In 1980 I was born Sarah Beth HugeLastName. Despite the annoying popularity of the name, it served me well for much of my childhood. Sure it was an uphill battle being one of many Sarah’s in your class, but I was young and didn’t think much of it. As I became more rooted in my sense of self, though, my christened name began to not feel right and left me a little uneasy. I just did not FEEL like a Sarah Beth. Does that sound crazy? I know my dear friend who also changed her name in adulthood will understand. Sometimes your christened name just does not grow up with you and instead you grow out of it.
“Sarah Belle” was given to me many years ago by my 11th grade history professor, Mr. Lynn. It was out of kindness and made me grin. “Sweet little Say-ree Belle, can I give you a R.C. Cola?” he would ask in his southern accent whenever I looked glum. Belle surfaced again while working my way through college at Ste.in Ma.rt when a manager started calling me “Sarah Belle” for reasons I still don’t know. And then again after graduation when my publisher would refer to me as Sarah Belle on the days she was not pissed because the pay checks she had issued us were bouncing (ah, life as a small town reporter!).
When I moved to Florida I started blogging under the name Sarah Belle. (Don’t bother looking for this piece of literary garbage. The angsty blog was later deleted when I grew up enough to realize that blogging while under the influence of wine is a very, very bad idea!) Once settled into my home in Birmingham I changed my social network profiles to have me listed as Sarah Belle. As I met new people the name started to stick and today many of my friends refer to me as Belle, Sarah Belle, Lady Belle, Auntie Belle, or some other variation.
Unlike some, I was not at all bothered by the morphing of my name. In fact, it was actually an answer to my prayers. The change felt like it better fit the person I had become. It felt natural and rolled off my tongue easily after having heard it said so many times in the past. It’s like the change was meant to happen.
When the Professor and I got married we had a long and heated debate over my taking his last name. I did not want to his last name for several very legitimate reasons:
- I had been publishing under my last name for about a decade.
- My last name is bad-ass!
- His last name is not.
- When not calling me some variety of Belle, people call me by my last name. And I love it.
- My last name converts to beautifully pirate-speak… And all the people who know me in real life just smiled and said it out loud 🙂
The Professor continued to press the issue, though, and I eventually agreed to hyphenate our names, taking both monstrously long and weird names on and committing myself to a lifetime of complicated signatures*.
I filled out all the required name change paperwork one night and intentionally left the middle name blank. I had been considering a legal change of middle name for some time and here was my chance. But was this a dumb thing to do? Would it hurt my parents feelings if they ever found out? What if in five years I look back at the name Belle and feel it no longer fits me?
I made a snap decision after waiting in the Social Security Office line for nearly two hours – I’d become Sarah Belle. If I hated it later then so what? I certainly was not stoked about remaining Beth. I asked the guy behind me if I could borrow a pen and hurriedly wrote “Belle” on the application just as my turn came up.
A few weeks later the shiny new social security card arrived and I stared at it, pleased with how Sarah Belle looked in the typewriter-style font. I felt really good about the change and have not looked back since. I sign my checks and time sheets as Sarah Belle HugeLastName-HugeLastName. I love those first two names. They just feel right. The ridiculously cumbersome hyphenated beast of a last name… eh, wouldacouldashoulda.
In a few months the Professor will hopefully be offered a new job in a new city. We will be packing up our little house and our large cats and moving somewhere brand spanking new to the both of us. This move gives me the chance to make a complete name change. I’ll meet new people and will be able to introduce myself as whomever I wish: Sarah, Belle or Sarah Belle. I’m still not sure which way I’ll go, but am pretty confident the answer will find me in some indirect twist of fate, much like Belle found me so many years ago while seated in 11th grade history class.