Two weeks before he graduates from medical school, she earns her Master’s degree. When the diplomas arrive in the mail, they buy matching frames with a cherry finish and gold seals and hang them side-by-side on the wall: a set of his and hers degrees to go with the matching towels and twin toothbrushes. Her Master’s degree bears her married name, the one they share. Below it are her Bachelor’s degrees from the school where they met. Those she earned in her former name, her maiden name, the one she inherited from another man, the one she sometimes thinks she should have kept.
Ten years later, she walks to the mailbox, takes out a stack of Christmas cards addressed to “Dr. and Mrs. Firstname Lastname.” She rolls her eyes, carries the envelopes home, and holds them up to Dr. Firstname Lastname’s face.
“Don’t they know I have a name?” she asks him, pressing the offending mail down onto the countertop. “I might have changed my last name, but not my first name.”
“I’m sorry,” he says, and winces. “It’s just something people do…”
“Yeah, but it’s annoying,” she replies. “Haven’t I given up enough?”
She forgets her password for the kids’ college funds and breezes through the security questions in order to log in. What was the name of your first pet? What was the name of your elementary school? What was your mother’s maiden name? The first lies next to her on the couch. The second is a brick building in her hometown. The third is an endangered species, scheduled to disappear within a generation.
“Would you have changed your name if I asked you to?” she asks her husband that night, looking up from the novel she is reading.
“No,” he says, after a brief pause. He looks her in the eyes. “I don’t think I would have.” She understands, thinks of the Christmas cards. You had a choice, too, she thinks to herself. You let this happen. You let them erase you.
The kids watch her get ready for a date night, delighting in the spritz of perfume in her hair and swipe of shiny gloss on her lips. She ducks her head through a long gold chain with a bee pendant that rests heavy on her sternum. She fingers the black stripes on its abdomen, smooth like onyx. “Mom?” one of the kids asks, “Why do you have so much bee stuff?” The pendant, the blue bee-embroidered shoes with holes worn through the heels, the fuchsia shorts with a little hive of bees printed on them, the shirt, the socks…she does have a lot of “bee stuff.”
“Well…I guess I have a lot of bee stuff because I like honeybees.” She smiles at them and holds up the pendant. “My name means honeybee.”
She never felt strongly about her name until she found out it meant honeybee in Greek. She liked the connection to nature, the built-in kinship with the industrious creatures whose buzz invoked the scent of grass clippings and she sensation of summer sun on her cheeks. It was the name gifted to her at birth, the one yelled out with cheers and whistles at dance recitals, printed on term papers and awards, and used by lifelong friends.
Miss. Ms. Mrs.
Student. Teacher. Advisor.
Daughter. Friend. Wife. Mom.
Maiden name. Married name.
However titles, roles, and other parts of her name might shift, her first name has been a sweet companion. When she sensed she was losing herself a bit, taken under by the natural tides of family life, her name was there at the surface.
“Maybe I should’ve just kept my maiden name,” she says one night as they get ready for bed. “Or hyphenated.” She stares at her reflection in the mirror. “Maybe I should change my name back to my maiden name just to make a point. Maybe that would force people to recognize me as an individual,” she says to her husband as much as the face in the mirror.
Her name isn’t the only thing she thinks about reclaiming. She remembers choreography from dances she learned at fifteen years old and longs for new steps across new floors. She hears her husband talk about professional goals and something stirs inside her, reminds her of a career on hold. She listens to a mother of four read from her debut poetry book and gets choked up.
It’s not rational to believe that the omission of her name on an envelope is a true attempt at erasure. And yet, it is hard not to feel its prick, hard not to know that there are parts of her that have slowly evaporated…goals and dreams that have disappeared, parts of her identity that have been shuffled around and set aside. Sometimes it seems like a name is all that remains, and she must hold to it until her knuckles are white; she must cling to the snippets that remain of the person she was.
“Save the Bees” shirts and enamel pins pop up in ads on her social media accounts. It seems like everyone is worried about the bees. Honeybees are endangered! Honeybees are going extinct! Everyone is supposed to stop using pesticides or the bees will all die, and so will we.
She decides to do some research and finds that honeybees aren’t in danger, even though everyone seems to think otherwise. There are some bee species that are endangered, but not honeybees. In fact, she reads that honeybee numbers are at a 20-year high. It seems the threat of endangerment and extinction are currently an illusion.
She reads that she can still support bee population growth by letting her garden go a bit, allowing the dandelions to bloom in her yard, and planting flowers to attract pollinators and let them forage. And maybe she will do that. Scatter seeds. Take a class. Write a blog post and sign her name to it, even if no one reads it. Listen to the hum of honeybees settle into the rosemary bushes. Find herself again. Tear up the Christmas card envelopes and put them directly into the recycling bin. Know that her identity is not based on her titles or relationships to anyone else, except for the One who has named her Beloved. Believe the honeybees will be okay.
This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “A Name”.