For most of my life my identity has resided in my name. I was born into a family that prides itself in its genealogy, and I can easily trace my ancestors back to the 1500s. I could go further if I did some research. I belong to the sixth generation of Diaz-Durans, a hyphenated surname that resulted from the union in the 19th century of two once powerful Spanish houses in Central America. I count some remarkable men and women among my ancestors, and I was raised to pay reverence to my last name. Now I’m changing it, and though I’m confident in the decision, it has taken time to adjust.
The process of unifying in marriage usually results in a name change for one of the spouses, but rarely is it ever a husband. I don’t want to minimize the feelings of women who have given up their maiden names upon marriage, but they grow up knowing it’s a possibility and some even look forward to it. As a man, you never think your name is going to change. The very fact that we have the expression “maiden name” but not “bachelor name” is telling. At play are notions of gender roles, submission, and even ownership—in Spanish tradition, married women not only take their husband’s name, they add the preposition “de,” meaning “property of,” before it. I’m aware that the decision I’ve made to become Constantino Khalaf will make me, in some people’s eyes, the “wife.”
David and I have decided to share a name because we think it brings cohesion to a family unit. We like the message it conveys, the kinship it fosters, and the sense of belonging it gives us. David will now be my immediate family, and I his; it makes sense for our last name to be the same. We also hope to have children in the not-too-distant future, and we want our kids to share their last name with both of us. We want there to be no question that we are both their parents—that they belong to both of us, and we both belong to them.
That we would share a name was settled without much question, but me taking David’s wasn’t a given. We had many conversations about it, considering the various alternatives. We ruled out hyphenating because we agree that hyphens are cumbersome, and having dropped one from my own name not too long ago, I wasn’t eager to add a new one back. We joked about combining—going with Khan, and naming our daughter Chaka. We even talked about both changing to something new.
I offered to change my last name for a couple of reasons. One is that I’ve been slowly shedding names since I was born. My parents’ intended name for me was Constantino, after my dad’s grandfather, but they also named me Arturo, after my mom’s dad. My mom loved her father, but no one ever actually called me by his name; so though it appears on my birth certificate, it has never registered in my consciousness. In the Spanish tradition, my mother’s maiden name was also part of my legal name growing up. Since my dad’s last name was hyphenated, it meant I essentially had three surnames: Diaz-Duran Alvarado. Moving permanently to the U.S. made my father’s last name my only legal name, and I embraced the opportunity to go by something shorter socially as well.
Constantino Diaz-Duran is the name by which everyone who met me before 2013 knew me. I made the decision to drop the Diaz and the hyphen for the sake of minimizing and simplifying—the year I spent on the road taught me the virtues of carrying as little as possible, and I’ve made that a goal in every aspect of life. So when the time came for us to have a more serious conversation about names, I realized that the transition would be easier for me. I’ve unintentionally prepared myself better for it.
Becoming Constantino Khalaf does not make me any less a scion of the family that bred me. I will continue to honor my father and grandfather, the great-grandfather whose given name I share, and my forefathers before him. Changing my last name is not a rejection of my father or his family’s history any more than dropping Alvarado was a rejection of my mother or her family. I’ll teach my children this history, and will share with them the stories my grandfather shared with me. I will share with them my memories and what’s made me who I am, because I never want to be a stranger to them.
Changing my name doesn’t make me a new person, and it is not a disavowal of my past. It is more about cleaving than it is about leaving. It's about sharing a name with my husband and children, even if it means no longer sharing one with my parents and grandparents. And while it might be a harder transition for me, it will take some getting used to for David as well—he’s never had to share Khalaf with any man in his life other than his father. I foresee some confusion when someone calls for a Mr. Khalaf and we’re both there.
Khalaf has already been entered as my new legal last name on our marriage license. The change will become official at the wedding, the moment our pastor and witnesses sign the license. I also decided at the last minute, when we got the license, to keep Diaz-Duran as my middle name. I won’t use it socially or professionally, but I’m glad it will still appear on my IDs. More than on paper, however, I’ll continue to carry Diaz-Duran in my blood, in my heart, and in the dreams I still have of sitting with my late beloved grandpa just one more time.
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