. I had decided to change my name during the Ann Arbor Art Fair. I would be Lynn Arbor. I was also throwing out my first name, which I won't repeat here. If I liked the name I would have kept it. Besides I was always called Lynn.

The first people I wanted to discuss this with were my children. I told them they could change their names too, or hyphenate. They both wanted to keep their names as they were. My daughter (13 then) was fine with my name change. My son (12) said, "But if you change your name and get famous, then no one will believe you're my mother." 

So I kept my kids last name as my middle name. Now it looks like my maiden name is German. Wasn't that part of the point of changing it? But, hey, you do things for your kids.

Ferdinand Hampson, the owner of Habatat Gallery, wasn't thrilled. What do clients think of an artist with a new name? But I was just starting out, so I convinced him that no one knew who I was anyway.

The biggest hurdle was my grandmother. I sat in the den at my grandmother's house with her and my mother. My mother was always a bit of a rebel, so she thought it was a fine idea. My grandmother was upset. 

"Why not take a family name." she said.

My mother laughed.  My mother had a point. I didn't want to be Lynn Dick, even though I loved a lot of Dicks in my life. It just wasn't what I was looking for.

"How about Kerwin?" Mom said. She did this to torment my grandmother. Kerwin was my step-fathers name. He was Irish and Catholic. This was actually worse than being black, Jewish or Asian to my grandmother.

At that, my grandmother was fine with Arbor.

But then she said, "But who will you be related too?" Which set my mother and I into a fit of laughing. My grandmother, a good sport, laughed too.

So I went to count, paid $35, filled out papers, stood in front of a judge, raised my right hand, and swore that I wasn't changing my name for any fraudulent reasons.

The only problem with my name is that sometimes people think my first name is Ann. But I can live with that.

If you want to change your name in Michigan here's a link.

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