Names are more than just labels slapped on newborn babies. They indicate the tribe to which we belong. I’m not talking about silly nicknames like “Lucy” (from Peanuts, see: attitude) or Casper (from the cartoon show, see: pale skin) assigned by unimaginative 7th graders.
I’m talking about names that stick. The ones on birth certificates and drivers licenses, certifications and college degrees. Shit that’s googled on a regular basis.
Names follow us all our lives. They matter.
I was born a Furey. Catherine Ann Furey. Catherine after my Nana, Ann for a cousin. Catherine means “pure or clear” and Ann means “priceless.”
I chose Kate or Katie as permanent nicknames because some people can’t help but shorten everyone’s name and “Don’t call me Cathy” was getting old.
Furey…Furey was something altogether different.
Junior high and high school teachers mispronounced it “Furry.”
Each time Marc and I broke up he’d tell his friends, “Hell hath no woman like a Furey scorned.”
Then we’d get back together.
Furey was never really my name. Given at birth, Furey belonged to my father. Not me. Bio Dad left when I was fourteen, but even before that, Furey felt foreign. I never knew his parents or the vast majority of his family.
My mother’s last name was Durkin. After the divorce, she petitioned the court to reclaim her maiden name. The judge was rude, disrespectful. Told her it wasn’t right for a mother to have a last name different from her children.
She changed it back despite his condemnation.
Not long after, I wanted my own name, too. I knew and loved my Durkin aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins. We shared memories, stories, and temperaments. I wanted a shared name as well.
I was built like a Durkin. When I perused dusty, smelly old photo albums, Furey women looked tall and bony. Cold. Remote.
Durkin women were round, fleshy, with breasts and hips built for child-rearing. I wasn’t chubby, and would damage anyone suggesting my body was made for rearing children. Still, when Durkin women were young, they looked like me.
Prominent jaws and foreheads, big eyes and smiles.
I looked like them.
I associated the name with warmth, love, and comfort.
I was now an adult. Felonies no longer seemed plausible. FBI file…a pipe dream. I long ago stopped engaging in activities that would embarrass Durkins by officially becoming one of them.
Or so I thought.
I researched how to do it, and apparently needed an attorney to change my name.
This was a problem. I didn’t have much money.
I worked my way through school taking various part-time jobs. That’s why college took so long. My latest job was Peer Counselor at a health clinic. I taught poor women how to self-examine for lumps, prevent STDs and avoid unwanted pregnancies. I helped calm inexperienced patients when docs performed inexpensive annual exams.
And three days a week, I helped some women overcome what was arguably the toughest moment of their lives. I helped them get through an abortion.
I held hands, wiped away tears, and listened to heartbreaking stories. Sometimes after work, or before, I appeared on local talk shows defending their right to a safe, legal choice.
This didn’t go over well at home.
It was time for me to move out anyway. I was too old to be living under my mother and stepfather’s roof. My desire to graduate debt-free would not happen, but student loans meant I could afford my own place.
Loans also allowed me to accelerate my classes and graduate sooner. That was something.
I moved out.
Couldn’t really afford a lawyer.
But I wanted my name to be MY name.
One day, I visited the law library downtown and copied all the necessary paperwork to do it myself. I made an appointment to see a circuit judge and make a formal request in person. He granted my name change without an argument.
Cost me less than a hundred dollars.
I became Catherine Ann Durkin.
Even though I already was.