Caught Between a Name Change and a Hard Place

I didn’t want my birth last name, but what comes with this new one?


I no longer share a last name with my father. I carry another man’s name, and it still tastes strange in my mouth. On legal documents, I check the married box, and I had to change all my emergency contact information. No one prepares you for the paper trail that comes with marriage. No one says, “Congratulations on your engagement! Have you thought about writing your wills?” At least, no one did for me. No one told me that I’d have to pay extra attention when signing my name. No one told me I would look at my driver’s license, my passport, my social security card, and see a different person. No one told me I’d have a mini identity crisis and forget who I am because so many parts of me are changing. No one told me I’d have to work so hard to remember where I came from.

At the time I was angry; I didn’t want my birth last name or anything that came with it, so I was eager for a new one. I didn’t want to inherit the Fryar family propensity towards anger, drama, and judgment. It even sounds dumb—who wants to have the same name as a kitchen appliance? But now, I feel sometimes like I’ve lost a connection with my Grandmother and my Poppy. I’ve somehow disconnected myself from all that they were and stood for.

My family once lived together in a place some jokingly called the Fryar Commune because my father’s three siblings and mother lived on the same hill, property surrounded by a goat fence to keep the dogs in. Now, the family has splintered. They all still live on that same hill, but they don’t speak. My grandmother, she used to sit at the head of the table at our big family dinners, but now her seat is empty. Nobody knew she was what kept us all together. She tried to make sure we’d all stay the same after she was gone, but greed got in the way and the siblings fought over what was left of her. Sometimes I wish something more solid than blood and property lines tied me to my grandmother, and sometimes I’m glad I can distance myself from the mess those people have created.

I wonder about what comes with my new name. What messes have I unknowingly stepped into? My in-laws have a huge family of thirteen children, five biological and eight adopted, and two grandparents in the downstairs apartment. Their house is full of noise and motion and naked children. There are wounds in my heart from realizing that families aren’t always what they’re supposed to be, but I’ve felt them heal as I sat around the dinner table with my new family, squished between two tiny bodies, holding hands and praying together; as I sat on a porch swing watching the moon lazily float up over the mountain’s edge, speaking in raw honesty with my husband’s parents; as I baked brownies with the little sister I never knew I wanted; as I fell in love with people who are everything I hoped family could be. I’ve also felt new fissures form as I begin to see that this family isn’t perfect either.

I remember moments from my wedding: not bringing enough tablecloths for the reception, my bridesmaids complaining about being barefoot, friends praying over me before the ceremony, my mother staying up all night worrying, putting my husband’s ring on too soon—and I remember the sun coming out from behind the clouds in a very cinematic kind of way to shine on us just as we said our vows. The preacher spoke to me at my wedding. He said that marriage was true freedom—a freedom that comes from being fully known, and being loved in spite of all that is known.

No one told me that marriage would cause such upheaval in my heart. Or maybe they did, and I didn’t believe them. So, here I am with one old name, one new name, and two families, each wrapped in their own darknesses. Here I am, chasing freedom, desperately trying to fully know and fully love.

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