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Becoming “Belle”



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 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:

  1. I had been publishing under my last name for about a decade.
  2. My last name is bad-ass!
  3. His last name is not.
  4. When not calling me some variety of Belle, people call me by my last name. And I love it.
  5. 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.

*If anyone is considering hyphenating their name, please talk to me first. It is NOT worth it! 


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  1. February 7, 2013

    After almost 4 years of marriage, I JUST changed my last name because I just couldn’t decided whether or not to hyphenate. I decided against it and am so glad I didn’t. =)
    That’s a wonderful story about name change though. I never would have thought to change anything but my last name at the social security office. 🙂

  2. February 7, 2013

    I managed to hold off on changing my last name for 7 1/2 years of marriage. I finally caved when we began researching the adoption process (it was clearly becoming an issue). Hence I also have a crazy long last name on top of a long first name. Seriously, my legal name doesn’t fit on most of the forms.

    As much as parents get so excited about choosing names for their children, I really do believe the child is the one that chooses their name. It either happens right after birth (baby ends up with a different name from the originally decided one), or later on in life (think nicknames people). A name is such an intimate thing and ultimately it’s the decision of the person who carries it through life.

  3. SRB #
    February 7, 2013

    I use a hyphenated last name now, but not officially. This is also my second marriage, and after legally changing my name the first time, only to have to change it BACK, I decided not to do it this time. My other issue with changing my last name is that in my province, you are issued a new *birth certificate* with your husband’s last name, which seems so patriarchal and Draconian to me. My DH is fine with me not changing it, but our children have his last name. This doesn’t bother me in the slightest for some reason.

    I love that you chose a new name, and can *still* become who you want to be known as. That takes guts! And you know I feel you on the first name thing. 😉

  4. February 7, 2013

    I was never crazy about my name (too many Jennifers in the world already!), but could never think of a different name that suited me better. You really do seem like more of a Belle than a Beth. 🙂

    I always knew I was never going to hyphenate my name if I got married. My maiden name is a very obscure German surname and no one ever spells or pronounces it correctly. It was a nightmare on its own, so there was no way I was going to complicate further by hyphenating. I didn’t hesitate one bit to take my husband’s name. Four letters, one syllable, very English. Bliss!

  5. February 7, 2013

    I didn’t even think for a second of changing my last name when I got married, which is funny, because for so many years I was looking forward to the day when I could rid myself of a VERY long, VERY hard to pronounce surname… when the time came, however, I just couldn’t do it. My last name is part of my identity (and like you, I’m published under it everywhere). What’s weird, though, is that so many people tell me I don’t look like a Vanessa, and I kind of agree! You, on the other hand, definitely look like a Belle. Also like a Sarah, though. I think you’ve come to the right place. 🙂

  6. February 7, 2013

    Cool story! I used to think my name (Kara Lee) was plain and boring, but as an adult, I’ve grown to love it. People don’t always pronounce it correctly, and some call me Karen, Kari, or even Karla, but I don’t let it bother me. I just correct them and move on. My last name was a different story. I legally changed it to my mother’s maiden name just before graduating from college. I was estranged from my father and his family, and wanted my name to reflect the strong bond I had with my mother’s parents. I knew then that I would never change my name again, married or not. And I haven’t. Not even to hyphenate (which, by the way, makes me gag).

  7. Katie #
    February 7, 2013

    Love it! Very fitting for you. This also reminds me of that time you ordered a birthday cake for me and it had both my first and last name on the cake in icing! Hahah–I’ll never forget laughing at that and asking “Did u think there would be another Katie lurking around trying to steal my birthday??”.

    • February 7, 2013

      HAHAHAHAHAHA! You seriously have one of the best names to say of all time! For some reason you are always both names in my brain. Even when I mention you to the Professor I refer to you as such! 🙂

      • Tasha #
        February 7, 2013

        Yep, you do it when you mention her to me too!

  8. jak #
    February 7, 2013

    hahaha! love this post. was wondering how the change came about. that’s quite an organic way to have a name change – you just sort of became belle and didnt force it. i like that!

    i did not take dh’s name or a hyphen. i am also published and that would be even more of a mess because everyone knows your pubs in science as Lastname FM. that’s all i am on pubmed, so i better just leave it. as far as the hyphen. my step-kids took (had forced on them?) a hyphenated last name from their parents. it never fits anywhere on paperwork. so my kid is getting a variation of my first name as his or her middle name. yup! even if its a boy:)

    your last name IS very pirate. arrrrrggggggghhhhhhh!!!!

    • jak #
      February 7, 2013

      made me think – what if chicken is a girl? and hyphenates when she marries a rooster?! her name will be Chicken Kale Longpirate-Longboring-Rooster. that’s alotta name.

  9. February 7, 2013

    I’m not sure I realized that you lived in Birmingham! We are both Birmingham bells! 🙂 Holla!

  10. February 7, 2013

    I had considered hyphenating my name when I first got married because I wanted to keep the uniqueness of my maiden name. But I wasn’t really committed to the project, so I ended up taking his name.

    BTW – my mom’s favorite name for a girl is Sarah. How I ended up being named Jonelle is beyond me.

  11. February 7, 2013

    I didn’t have much interest in hyphenating our last names. I LOVED my maiden name, but I hate entering long names (street names, personal names, etc) into forms, so it really wasn’t an option. Plus there is still the question of what people use as my last name….why is my name different from my husband’s name…what name to use with any children, etc. But to each their own.

    I ended up dropping my middle name and replacing it with my maiden name. My middle name was a family name and I liked it, but I was more attached to my maiden name and didn’t want to be THAT person with four names! 🙂

  12. February 7, 2013

    I love that you love your name! That is special! What a fun story too!

  13. Arbrefleur #
    February 7, 2013

    I love this post and all the stories that it spawned in these comments. Names are fascinating. And fungible! (imho) I get that there are legal issues (you gotta keep track of yourself I suppose), but in general the patriarchal “ownership” of women by the expectation that they ALWAYS take their husbands last name makes my blood boil! I will never ever ever change my name. And luckily my hubby is onboard, though I wouldn’t have married someone who wasn’t ‘cuz that’s how things work themselves out. 🙂 If we have a boy child, it will have my hubs last name, if we have a girl child it’ll have my last name. That’s how they do it in many native american tribes and I think it’s fair and makes sense. But I also think that if a woman has a less-than-favorable association with her own name (last, middle or first) she should feel free to change it to her husband’s name or change it to Sunbeam! And I also think men should feel free to do the same! Or a couple could get married and give their new family a new family name, whether it’s their hyphenated last names or The Sunbeam Family!

    • February 7, 2013

      One of my husband’s coworkers family named their children that way, boy with dad’s name and girl with mom’s, but after twenty years they got married and mom changed her name, so the daughter is the odd one out now. Ha, but that’s one of the most normal things about them! Probably why we get along so well.

  14. February 7, 2013

    I love this story! And you are definitely a Sarah Belle. 🙂

    When I changed my name (we had a fight on the way to the social security office, and I *almost* turned around and went back home), I kept my maiden as my middle, and now my sister and dad are the only two with our name left in the country…maybe the continent. Plenty left in Lithuania though.

    Also, jumping from the back of the alphabet (V) to the front (C) has not lost its novelty yet!

  15. February 7, 2013

    I still can’t decide about changing my last name. Our babies have my last name as a second middle name (like Apple Orange [robinlastname] [mrbrightsidelastname] and Banana Mango [robinlastname] [mrbrightsidelastname]). I’m thinking maybe if I want to change my name I will do the same thing, use my “maiden name” as my second middle name. I don’t know. I kind of want to have the same last name as the kids, but I’m also not sure I want to give up my name.

  16. February 7, 2013

    We merged last names when we got married because my last name was cool and the spouse’s was really blah, so professionally, it was a terribly unmemorable choice in a field where being memorable is a great thing (well, we scrabble-mixed last names). We did it largely because we felt the fits the spouse’s family would have if we both had MY last name weren’t worth the fight for years to come. Much better than hyphenating. I like that you chose a first name that suits you better than the one you started with, and it’s an awesome story.

  17. February 8, 2013

    Belle fits you so well.

    And I ditched my middle name when I got married too, actually made my maiden name my middle name after the same debate about taking the hub’s last name. Damn these men trying to take our names!

    • February 8, 2013

      Oh, and I sure hope that new city is in northern Cali!!

  18. February 8, 2013

    I totally get the name change thing. For a while, my mom’s entire (ok, maybe not EVERYONE) circle of friends changed their name… Talk about confusing. Although, with my mom, whenever someone would call, it was easy to tell which group of friends or acquaintances it was, because of how they asked for her.

    My first, middle and last name were so common in my home town that there was 2 other girls with the same exact name. One just a bit older (and not such a good girl) and one just a bit younger (she got her contacts at a different store than me). I can only imagine how common it is in the rest of the US, seriously. Nowadays, my last name is very very very uncommon. There’s only 20-30 or so of us in the world with this name..

    As for changing my last name when I got married, for me it was a no-brainer. My last name was so common (in the US), that if the guy I were to marry had a common name, I was going to keep my own. If he had a not-so-common name (like this Finnish one), I would change it. So, change it was. I like it!

  19. B #
    February 9, 2013

    I really like the transition!
    When I got married I opted to ditch my birth middle name and replace it with my maiden name. I am really attached to my maiden name, but the thought of hyphenating my last name wasn’t appealing as a very French name + a very Irish name = meh, plus as a social worker I have to sign my name and credentials like one million times per day so keeping it short and sweet was for the best). My mom was PISSED that I did this as she took it as me favoring my dad (who had died the year before) over her because I kept a name of his and got rid of the middle name she picked for her (which was also my dad’s middle name so I don’t even understand her logic). Anyway! All of this is to say I have no regrets about what I did and I’m glad that you are happy with your name choice too.

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