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Why I Changed My Name

“What’s in a name? That which we’d call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

That’s what Shakespeare said in Rom & Jul. His view? Names don’t matter, at least when it’s the case of your boyfriend being from a family that is your arch nemesis.

Your name was chosen for you by your parents, well before they had any idea of who you were going to be. There was no way to know if your name was going to suit you ahead of time, so they went with their preference. My mom says Samantha was her idea, as she wanted me to be able to go by Sam, which she thought was androgynous. My dad says Samantha was his idea because he really liked Alyssa Milano’s character in Who’s the Boss? Either way, they both settled on Samantha.

Let me break it down for you. The name on my birth certificate is Samantha Marilyn Collins. I’ve never personally liked it. I’ve always gone by Sam, literally the shortest version of my name possible, and my brother and Chris were the only ones who called me Sammy, and only sometimes. Samantha has always reminded me of an old, stuffy Edwardian white lady, and Sammy makes me think of both a sandwich and also a blonde softball player. I am none of these things. In an attempt to make Sammy seem even mildly interesting, I started spelling it Sami back in high school. Chris was the only one who took to that and forever called me Sami (or his preferred version – SamiBear).

Marilyn is my middle name. It’s my paternal grandmother’s name. She passed away recently, so bless her, but I never liked the name. Mostly because it also added to the old, stuffy white lady feeling of my name. I can just hear her saying it now in her thick New Yorker accent (“mare-uhlin”). I’ve ignored its existence for the most part, but always wondered why I was given her name, as I barely knew her and she never played any important role in my life whatsoever other than technically being my father’s mother.

And then there’s Collins. Collins is a perfectly fine surname. There’s a pub in Flagstaff called Collins. We have our own dictionary, among other things. The original Gaelic is Ó Coileáin, and it means something like ‘little dog’ as a term of endearment. That’s what I’ve read anyway. My paternal grandpa did a load of genealogy research a while back (as grandfathers are wont to do), and we can trace our Collins lineage all the way to Newmarket-on-Fergus in County Clare. So surnames are useful, especially well-documented ones. Collins is a perfectly fine name.

But here’s the rub. I don’t feel, and have never felt, that my name fits me at all. And I know what some of you may be thinking, especially the older folks, oh why does everything have to represent you? *eye roll* I know. I understand. We are living in a world where many people my age and younger are focusing quite a bit on identity and how we define ourselves. For some people, it is their gender identity that needs redefining, and for others, figuring out their ethnic identity, and for some still, it may be something altogether different.

That may make some of you roll your eyes and think “ok that’s too much,” and you know what? You are perfectly entitled to your opinion. But the best part is, none of us have to care what you think about what we do and who we are. Life’s grand, huh?

My dad is from New York, but grew up in Virginia for the most part. He has mostly Irish heritage, and I believe he’s 3rd generation, with a little bit of Swedish heritage (shout out Trelleborg). My mom was born in Honduras and grew up in El Salvador until the age of 11, when she came to the US. Her parents, my abuelitos, were from Honduras and El Salvador, respectively. They are as brown as brown gets, and my mom is probably the darkest among her siblings. So combine this brown Honduran lady and this blue-eyed, freckled American white guy, and you get my brother and I. Both of us, a 50/50 split. I am both brown and white, in equal parts, mixed kids in every sense of the term.

But I grew up almost entirely with my mom’s family. My parents divorced when I was a toddler, and I only saw my dad a few times a year. I spent all of my time with my mom’s family, hearing Spanish, growing up in Latin culture every day. I am a Latina. Although I didn’t grow up speaking Spanish fluently, I learned eventually and it’s also part of me. I know who I am, and with every day I get more comfortable in my own skin.

Except for my name.

Latino isn’t a racial identity. I know there are multitudes of races that fall under the term Latin@, and that you can be named Aiko Yamasaki and be as Latina as they come and only speak Portuguese. Or have a name like Alex Anwandter and have only spoken Spanish every day of your life and be just as Latino as a Maria de la Virgin de Guadalupe Gutierrez. In that sense, what is in a name? A lot of assumptions.

That’s all well and good, and I’ve tried to think of myself and my name in such terms for a long time. Just because my name is Samantha Marilyn Collins, perhaps the biggest white girl’s name in existence, it isn’t a measure of me or my ethnic identity.

But even after telling myself this for years, I still just don’t like it.

I’ve thought about legally changing my name since I was 18. I know it’s a big deal, which is why I have taken 10 years to think about it. It’s not a cheap process, in Arizona it’s about $300 to do the court process, not to mention getting a new passport, driver’s license, social security card, etc. Legally, you can only electively change your name once (marriage being the exception). I thought about that, that maybe I would just get married and get a Spanish last name and be done with it. It’s a very common practice. But no, I wanted to do this for me, and not just for my last name.

The name I’ve chosen is Asa Niamh Espanto.

Asa is a name that exists in many languages and cultures. It carries a variety of meanings, but I love that it is multicultural and multilingual, just like me! I also like that it can be pronounced easily in basically any language.

Niamh (pronounced like neev) is Irish, meaning bright or radiant. I came across the name some years ago and it has always kind of lingered in my mind. I want to keep that tie to my Irish heritage in my name, and Niamh is a pretty name that always I’ve liked. Plus as a middle name, I won’t have to go through the hassle of explaining how to say it all the time.

And last but certainly not least: Espanto. Espanto is not a Spanish surname. It’s actually a Spanish noun. It means literally terror or fright, or to a lesser degree spooky. Now you may be wondering why I chose this as a last name. I have always wanted a Spanish last name, first off, so there’s that done. As for its meaning to me, it’s simple and not so simple. The simple version is that I am a goth at heart. The not so simple version is that I am probably the least frightening person you could meet (at first glance anyway…). The word espanto sounds very cute to me, and I love the idea of a cute word carrying such a dark meaning. So in that way, Espanto encompasses me perfectly.

Asa Niamh Espanto.

I didn’t expect a name change to be part of this journey of self-discovery that I’ve been on the past few months. It has been a really painful but powerful experience so far, and then it occurred to me how powerful finally changing my name could be. I am consciously choosing who I want to be, in every single aspect of my life. People customize themselves so much, down to altering their physical bodies, why is changing your name so crazy? I’ve thought about changing it in the past, but I wasn’t ready to undergo such a big change. But now I feel that I am.

I don’t expect everyone, especially my family, to agree with this or call me by my new name. That’s fine. They might think it’s outright ridiculous or “too much” or whatever. That’s okay too. But I’d like to ask them to respect my decision, even if they don’t understand it. A wise woman once said:

Your approval is not needed, but I will take your acceptance.

Vida Boheme

Happy trails x

Asa

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