Last Names

by | Dec 13, 2022 | CNF, Issue Thirty

My mother doesn’t know who her father is; her mother refuses to tell her—said she’d take it to her grave—but, her step-father legally adopted her and gave her his last name.

Before she met my father, my mother was married. I called him “the Gilmore guy.” After they got divorced, she didn’t bother with changing her last name—and let me carry the name of a strange man.

My mother never married my father. When I was born, for some reason (as the story goes, she was angry at him) she wouldn’t put my father’s name on the birth certificate. He took her to court to get his name on the certificate, and legend has it (that is, his side of the story) the judge granted it because ‘no man would go to court over a baby that wasn’t his.’ My father’s name was put on my birth certificate, but my last name was my mother’s last name—which was her ex-husband’s last name. When I learned this story, I resolved, as an act of defiance, to change my last name to my father’s last name as soon as I turned 18.

As soon as I turned 18—on my 18th birthday, in fact—I went to the courthouse, got married, and took my husband’s last name.

Seven years later, I left my husband. About year later, I was pregnant with my boyfriend’s daughter, but not legally divorced yet. When she was born, my daughter’s name tag had my last name, that is, my ex-husband’s last time. At the Ministry of Interior, they wouldn’t let me register her under her father’s last name we weren’t married and because I wasn’t a citizen. I had to register her last name as mine

To get her name changed at the Ministry of Interior, (and get her Israeli citizenship), we had to do a DNA test. She won her father’s last name, plus the medical documentation that she was 99.999% his daughter (because science never says 100%).

As the first-born son, my boyfriend had been named after his father. He told me that when he became religious in high school, he changed his first name to a Jewish name, and his last name to his Jewish mother’s last name—he hoped to pass the name on to a nice Jewish girl one day. He had lost his father right before the name change. I reproached him for disrespecting his father’s memory and told him he should change it back, especially since now he was secular. It’s not like he was marrying a nice Jewish girl anymore.

After I got legally divorced, I debated for quite a while over what I should do about my last name. I tried to make up something—a name of my own that wouldn’t be dependent on anybody else. While sharing the idea with my mother, she told me my last name ideas were silly, and moreover, it would just make my life more unnecessarily complicated. She kept her second ex-husband’s name. She didn’t bother about changing it.

I didn’t want to keep my ex-husband’s last name—it was awkward. But because I wasn’t a citizen, I couldn’t change my last name at the Ministry of Interior unless it had been changed on my passport. The US Consulate in Jerusalem’s website states:

“Most applications for a change of name must be accompanied by at least three pieces of acceptable identification showing use of the new name”—nope, don’t have that;
“Married name”—uh, no, not yet;
“Complete change of name by court order or adoption”—nuh uh;
“Given name changed, recorded incorrectly, or not recorded at birth”—well, something like that did happen, sort of, no actually, anyway, it’s been taken care of;
“‘Known as’ professional or religious name”—no;
“Complete change of name through usage”—and no.

In a small show of self-determination, I changed my last name on Facebook to my middle name, just so I’d not have to look at my ex-husband’s last name there every time I logged in.

Then my first poem was getting published; I definitely didn’t want my ex-husband’s last name in print with my poetry. I debated a pen name and couldn’t settle on anything. So, in accordance with precedence set by Facebook, I used my first and middle name. People start calling me by my first and middle name together; I found it strange, but I didn’t correct them.

We were in a jewelry store looking at engagement and wedding rings, when the man behind the counter started talking to us about the Kabbalistic interpretation of names, and asked my boyfriend, now fiancé, his name— “Mordechai,” he answered. The clerk must have sensed something, because he asked, “Was that the name you were born with?” to which, of course, he replied no. The man told him, this new name does not count, because it did not have the same spiritual energy of the name he was born with and asked what his original name was. I can’t remember exactly when it happened, but not long after that day, he went to the Ministry of Interior and changed his first name back to Alexander—but not his last.

After we got married, I still couldn’t change my last name at the Ministry of Interior without getting a new passport, which seemed like a waste of money. That’s $135 to change it before its validity was up ($25 more than a regular renewal) and I still had a four more years on it. He asked me if I’d take his name. I said, I didn’t know.

Four years later, at the Jerusalem Consulate, I update my passport. I tell them I want a name change as well. I show them my marriage certificate from Cyprus. And then, I take my husband’s last name, pissed off that he spelled the tzadik with a z instead of a tz.

Read more CNF | Issue Thirty

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