My name: Does it matter? I have been called the same thing, more or less, for the last 56 years. I’ve never been satisfied with it, but changing my name  seemed such an extreme thing to do. I was brought up to suffer many greater indignities than that.

My first name starts with “S”. With sibilants at both the start and end of my last name, along with  my  thlight lithp, I have spent awkward decades answering my work phone: “Thith ith Thandra Thmuth” (or so it sounded to me.)

The surname I was born with is somewhat unusual, which caused me no end of angst as a youngster. (A boy named Charles  called me “Sandwich Smooch” all through the 4th grade, to my great chagrin.)

I wished that my last name was Smith. Nothing unusual there, and all I wanted was to blend in. Was it not enough that I was the only kid at school with no dad (it was middle class America in the early ’60s)  taller than the other girls, with curlier hair and weird teeth? Quasimodo had nothing on me; I did not need a strange name too.

Hating my name made me feel guilty.  I was named in honor of my father, whose first name was Sam. He was killed in a car accident when my brother and I were both very young, and I clung to anything that made me feel closer to him, including our shared initials: SLS.

His middle name was Laverne (for a reason I imagine has now been lost to history.) Mercifully, mine is Leigh. I love Leigh, and always have. As a kid, I loved the mysterious and sophisticated spelling. As a pre-teen, I loved the association with the gorgeous Vivien Leigh (we can talk about my Gone With the Wind Obsession some other time.) As a young aspiring professional, I loved the straightforwardness of one clean syllable. Oh, why couldn’t I have been named Leigh?

My mother loved my first name, and was hurt when I changed it from Sandra to Sandie in middle school. She never changed with me. I couldn’t bring myself to go further than that, though I toyed with the idea of using only my first initial and my full middle name for years. It always seemed a little precious though, so I didn’t.

Having come of age in the second wave of feminism, and not marrying until I was in my 30’s, I had no real inclination to assume my husband’s last name. He was fine with that. ( On some level, I think I was also trying to maintain a tie with my mom, and reassure her of our relationship.)

When The Kid came along, I gave changing my last name passing thought, but it never seemed worth the trouble. I also felt that there was a value to letting her see her mom have a singular identity.

Over the last few years, I’ve revisited the question of my name occasionally. “Sandie” seemed so juvenile,  and “Sandra” was someone I did not even know. Leigh, on the other hand, seems to embody who I want to be: simple, competent, and confident.

During the long night last February following the news of my mother’s death, The Kid and I talked and talked. I mentioned that I’d been thinking about assuming the last name she shares with her dad. “Do it, she said, I want you to be a Cadwallader, like us.”

As I learned more about the circumstances surrounding my mom’s passing, and what my brother and his family had been up to, the idea seemed better. I wanted no further connection with those people.

Still I fretted about making the change. What about my Facebook page? What about my resume? My employment records? My Linkedin page? And I realize these are all made up problems. I am not assuming another identity, I am adjusting it.  All of my names will remain with me in some form. I am not trying to be someone else, just who I am now.

I made the changes to my Facebook page last Friday, and rather than feeling anxious about it, I felt relieved. A small step in the right direction. No turning back now. I am who I am.

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