Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What's in a Name?

The matter of my name has been a source of some serious consideration, as you might imagine. I started my life as Kelly Kennedy, and became Kelly Hines when I was adopted in the 6th grade. I always liked it...the way it flowed, and I usually used my middle initial, just to be fancy about it: Kelly M. Hines. I always envisioned that on the cover of a novel someday.

When I got married, I was happy to change it, wanting to have the same name as any future hypothetical children, as well as being excited at the sense of both belonging and arriving that my new name brought. I loved my new family, and I was proud to have that name. So I used my maiden name along with it professionally for all of my life. Three names, neat and secure. I liked it.

For obvious reasons, I needed to change that. It didn't make sense to keep my married name, clearly, and I could never understand how anyone could after a divorce. Wouldn't it somehow keep you tied forever? Wouldn't it connote a sense of belonging that would become, by definition, a great big lie? Can you really own someone else's name, even if it was your own too for a long time? I did not believe I could. And my two last names had gone together for so long, I didn't think I could have one without the other. It felt like just lobbing something off of myself, and leaving something gaping and unfinished. I also didn't like the idea of going back to my "maiden" name, which made me feel like a child, and still somehow owned by my father. I feel every minute of my age on my spirit, and while I am proud of my age, and feel like I have accomplished a great deal for 42 both personally and professionally, I just couldn't abide the idea of going backwards. In any way. And a year ago, when I was smack in the middle of this crazy journey, the idea of a single step backwards for any reason was overwhelmingly exhausting. The only way out was through and there was no turning back.

So, I decided to pick a new name for myself. I almost went with Nolan, after A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I considered Blythe, for Anne of Green Gables. I looked back into my family tree, though, and decided on Griffin, my maternal grandmother's maiden name. I had always felt her around me, even though she passed when I was in the fourth grade. I lived with her for a good portion of my childhood, lived in her house while she was dying of cancer, and not only remembered her very vividly, but saw the best of her in my mom and Auntie, and wanted to honor that. I have a tattoo on my ankle for her, partly, and it seemed to make sense. Above all, I wanted something far from who I was before, a daily symbol of my new life, my new persona.

It's different when you are in a profession where people call you all day by your last name. I think, maybe, it takes on a new importance. I am never just Kelly. I am Ms. So-and-So, formerly a Mrs. My last name is said to me, about me, a hundred times a day, and it had to feel like mine. So, I became Ms. Griffin at school this year, and many times, kids would call my name or ask me a question, and I would not answer them. Because I did not feel like they were talking to me. It was a coat that kept me warm this year, got me through this transition, but did not quite fit right.

When everything was finally wrapped up a few weeks ago, all tidy and legal, the judge would not let me be Kelly Griffin. I would be allowed to legally return to my "maiden" name...I REALLY hate that term...but to take on Griffin would require another petition, another proceedure, lots more phone calls, and a whole bunch of money that I don't have.

I have now spent three weeks as Kelly M. Hines. I have sat with it, rolled it around, written it in my journal, and signed my checks that way. And after a lot of careful consideration...I have decided to keep it. It doesn't feel like a step backwards, as I feared it would. It feels new and fresh, and above all, it feels like mine. Not my father's. Not my mother's. Not an unfinished phrase. It feels like me.

I only had one teaching year as Ms. Hines, my first year at Manomet, and it was glorious. My name changed halfway into my second year teaching. To go back to Ms. Hines now, as my new career is still only in its fledgling stages, feels right. I felt so invigorated in that year, with that inspiring class, one member of whom grew up to become one of my best friends. I feel so much at the beginning of something right now, just as I did then, and I can still see that plucky, enthusiastic, determined girl in the face of the woman I am now. Under the laugh lines, scars and all. Kelly M. Hines is still in there, and she is me.

I know that people will think I am flaky, especially at school. I expect a lot of "What the mother-eff is she doing now?" Three names in three years? But I can live with that. As a teacher, I know I am more than just what I say to my students. I am what I do. I am how I live. So, I am living as a person decides. Who changes her mind if she feels like it. Who is not afraid to change direction, declare a new truth when she learns it, experiment, grow, and make bold declarations. Everyone can do that, every day. We all get to decide. An important friend lately reminded me of that, and I think it all the time. It's been my mantra. I decide. And when I have new information, or new feelings, or new perceptions...guess what? I get to decide again. Still. All the time.

I choose Kelly M. Hines. Nice to meet you.


  1. I love you Kelly M Hines!

    1. Oh, Love, Elise Sara Siegel

  2. Indeed - "...a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Love you, Ms. Hines.

  3. You will always be you to me no matter what your name is! Though I LOVE Kelly M. Hines :)