What's In A Name?
We knew there was a problem when the border guard leaned out of the window of his little cubicle and tried to peer into our car.
He gestures towards the backseat, our passports clutched in his hand. "Who's the mother of that baby?"
"Um... me?" Why on earth would he ask me that? He has the passports in his hand.
"Do you have identification for that baby?"
"Um... you're holding it? That's his passport."
"His last name is different from yours, ma'am. I have no way of knowing if this is your baby. Do you have a letter from the father?"
This conversation is starting to make me anxious. Katie, in the driver's seat, is gripping the steering wheel tightly and trying to look virtuous.
"No, I don't have a letter. I wasn't aware that I needed one. I have a passport for him. You're holding it." I'm starting to babble. "You can call my husband if you want, but I guess that doesn't help, right? Because I could just give you any old number, and how would you know it was my husband, so..." shut up shut up shut up "I don't know what you want me to do; I mean, that is my baby..."
The border guard is staring at me with that blank but vaguely threatening bureaucratic stare that is the trademark of border guards, traffic cops, DMV employees and hair salon receptionists.
"His last name as indicated on this passport is different from yours, ma'am. He might not be your baby. And you have no travel letter. You could be taking him from his father."
"But we're on our way BACK to Canada. We're RETURNING from a trip. We're going BACK to where we came from. And he IS my baby. He IS." I want to tell this guy that I have the scars to prove that I birthed this baby and that he's welcome to see them IF HE DARES but I bite my tongue. Border guards have no sense of humor, and, also, it's not like a display of my scarred nethers would prove anything. It's not like Jasper left his gang tags on the walls of the birth canal on the way out. Any baby could have been responsible for that blast site. There'd be no way of proving that it was him. At least, not out here at the Thousand Islands border crossing in the middle of the night on a long weekend.
My voice is starting to get that hysterical edge. "That's my husband's last name on his passport, and I am married to my husband and this is our baby and I'm headed home to him but I have no way to prove that to you so I don't know what you want me to do, seriously."
The border guard looks at the passports, and then back at Katie and I, and then back at the passports again. "Okay," he says. "I don't get a bad feeling from you." (WTF?) "I believe that this is your baby. I'm going to let you go. Next time, though, you need to bring more documentation with you." He leans out of his border-guard cubby and hands us back our passports. "On your way."
Katie hits the gas and peels away before he can change his mind.
We don't say anything to each other for a few minutes.
"I think we brought back more liquor than we were supposed to. Thank god he missed that," I say. I roll down the window to get some air. "Also, I think that I'm going to take Kyle's name."
*****I don't have any special attachment to my family name, apart from the fact that I've used it most of my life, which is significant, I know, but still. It's not a true family name. My father picked it out of a hat, literally, when I was not quite two years old; he changed our family name after a falling out with his stepfather caused him to want to sever all ties with that part of his family. So my birth certificate was amended and I ended up with the family name that I have now. There's no ancestry attached to it, no legacy. It's just a name.
But it's my name, and the one I'm used to. When I married my husband, I kept that name. I made a half-hearted effort to use a hyphenated version of our names, but it was hard to keep up, and, also, it sounded funny and pretentious, like it needed to be spoken with one's lower jaw locked and all of one's vowels and consonants enunciated clearly and separately. It's not that I was opposed to taking his name, but nor was I opposed to keeping my own, and I just kinda lapsed into the easiest choice. I had a vague notion that I might change it to his when and if we had children, but that seemed a long way off.
I hadn't thought again about changing my name until the other week - the week prior to being challenged by the border guard - when Emilia introduced herself to a little old lady that we encountered in the park. "My name is Emilia M-----" she said proudly, pronouncing, very carefully, every syllable. "And this is my brudder, Jasper M-----" She indicated the bundle in the stroller. "And this is my mommy, Caffrin M-----." She beamed at me, proudly (is there any other way to beam?) and accepted the woman's cheerful admiration of her language skills and general adorability. I, however, felt a little bit ashamed. My daughter doesn't know my name. And, will she be disappointed that it is not the same as her own?
And: Am I disappointed that it is not the same as her own?
I was proud of her pride in introducing her family. I was proud of and heart-burstingly pleased by her delight in our us-ness. This is us, she told that lady. We are a family.
Does it matter that we don't all share the same name? In the larger scheme of things, no, probably not. It doesn't matter to me that border guards might challenge me on my children's names. It doesn't matter to me that some people might have judgments about me not taking my husband's name, or about me not sharing my children's name. What does matter to me, though, is this: my childrens' feelings about our name. Perhaps Emilia wouldn't care so much, if she knew. Call me but love, said the poet through the voice of Romeo. The name doesn't matter, where there's love. But I remember being a kid, and taking pride in my family, and really loving that we were us, that we were, we four, all Connors, that we alone in the world shared this name as our own, and that it set us apart. We were the Connors, and we were family.
That I loved, that I love, being a Connors, is precious to me. But that family unit is no more. My family, now - the family that is the very seat of my heart - is the M-----'s. And I want my children to have the same pride in being - with their mom and their dad - the M-----'s as I did being a Connors.
Perhaps it's time to make that change.
What did you do? Did you keep your name, or not? If you didn't, how do you or will you sort this out with your children? How do they feel about it? INQUIRING AND BEFUDDLED MIND WANTS TO KNOW