To quote the great William Shakespeare: “What is in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”
So yeah, I changed my name two weeks ago. Not to worry, I’m still Heather Allingham Polifka-Rivas, but now I’m legally Heather Allingham Polifka-Rivas and I smell just as sweet. You can just call me HPR if you’d like.
For the last 36 years of my life I have always been Heather Allingham Rivas. When my husband and I got married in 2006 we decided that we would take both of our names, it was a great compromise and win-win for both of us.
I had issues with taking his name only. I felt it would be a loss of identity, and I never understood why the woman always had to give up her family name just for a man. Don’t get me wrong, I like men, and in particular, I really love my husband. But I also like myself.
I feared that by taking his name and eliminating mine all together, I’d be losing something. I was a sociology major and a women studies minor in college so I could go on about the deeper meanings of name changing and all that feminist rhetoric but you’d probably close out of this post before I can say Mary Wollstonecraft.
There I go again, I’m digressing. Anyway, upon our marriage we decided that Polifka-Rivas sounded better than Rivas-Polifka. And on July 15th, 2006, we became Mr. and Mrs. Polifka-Rivas. The only hitch was that we never went to the social security office to legally change our names.
It’s really amazing how people will take you for your word when you tell them your name. I could tell people my name is Cornelius Dusseldorf and they’d believe me. But I didn’t. I always introduced myself as Heather Polifka-Rivas and my husband too…well he said Karl Polifka-Rivas.
A few years after our marriage, for our anniversary, my husband marched his tush down to the social security office in Chicago and changed his name to Polifka-Rivas. I remember opening the anniversary card and seeing his new license, updated picture and updated name…official!
So now, he and my son were both Polifka-Rivas. I felt a little left out, but also still happy with keeping my maiden name. It is a good name. Heather Allingham Rivas. It has a nice ring to it. People wonder where the name comes from. Is that Polish? What is that? It’s Hispanic, in case you’re wondering. But if you’re splitting hairs, I am probably more Irish than Hispanic, but the name has lasted generations. When my great great grandfather came to America he changed our name from de Rivas to Rivas so as to sound more “American.” My middle name is my mother’s maiden name—I honor her side of the family by carrying it with me.
Anyway, as the years past, I never got around to changing my name. My husband reminded me of this time in and time out. When we bought plane tickets, it was clear that I still hadn’t changed my name. I never really thought it was a big deal. I liked being the partner with the one name, and seeing my husband’s name with my name added to his. My husband on the other hand, felt sad that I hadn’t taken his name like he had mine.
My daughter was born last year and she also took the Polifka-Rivas name. So now, all three of my immediate family members had a different name than me. And I started to realize that I didn’t want to change my name anymore but couldn’t figure out why I felt this way. I actually started using Rivas more and more. And it got confusing. I would go to an appointment and I would forget which name people had on file. It was embarrassing.
With my recent (2 years now) new job of becoming a stay at home mom, having no time for hobbies (except for running), I started to feel like I was losing myself. I have been in a slight identity crisis the last 2 years. I was clinging to my last name because it was familiar, passed down from generations, it was concrete, and it was “who” I’ve known the last 36 years. This motherhood from home, this anxious, self-deprecating, consistently doubtful person that I’ve become wreaks havoc on my spirit sometimes. I think I’ve been afraid to lose any more of what I used to be or who I used to be.
Two weeks ago, as a Hanukkah gift to my husband, I took a leap of faith and I marched my tush down to the Burlington social security office and officially changed my name. It took a total of 10 minutes to do so. And just like that, I was no longer Rivas. And it was ok. It didn’t hurt. My soul wasn’t crushed. And I’m still the fierce woman that I claim to be (except when I’m at the dentist’s office).
I know that some people never change their names when they get married, and their families are blended and full of different names, and everyone is happy. I know that if I didn’t change my name, we would still be our little happy family. Marriage, family, parenting, womanhood… all hard work. There are a lot of compromises. Adding the love of my life’s name to the end of my name should not have been one that I avoided for so long.