I was working the front Children’s desk last year when a little girl with glasses said to me, “I can’t find my name.” I was confused; she repeated her statement. I tried to unravel her perspective. How could she possibly think she’d lost her name? Is that even possible? I pictured my name as an imaginary friend, a ghost that followed me wherever I went. Could we ever be separated—at a red light, by closing elevator doors, on a busy sidewalk—or was my name as much a part of me as were my eyebrows and fingernails?
Although, eyebrows can be shaved or plucked, fingernails clipped; the former will grow back, and the latter will go on growing forever. What does this evolution signify? And what do all the discarded hairs and nail clippings represent?
Unable to answer the child myself, I was relieved to see who I assumed was her mother walking towards us, pushing a stroller. She pointed to the display behind me. A night sky filled with hundreds of stars, each holding the name of a summer reading finisher. Maybe that’s a better analogy. A name is like a star, always shining down on you from above. But many of the stars we see are long dead. What does that mean?
My husband and I were married last October. We both have long, difficult-to-spell last names. Wahlmeier, Bracciano—mine German, his Italian. If I had a nickel for every time someone has spelled my last name correctly on the first try, I’d have no more than twenty cents. People like to switch the “h” and the “a”; some skip the second “e,” or maybe the first. At least the pronunciation is straightforward, although we don’t pronounce it the German way—foreboding and leading with a “v.”
Not despite them but because of these things, I have a certain attachment to my last name, an intimacy with it. I’ve spelled and written it so many times, I know it backwards and forwards. I’m proud of it; it feels in my mouth like comfort food or silk.
I always assumed I would take his last name when we got married. But now I’m #woke, a feminist. Is it feminist to change your last name for a man? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. It certainly shouldn’t be a requirement, and it isn’t. So why do I feel like I have to do it? On the date of this writing, we’ve been married for five months exactly, and I still haven’t gone to change my name. I created a new email address—a Gmail that replaced my outdated Hotmail. Does that mean I have to change my name now, to match my email?
I love the way “Bracciano” sounds with my husband’s name, but does it work with mine? Names don’t have to match, nay, “go” together. But his American family pronounces it horrifically! I studied Italian diction, then the Italian language itself, for several semesters in college. I can hardly bring myself to pronounce this name without wincing. Would it be pretentious of me to pronounce it the Italian way? Probably.
I’ve been thinking about the possibilities—of what my name could be. My email signature declares it Mary Wahlmeier Bracciano. Is that my name? Not legally. Should I become Mary Wahlmeier-Bracciano? Who is she? Would she love me? How many seconds does it take for her to say her name, to spell it? Is it worth it?
-Mary Wahlmeier is a Youth Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.