What’s in a name?

I read this article the other day and it got me thinking how easy it would be for someone else to read it and think how trivial and self-indulgent for this writer to change her name. What’s the big deal.

But I got it. I understood.

My mother spelled my name wrong on my birth certificate. Which is to say, she changed her mind about how to spell it later. The story goes that I was born so early, she hadn’t finalized the spelling so she went with “Charese” and then later realized she liked the “Charise” spelling better.

Charise was not an easy name to grow up with. It was rarely pronounced correctly or heard correctly and it was what a lot of kids dread: too different. My family was also not easy to grow up with and this story about my name seemed to represent how I felt amongst them. Not quite ready for me, careless with the details, uncertain and different. In words and actions, I grew up feeling much more than my name was spelled wrong. I was wrong.

So, in 2000 I needed my passport and for that I needed my birth certificate. As I’m completing the form, I tell the clerk how this one letter difference rears its head for me. I spelled my name one way my whole life but on legal forms, always had to remember that wrong “e”. I refrained from sharing all the detail of emotional baggage one pesky vowel could induce. I asked her how much it would be to change it. She said $500.

But then she adds, one letter seems like a typo and to request a typo correction, it’s $2.00. I don’t know if she raised an eyebrow or cleared her throat, but her hint was clear and for $2.00 I got my name legally changed to its “correct” spelling.

Names are important. How they make you feel. How they’re said. In Lemon Twist, a character is named Rodrigo. I knew a Rodrigo once and the way he pronounced Charise was like a sip of great wine.

I’ve had other name changes. I never legally changed my maiden name to my first husband’s, though I did use it. That seemed providential when we divorced. But in the divorce, he was angrily determined that I should never use his name and had it entered in the record. So it wasn’t just me that thought the use of his name was important.

When I married the second time, I think I had all the name change paperwork done in three days. I was all in. I was in a new life. Building a new family. Plus, Olson sounded good.

When the marriage ended, I had all kinds of options. Retake my maiden name, choose a whole new name or keep Olson. I’ll admit that I liked the way Olson sounded and picking something new felt disingenuous and tedious with paperwork (and this website), but there was still more.

After nearly 12 years of being Charise Olson, I felt more like her than anyone else.

It was just going to be my son and I. Sharing his name seemed like another way to cement the fact that we were a team. I’d worked to become that name. To build that family. That was my name and while I had lost the marriage and the family I’d expected– the very life I’d expected- I kept the name. At least, I could keep the name.

Charise Olson.

And it’s spelled right.