Becoming Marjorie Elaine, at last!

language and literacy

As I begin another spin around the sun, I’ve decided it’s time to lighten my load. Taking inspiration from my mother, who in her later years established a practice she called SOOTHE: “Something Out Of The House Everyday,” I’m getting rid of stuff I don’t need – in my home, my offices, my garage, my psyche.

I’m also dropping six syllables of patriarchal baggage. I’m adopting Marjorie Elaine as my simplified name – one of many identities I will embrace in what I coin “name flexibility.”

I want to do this without a whole lot of narcissistic fanfare – and bureaucratic hassle.  After all I’m trying to let go of my ego, not aggrandize it. So I’m not going to do this legally, and I really don’t care if people continue to call me by any variation of my given, inherited, adopted, or invented names. But I do feel I need to make this pronouncement, and to explain to anyone who might wonder why. I also hope to offer a little inspiration for any changes you might want to make in your life. 

Just as I took inspiration from my mom, I was emboldened by another smart woman: fellow educational ethnographer, Sally Pirie, who wrote this terrific graphic-novel-style post that says everything I might want to say about the patriarchal history of names, including the challenges Sally faced with changing her name as a female academic…but who “did it anyway!”

For some, a name change is about taking on a new identity.

For me, it’s about getting a little closer to my own essence. Who was I when I first came into the world? Who was the bright-eyed, open-hearted toddler I see in this photo?

She seems light and friendly and curious about the world – not weighed down by anxiety about who or what or how she “should” be. I like the spirit I see in that little girl. I want to get closer to her.

A lot happened to that little girl in the next twenty years. Her identity was shaped by family, church and society in highly gendered ways (as well as by race and class and heteronormativity and more…) She became a (mostly) good, obedient, compliant girl and studious student (though she always had a rebellious streak). I will have more to say about this in a future blog.

When I got married at age 22, the dictates of patriarchy and the normative cultural practices of my family and community made it seem natural to merge with my husband by taking his name. I was a community organizer, Central American Solidarity activist, and teacher. “Orellana” signaled affinity to my students and their families, inviting questioning of who this blond, blue-eyed woman who spoke Spanish was. “De dónde es?” was not a challenge, but an invitation to connect.

I liked the fact that Orellana rolled off the tongue, unlike “Faulstich.” It evoked the sounds of the rain forest in my husband’s home town (Puerto Barrios, Guatemala). Perhaps it also echoed sounds of the Amazonian jungle that an Orellana ancestor once traversed, slaughtering native people and stealing gold. But at least it couldn’t be translated, as Faulstich was, in unflattering ways: as “Lazy Bones” or “Lazy Stitch” or “Putrid Wound.” (There is some hidden history there that bears exploration,[1] and perhaps some very old wounds to heal. Just how did all my “Lazy Bone” Faulstich siblings gain reputations as such self-punishing, hard workers?)

When I went back to grad school seven years later, and began a path to become an academic, I came to see my married name as more problematic. I didn’t want to be a “culture vulture.”  So I tried always to explain my positionality, and in all my professional publications, I inserted “Faulstich” into the mix. But legally I was (and still am) Marjorie Elaine Orellana.

When, at mid life, the identity I had constructed for 24 years as “Nery’s wife” was shattered through divorce, I wondered, should I excise Orellana? The only options offered to divorcing women are to keep their husband’s name or to return to the coverture of their father. (See Sally Pirie on this point.) Deleting Orellana felt like erasing half my life. I didn’t know how to re-become Margie Faulstich, nor did I want to. So I remained Marjorie Elaine Orellana, and continued publishing as Marjorie Faulstich Orellana. Until recently, when I tried the whole kit and kaboodle: Marjorie Elaine Faulstich Orellana, in preparation to lop the last two names off – which I am doing now!

In dropping Faulstich, I mean no disrespect to my own father. In fact Charles Nicholas was the only person who ever called me Marjorie Elaine. Choosing to be Marjorie Elaine is about connecting with my dad, in my own unique way, and with my self: a version of myself that holds some continuity with the past, while offering a fresh way to move into the future. Though I must admit, there is a part of me that is declaring: “Fuck the patriarchy” – something little Margie Faulstich would never have dared say. (And which the “good girl” in me and staid professional feels funny about putting in print.)

I think I’m also saying “F*** the state.” One thing that gave me pause when I first considered this was all the work involved in official name changes: filling out forms, paying a hefty fee, posting an ad in a local paper (a legal requirement), and waiting for a judge to wave his legal wand so that I could then wade through mountains of bureaucracy to change my name on my birth certificate, drivers’ license, passport, social security card, bank accounts, and more.

Instead, I’m just going to change my name on my office doorplates, the master-head for this blog (if I can figure out the technicalities), work websites, conference name tags, and in every future publication I write. I’ll announce this change to the world, but I won’t ask permission from Big Brother (or anyone else). (I actually started to do this five years ago, then made the mistake of soliciting other people’s opinions….) And if people get confused, they can call me anything they like. I’m embracing name fluidity. I can be all of the people I have sometimes been: Marjorie, Margie, Mahgie, Marjelaine, Marjolaine (a lovely flower), Marjorie Faulstich, M. Faulstich Orellana, Mrs. Orellana, Ms. Faulstich, Professor Faulstich-Orellana, Dr. O…as well as the ones I never got to be (Marjorie Walter, for example, if we lived in a matriarchy)…and the ones I choose for myself, such as Marjorie Elaine.

[1] One German woman I spoke with offered the theory that our family might have been Jewish, because Jews at one point in German history were given derogatory names. I haven’t been able to corroborate this, however.