What’s in a name…well, turns out, a lot.

November 19, 2019

I sat on the bar stool as the hair was ripped out of my eyebrows for about the millionth time in my life. Suzie, the perpetrator of the pain and also my dear friend (and incredible eyebrow, makeup artist and entrepreneur) looked at me and asked, “Have you ever actually told anyone the story of what it was like to get all of your names?” I quickly dismissed the question, saying that it was all going to be in my book and I didn’t want to give away the farm. Suzie, however, didn’t quite buy it and forged ahead, “yeah, but what about the story about taking Domi’s name and what it’s like for other people changing their name? They should know what you went through and how it all worked, you could save people so much trouble.” I stopped and thought about it for a second. She was right. I hadn’t told the story of how I got all of my names despite my blog ironically being named after my ridiculously long nomenclature.

So, here’s the deal.

You all know, or maybe you might have guessed…I have five names.

It’s pretty straight forward how the first four got there…first name, after my parent’s friend that they aren’t friends with anymore. Middle name, from a name plate my parents once saw at an art show. My first two last names, one for each dad. And my second and last but certainly not least name, my husband’s last name.

I never thought I would take my husband’s last name. Growing up I adored my last name. It was special and different and long. Montgomery-Duban. It had a little bit of my Dad and a little bit of my Daddy all mixed up in the person that made me, me. So, having both of their names was always important to me. I would get mad if someone called me Chelsea Montgomery or Chelsea Duban. I was Chelsea Montgomery-Duban. The whole thing. Because to me, to deny one name was to deny one Dad and we all know how I feel about that. (Not good…in case you didn’t know.) 

I grew up thinking I would never ever want to take my husband’s last name because why should I when my name is so awesome? I used to say to my Dad, “my future husband is just going to have to take my last name.” My Dad always said that, that was because of my “radical feminism” and I always said it was because I liked my name just the way it is. 

Then I met Domi. The most magical, kind, incredible human on the planet.

And the craziest thing happened. One night, when we were talking about getting married, Domi said, “I know your name is so special to you and I know if our kids don’t have your name it will die with you. I want to take your last name.” I loved him even more in that moment than I ever thought I could. I thought my heart might actually explode right then and there. He made that decision without me ever having said anything.

But something changed when I met him even before he told me that. I loved him so much that I started to feel like his last name should also be a part of my last name, another part of my journey. “I want to take your last name, too! I want to be Montgomery-Duban Wächter!” I exclaimed and then explained to him that when we got married, I knew it would sound ridiculous, but that’s what I wanted. It felt like wrapping up everyone I love and attaching it to the love train that is my name.

It was a big deal and sometimes I forget that. As I was telling this story today to Suzie and another client of hers, the other girl seemed so surprised, “Wow? Really? My boyfriend said if I asked him to take my name that would be a deal breaker.” I instantaneously was reminded how amazing it was of Domi to want to take my name in a world where that is so not the norm. It is typical for a guy to just assume the girl will want to take his name when they marry, but there is so much more to a name than just changing it out. A name has meaning. It carries weight. Are all women supposed to just throw their names by the wayside because that’s what we’re “supposed to do?” That doesn’t seem fair.

When we went to get our marriange license they asked us what would be changing my name to (not Domi…). I looked at Domi for a minute, “what do we want to do? Wächter Montgomery Duban? Montgomery-Duban Wächter? Montgomery-Duban-Waechter?” I had no idea yet. I didn’t know I already needed to have the decision made. This was a big deal. I wasn’t sure what order I wanted to put anything in, but the lady tapping her finger behind the plexiglass assured me it would be no big deal. She clearly just wanted us to move on. There were many other things on her plate and us figuring out our names was not at the top of her list of priorities. She rolled her eyes, “look, you can get a name change whenever you want. You don’t have to put it on the license now, you can just do it later. Okay?” We nodded. “Okay, next!” She shouted. And off we went with a marriage license and no clearer picture of what we were going to do with our names. 

We got married and all was fine and dandy and then a few months later I decided it was time to get this name change thing done. (We decided to wait on Domi’s until he has his citizenship since one more reason for immigration to delay things was not something we were interested in.) After making an appointment and waiting forever I got called to cubicle 13. “Can I see your paperwork?” Asked the DMV representative. I hurriedly handed over everything I had. From my birth certificate, to utility bills, to my new social, to our marriage certificate, you name it, I had…everything. “I’m sorry, but your name isn’t on the marriage certificate, we can’t accept this.” I looked at her confused. Social security hadn’t given me an issue, they just went ahead and gave me my new name. “Well, we aren’t social security.” Was her response. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I was pretty much taken aback, I was just adding Domi’s last name to the end of my last name, but she remained steadfast. “You have to go and get a court order in order for us to change anything and that’s final. Next! Number F54!”

I was a little crestfallen, after so many months and so much planning I couldn’t just change my name like the lady behind the plexiglass had told me. But I dang well wanted this name and I was dang well going to get it!

I found all the forms online to apply for a court order. I walked up to the window and handed everything to yet another woman behind plexiglass. I paid an exorbinant filing fee. I was told I had to advertise the change for four weeks in a publication and that my court date would be on May 17th (a full three months away). I published the documents in the Malibu Times. I brought back that pile of paperwork to file at the county recorder. Then, I waited. 

My Dad went with me to my court date. Having never been in court I was a little jumpy even though I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was talking incessantly to calm my nerves. It was a big day for a lot of people in there. A name, I realized, meant even more to some of the people in that room than it did to me, which I was sure was impossible.

The judge was almost an hour late. Finally, he started. We each took turns standing before the judge, being sworn in, watching him review our background checks, spelling out our names aloud and then following-up with a very not enthusiastic, “Congratulations. Next.” (I have found that where you find plexiglass with people behind it , you also find a lot of “next.”) And then we applauded for each other. (That part was fun.)

Finally, it was my turn. “Okay, so you really want this whole name? Chelsea Austin Montgomery-Duban Waechter?” Said the judge. “Yes, sir. I have two dads and one husband and I’d like to honor them all.” I replied. The judge didn’t look up, “okay, well, um, here goes, is this spelling correct? C-H-E-L…” I’ll spare you the full 36 letter spelling of my name that ensued. But then, that was it and I was legally Chelsea Austin Montgomery-Duban Waechter. I had the biggest smile on my face. It was the most ridiculously expensive name I could come by, I will spend a lifetime of people mispronouncing it and asking me why my name is so damn long and I am so proud to have been honored with my special name by the three best guys I know. I love every single syllable of it. Every part of my name tells a different part of my story. 

So, how dare anyone just assume that someone else is going to change their name just because of what society expects. We get to choose our names (when we want to) and each one means something entirely different. Each one like a chapter in a book. There are people who call me, “Chels,” or, “Chelsky,” or, “Chellybelly,” or, “Mrs. MDW.” I love every iteration. Each way someone says my name and each name someone gives me means something about my relationship to that person and I love that. 

Maybe, for some people it’s easy to swap out their name. Maybe they never liked it, maybe it’s exciting to start a new life with a totally new name. All I’m saying is no one should be able to tell you what your name has to be and if Phoebe on FRIENDS can be “Princess Consuela Banana Hammock,” then I can dang well have five names and you can have and be anything you want to be. 

Happy Tuesday friends. Who do you want to be? What’s your name? All of that? It’s totally your call. Sending love, CAMDW xoxox

PS no matter what you want your name to be after marriage CHANGE IT ON THAT DANG LICENSE or you’ll be so upset that you ended up spending so much money just because plexiglass lady wanted you out of her way.

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  • I am happy you got it all figured out and love the story behind your name. ???????? I might need to pick your brain on this process because I have a similar predicament. They won’t issue me a Real ID because my marriage certificate doesn’t have my married name. ????????

    • I know we talked about this today…ugh!! But <3 we can figure it out together!!

  • perseverance… determination… intention…. if you ever need any more names, these are waiting for you!!!!

  • love your name, and loved this tale of how you got it !!! I never changed mine, it never occurred to me at all, I think for 29 years I was Deborah Collodel and changing to Rochin sounded wrong. But oddly, now at 56 I thought maybe I want to change my name?? who knows, maybe I will 🙂

    • Thank you!! <3 I totally get how personal it is and it's such a special thing to decide. Always fun to change things up haha :) Thank you so much for your kind words!

  • Love this story. Love you for sharing. My maiden name was Crook so you can imagine how excited I was to becoming AA! Besides the jokes I endured throughout my childhood, I figured I would always get to be in the front of any alphabetical line!!! How fun!!!

  • When I got married in 1984 my husband and I combined our names, Spooner and Rowe to Spoonerow and both changed our names. He was happy to do so and we have had a fun and unique name now for 35 years!

  • Follow Chelsea’s Journey

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