Madeline: Game of Names

The call from a restricted number came through at 9am. I was brushing my teeth and running late for work, so I ignored it at first. Then the phone rang again. I spat, picked up.

“Can I speak with…” A telemarketer warning light was flashing in my head.

“Speaking,” I snapped, grabbing mouthwash.

“This is your immigration officer about your interview last week.” I swallowed a bunch of mouth germs in surprise. “It’s about your name. Why did you not keep your name? Why use Elliott?” I want to capture for the record how surreal that moment was, to be called by a representative of the U.S. government and quizzed about my name, by someone who hadn’t even taken the time to check how “Madeline” is pronounced. In my bathroom. In my pajamas.

Let’s back up. My mother didn’t change her name after marriage and I never thought I’d change mine. The appeal of a new one, which crept up on me during our engagement, took me quite by surprise. I actually liked the idea of being a Mrs. Brandon. I’d keep my own name for work, so it wasn’t a loss, so much as… a bonus. But while that worked for me personally, I wasn’t so thrilled about popping out only Master or Miss Brandons if we ended up having babies.

After some discussions, and several hours of me pouring through every comment ever made on the subject on APW, we came up with a solution I thought was rather elegant. Elliott is my middle name, after my maternal grandmother; my uncle has it too. It hyphenates better than my family name, but it still connects me to my family. So I adopted that instead, and double-barreled up. I wasn’t sure if New York City law would be up for it, as I know some states restrict the changes you can make on your marriage license. In the end, though, no-one raised an eyebrow.

That should be the end of the story, but it’s not, because there’s still the voice in my head that says “You shouldn’t change your name.” Then there are the whispers of doubt: “Are you sure that’s even legal?” or, “Who does that?” (The whispers have a median age of about 14.) I’d made a choice, a statement even, but I was still half-expecting someone in authority to tell me no, that’s not right.

“That’s not right,” the immigration officer said in my ear, that morning in the bathroom.

“Excuse me?” Bear in mind that I’ve been adjusting to this name thing since December. Hearing the note of hysteria in my voice, Brandon came in from the other room and held my hand.

“This name, Elliott—it was not your name before you married. It is not your husband’s name. It’s not allowed. I call my supervisor then I call you back, OK?” I sat with Brandon on the edge of the bath, feeling bleak. My name was not right—I was a fraud.

“That’s ridiculous,” Brandon said when I told him. “Of course your name is right.” Moments like this are why it’s great to be married. Five minutes later, the officer rang back.

“My supervisor says, did you get married in a court? Then it’s ok.” The call was terminated. “Yes, we got married in a court,” I told the bath mat. “OF COURSE we got married in a court. We sent you three copies of our LICENSE.” I said some other things, less politely, and then I felt better. The next time anyone says to me, “That’s not right,” I thought, I must remember that the answer is, “Of course it’s right.” At least, the next time anyone says it to me in my bathroom.

Photo by: Moodeous Photography

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