In a Name
I am the artist formerly known as Annika Layne Benitz.
For some, switching to their spouse's name is a no-brainer, but for me, it was an excruciating decision that took well over a year.
The other day, I was scrolling through instagram, and I stumbled upon a user who had my former middle name. I felt a little pang of longing for that name I haven't used in over a year. It felt like a little reminder of the girl I used to be.
Then I got to thinking. Earlier this summer, I was giving my phone number to the new intern at my job. She asked what my last name was, to enter into her phone and I thoughtlessly blurted, "it's Benitz." I quickly caught myself and said, "No wait! That's not my name. It's Chaloff!" I hadn't made that blunder in over a year and a half, and it felt so weird to hear that former name coming from my own mouth.
Names are very personal, wrought with family history, and given in love. Choosing to change mine felt like a betrayal on one hand, and a happy homecoming on the other. There is no right decision and each person -- presumably a woman getting married -- has to make it for herself. Let me walk you through the decision process I went through before marrying Alex.
Deciding whether to change my name was a year and a half long process that began as soon as we got engaged and ended the night before we went to the courthouse to get our marriage license. It was really hard for my to figure out what I wanted to do about my name.
I've always felt particularly attached to my name. It's unique, it has a nice ring to it, and I have used it a lot in my business and my online life. My blog used to be called annikadotbenitz, when I was high school I had a prom dress business and the tags I'd sew into the clothing read "annika benitz designs," and when I had my maternity and children's wear company, my business cards had "Expect by annika.benitz" written prominently on them.
The idea of not being a Benitz was hard not only because I loved the way my name looked and sounded, but also because of my connection to my family. My oldest sister, Lindsey is married and did not change her name. The middle sister in our family is not (yet) married but told me she would not change her name because she as articles published in her name and would not want to be disassociated from them after marriage. So, both of my sisters would always be Benitzes.
At the same time that I did not want to ditch my surname, I also wanted to share my name with my partner. Perhaps this is a bit macabre, but there is an episode of Six Feet Under that has always stuck with me. At the opening of the show, a family of four is killed in a car wreck and on the grave markers, they all shared the same last name. The visual image of that family being so tied together in name, influenced me deeply. I think it's important, at least for me, to be united with your spouse in name.
I wanted to be deeply and permanently tied to him in that way, and to connect with my in laws as well. It was agonizing trying to make the decision about how to format my name. I knew I wanted it to end in Chaloff, but I simply could not let go of being a Benitz. I know I will always be my parents child no matter what, but having that name there, as though it were a label, felt really important.
I think the choice would have been easier if my husband's last name had been significantly easier to say or write than my maiden name. If his last name was ultra cute like Castle, Waterfall, or Puffington, perhaps that would have informed my decision a little more. But Chaloff with the "sh" sound at the beginning is just as hard as trying to get people to pronounce Benitz with just two syllables. So, there really was no lesser of two evils with these difficult surnames.
Because the the California marriage certificate application only has enough room on the form for three names, I knew I couldn't just tag Chaloff on the end of my existing name. So, something had to go. What was really hard was knowing I had to say goodbye to Layne. Layne is my mother's middle name which was given to her by her own mother who took it from a radio show with a Detective Lane, which she feminized with a y.
Dropping Layne and taking Benitz as my middle name was a happy compromise. It made it so my initials are ABC, which is super cute, if you ask me! Alex and I also agreed that we'd try to pass on Layne to a daughter, if we are lucky enough to get one.
In the end, I'm happy with my decision. It was a delicate balancing act, but the choice was right for me. Just because you change your name, doesn't mean your identity has to change, and that was a lesson I had to learn. I'm still me. I'm still Annika. Just with a different last name.