Following our May 2015 wedding, I was so excited to take my husband's name that I tipped the first stranger who called me Mrs O. I was arranging to have our hotel concierge ship my wedding dress home from Nashville when she cheerily said, "Thank you, Mrs. Orwoll! We'll take good care of this." I bounced on my tiptoes with joy and gave her $20.
In light of that excitement, it seems ironic that it took me two weeks post-wedding to change my driver's license but over two years to get around to changing the name on my Social Security card. I found myself at the Social Security office on a quiet Wednesday afternoon, sitting across from a woman I'll call Meg. As I slid documents toward her to prove my identity, I smugly thought that I would be on my way in 15 minutes. But no. Here's what transpired:
Meg: We have your name as Ah-shun...
Me: Aschaunte, Aschaunte M. That's me. No one can pronounce that name, don't worry.
Meg: And then here it is Shawn A..
Me: Also me. It was my birth family's name.
Meg: Who is Latrice?
Me: Patrice. It's a misspelling. That's my biological mother. She recently died.
Meg: Well, it needs to stay Latrice in our records. And then here you are Shawna Nicole M.?
Me: Yes! My maiden name.
Meg: Who are Dennis and Barb M.?
Me: My mom and dad.
Meg: No, _______ is listed as your father.
Me: Dennis M. is my father.
Meg: To you, maybe. But he is just your guardian here.
Me, quietly: Dennis and Barb are my parents.
I watch a ton of crime shows and I looked around for two way glass because I was getting interrogated. Ultimately, this was not the greatest experience, but when does one ever say, "Yay! I get to hang out at a government office!" Like never, so no big deal, except it felt like a big deal. I walked away from Meg's desk, out into the summer sun and I called home. In a rare occurrence, my father answered the phone and I said,
"Dad. Will you and mom adopt me, please?"
Very long story short, when I was 11 I was taken in by my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. M., and I assumed her last name in name only, no questions asked in my small town. I became a daughter and a sister, and this was unquestionably my family, albeit not legally. I legally changed my name to match theirs and dropped that unpronounceable first name when I needed a new license after moving to Minnesota. What is it about me and legal documents?
My names, all of them, played a symbolic part in my wedding day. I chose David Austin roses for my bouquet, alluding to the name of my birth family and the name of my husband, and I secured the bouquet with the brass buttons from my dad's Army dress uniform. In my vows, I told Husband,
"I was given the name I was born with,
I shared a name I was blessed by for so long,
and today, I choose your name...so that together we will be
I believe that becoming a wife with this new last name allowed me to forge an identity out of joy instead of the losses that had precipitated the other names by which I had been known. Becoming Mrs. Orwoll felt like a new beginning of a story I could write, and it was.
After my call home, my parents immediately set about honoring my request by contacting the family attorney who had arranged their guardianship of me when I was a child. All those years ago, he had advised them to delay adoption because of the possibility that my birth mother may return to claim me. The years went by and that never happened. When she passed away, I felt a sense of freedom that I could truly become a daughter to the only parents I had ever known. My parents and I were equally proud and amused by the novelty of a middle-aged woman being adopted. My mother told her lady friends at coffee that she and my dad were adopting a 43-year old. I proudly hung a photocopy of my signed petition for adoption in my office and waited.
August 10th marked my parents' 49th wedding anniversary and I called them with well wishes. My mom handed the phone to my dad, and he exclaimed, "Your papers came! All the signed paperwork and two birth certificates. I have a new daughter!" We laughed joyfully, and I cried a little. We knew I really was always the daughter and these were really always my parents. And I knew I have always been Miss M. as much as I will be always, Mrs. Orwoll.
"But now," thus says the LORD, your Creator..."Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine." Isaiah 43:1