I’d always hated my name. ‘What’s your name?’ the teacher would ask. I’d give them what my Mum (or Dad…who chose it I don’t know) had pinned on me at birth. ‘Who are you?’ my soon to be new friend would ask as we stood side by side in assembly at school. My eyes usually still swollen from the daily parting from my Mum. She’d be my partner walking into the dark school corridor. Everyone else held the tiny hand of someone their own size, in the same uniform. I just wanted my mum. When I grew up, got my first cheque book, I practised my signature over and over again in the back of my sketch book. I loved the loops and swirls but all the while wishing I had the pretty, curling s and jaunty h of my friend Sarah. Her school books always were much more artistically embellished than mine. I got used to it though, as I succumbed to the details of my lot in life. Still hating the sound of my name as I delivered it to bosses, desk clerks or heard it called into the suffocating silence of a doctor’s waiting room. Even when my shaking left hand signed the wedding register, I didn’t accept the chance to escape my name and take on another. Underneath the painted romance of that day, I didn’t want it.
The years rolled forward. I made mistakes, pushed myself into corners. The taste of my name wasn’t getting any sweeter. One day, a magistrate called out my name. His voice delivered three names in a line. I’d heard them together like that, so many times but this time they were underlined. Suffocating. The room filled with the three names, clipped, monotone and devoid of life. I could hardly bring myself to acknowledge the ownership. I wanted to whisper, ‘it’s not me’.
I started to make wishes. Wishes to be different. When I was 15 I’d stood up amongst my catholic school friends and said ‘I do’, to the Lord and I added a fourth name to the list. I’d chosen this one. It jostled for place. Got little used. It lay dormant. Dormant but present.
Ten years followed. When I look back I can see the dusting away, the unearthing of something quite different. I felt like an archeologist. It wasn’t straightforward. It took many man-hours, in different places. I consulted others. Looked about me to see what they were doing. Did I like it? Did they seem happy? It was painstaking work.
My chosen path involved giving up. Alcohol. Meat. Fear. Lying to myself. I began to feel lighter. I enjoyed the effect. My marriage had ended years before. Forcefully, gratefully, I was pushed out from the lion’s den. A few loves came and went. I still harboured the desire to be.. different.
I’d been around the world. Stopped for a while in places. Fell in love with the landscape and the smell of the air. But it was America that kept calling me back. Here I was who I wished ‘they’d’ see. The culture, upbeat and alive, poured strength into my marrow and the what if’s began to flourish. Ten years single I began to harbour hope. ‘What if I made space for Him?’ would He then appear? I met a man who upon first sight christened me with a name he felt befitting of me….Sunshine. I wanted to own it so much. I still felt unworthy. He failed to stick but the idea of the name…a new one had been awoken in me again.
I jogged past a milestone. Decided it was time. I felt a fool but wanted it still. Something beautiful that was mine to keep. I pictured what I wanted to feel and be and gently held it close. I happened across a supposedly ancient text, with mathematical equations, foretelling of life from the sum of it’s name. It took some time but I set the intention for this new wonderful phase of my life and found the name to fit, mathematically and with intuition, matching the spark I felt inside of me. For over a year, the pages of my sketchbook practised the label for the me I’d always hoped I was. I was compelled by something inside me. Something I couldn’t pin a name to, or reason with. ‘I feel stupid, people will laugh at me’, I pleaded. ‘It’ was mute, arms folded as it stood before me. In 2010 I cut away the old name. Thanked her for all she had done. She gave her consent. I stripped away the path that been trodden before I existed and became a singularity. No surname, just India-leigh. I loved it wholly, but, at the time, it was far prettier than I felt. It took 5 months of being the owner of a double-barrelled first name to realise I actually didn’t want to take the surname of another. I didn’t believe I was made to be a wife. I was meant to stand alone. I accepted my fate.
I became India-leigh. My sister suggested I throw a naming party. Her son made me a banner, spelling out my new name in coloured pens and rimming it with stars. He pinned it to the outside wall along with the balloons that waved in the breeze. Friends brought cake. My Mum agreed it was a pretty name.
Was it easy? No. But it is just a name after all. We change address, partners, jobs, ideas. Why not our names? This has happened since biblical times. No one really cares, as long as you are happy. Was it worth it? Probably. When I utter those words I feel proud but yes, for the moment, still a little foolish. Time doesn’t easily strip the past away. Indeed, I was not trying to, but I believe life always gets better, even when it is already good. I guess I’ve always been a forward thinker. My genes keen to evolve. I know it was right, even though I feel still like I’m walking in a new pair of shoes. I think I’m straightening up from the slouch. My spine getting stronger, my feet feeling the ground more firmly. I wonder, do we spend our lives trying to find ourselves or is it up to us to be the creators? I guess that is up to each of us to decide.
Resources I used to change my name by deed poll.