"The label you give yourself cannot impact external forces that are not motivated by your own psychology or influenced by a third party's pre-existing consciousness of you. We are all presented with reasons to struggle which come from completely external forces; to pretend that one is not struggling is either arrogance or an admission of defeat. To admit that one is struggling is a sign and a source of strength." - Evan A. Baker

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Losing or Winning: The Name Change Game

It took me a while to like my first name. I didn't know it was different and unusual until I was about 5 or 6. My curly hair started growing down instead of just out into an afro, and on my way to school, there was an older lady who would walk her miniature poodle the same time I left. She would stop me and compliment my hair and pet me because I had the human version haircut as her dog. "What's your name, sweetheart?" She'd coo. "Lira." I'd reply. "What was that?" "Lira." And as it always happened, she would scrunch up her face and say, "Lisa?" "Lira!" "Oh." She would say, looking like she smelled something awful, "That's a nice name." I'm young, but I'm not stupid. I can tell she's lying. She doesn't think it's a nice name. She thinks it's awful.

Then I'd finally get to school. There was me, three Jennifers, two Jessicas, an Amanda, a Kristy, Christine and Christina.

I wanted to be one of them. When they were asked their name, they never had to repeat it, never had to correct the pronunciation when called on the call sheet, and never had to explain how their kooky dad came up with it.

I've always loved my last name, however. It's easy to pronounce, easy to spell, and I've got a nice assonance with the L's and R's. And although it's all that, it's also unusual. We were the only Kellermans in our phone book.

And better yet, my last name has given me a permanent connection to my father whom I am extremely close to. I get to carry him around and as silly as it sounds, uphold a legacy of a really honorable man who is a good person who loves his family.

Cut to when I move to Hollywood and several friends have to change their names because theirs is already registered with Sag, or there's thirteen Christina Smiths on the Imdb. Many have a problem getting a website domain.

I don't!!

All of a sudden, my unusual name is a boon to my career.

Cut to a few months ago.

I was at DSW and bought a pair of shoes. I was asked if I wanted to join their rewards program and get coupons. Of course I do!

When they handed me the info sheet to fill out, I looked at the name part. I am getting married in October and thought I should go ahead and put my new married name up there. Then I forgot about it.

For my birthday month, they sent me a $5 off coupon, addressed to the name I'm going to legally take on October 2. I have it in front of me. It's different. It's shorter. I'm losing consonants and gaining vowels! Gaining syllables! Gaining a name I will constantly have to correct people on.

On Bridal blogs and forums, there is a lot of discussion about why women are choosing to change or not change their name. A lot of them have careers where their maiden name is established and they don't want to lose the place they worked so hard to get to. A lot of them have no connection to the last name they were given by a man who got up and left them as babies. A few had hard to pronounce and spell names and were only too happy to be a Smith, a Jones, a Jackson.

Being an actress, I can keep my maiden name as my stage name, no problem. So that's nice.

But changing my name permanently was something I wrestled with for a while. I really, really like my first and last name. It took me years to like it, and now that I'm given the opportunity to change it, I was hesitant; I like it now! A lot!

But you know what I have never liked? My middle name.

Faith is a strange word. Especially when a child is raised by parents of different ones. My mother's side is Jewish, my father's Presbyterian. I grew up understanding that people can have hugely different views on religion but still fall in love and raise a family together. So as a child, I believed that the one side who didn't believe Jesus was the messiah, was just as "correct" in their faith and views as the side that did believe Jesus was. They're both right. All religions are correct. They're different, but if you believe in something, great!

Growing up that way, also leads to a lack of faith. If they're both right, they could both be wrong. I'm fascinated by all the different beliefs in the world and how people celebrate a deity, what their customs and rituals are, what the history behind all of it is. I took a Philosophy of Religion class in school (and made a lifelong friend who is also going to be officiating our wedding) and got to read up on how the five major religions came out of nothing and gave people looking for meaning something to believe in. Which is great! But something I wasn't sure I wanted.

So, awesome. My middle name is now ironic. And on bills and paychecks, there it is in all it's capital F glory, looking like a giant F word in the middle of two other great names.

When I was wrestling with the idea of changing my last name, I kept asking my fiance what he wanted. "Whatever you want to do is what I want for you." Lovely and diplomatic but of absolutely NO HELP. I figured if I asked him every so often, his answer might change. It never did. It was always the same. Whatever I wanted to do was what he wanted.


So finally, I said, "Tell me what you REALLY want, how you REALLY feel, because I'm asking you because I WANT TO KNOW."

He looked at me. "If we had children, I think it would be nice if we all had the same last name."


That would be nice, wouldn't it? My mother took my Dad's name. I only knew her as her married name. She always had that name, as long as I've known her!

And that was pretty much it for me. We are becoming a family unit.

I get to have best of both worlds: I'm keeping my first and maiden last name for all my business purposes, and get this: nixing my ironic middle name, and replacing it with my maiden last name.
I will be

Lira MaidenLastName HusbandsLastName

I am retaining my sense of self that I've worked hard at all my life, the names that I feel truly define me, and adding a new family name to define who I love and will have fun defining what that means as a family for the rest of our lives.

I respect every woman who decides to keep her birth name or not, because this isn't an easy thing to mull over. It takes time and careful consideration to decide what we want and think will be best for ourselves.

Some might say it's just a name, who cares, it's not your personality, as that will never change, but to me, my name is everything I am, and everything I will become.

And looking at my little DSW coupon with my new married name, getting used to the way it looks together, I like it. It represents my new life; the next 60 years I will be my new name.

I'm not losing myself. I'm winning a second family.


  1. I think your decision is a great one -- and I am so happy to hear that you did in fact mull it over and decide what fits you best, and are finally getting rid of that pesky F that has been bugging you!

  2. Did something similar- kept my maiden name for acting and changed my last name legally for every other aspect of my life and I've come to love the separation of the two.

  3. I like the decision you came up with, because as a product of divorce, I have a last name that is different from my mom and the family members I actually live with. My mom decided to keep her first married name as her middle name so that she could have that tie to me, and then took on her second married name as her last. So I am the only "Harr" in a sea of "McMenimen". I've thought about changing my last name and how I want to go about that-- "Emma Harr" is short and sweet and I've grown fond of it, but people get my last name wrong all the time. I've heard "Hair" and even "Hore" (not a good one to have said aloud in the doctor's office) and I get an awful lot of pirate jokes: "Haarrrrggghhh!!!"

    So yeah. That's a decision I'll be tackling down the road. But for now, I am content, and I wish you luck with your marriage and new name!

  4. As someone on the other side I can say I know somewhat what you've been thinking. Not totally. MY wife and I had numerous conversations about the whole name change game. I told her over and over...keep your last name. My last name is a bear of an Italian name. But she wanted it and she chose to change it. The main argument is if we have kids..someday..maybe..(probably not) we'd like us all to have the same name. Just like his response. So the change happened. Unlike you though she just dropped her maiden name and took mine. (Also not an actress) But in the end she took it. And like you said..gained a family.

    I will say though, the paperwork? Have fun with that.

  5. I just found your blog, as I've been considering some kind of alias or specific-career name change recently. Many actors over 40 have maintained "portfolio careers" successfully under their real name for years. Then came the internet. Now, if you look us up, at least half the references would be for our "other" career. To the acting industry, this makes us look like less serious actors.

    The conundrum: Some of us already have significant acting credits under our real name. As well as noteriety in our "other" field under are real name.

    I thought seriously of taking on a slightly different name in my "other" career. But then no one who knew me under my real name would recognize me if they saw my name at a conference or publication.

    It's a difficult situation. I'd be curious if anyone else is in a similar situation.


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