My partner and I sent this New Year’s card to the 100 friends and family members whose confirmed addresses we had on file, to inform them of our pending legal name changes. I had initially planned to include a brief explanation, either on the card itself or as a printed insert, but instead opted to keep it very simple, and thus it became a way to open up dialogue with anyone who chose to ask us about it.
When I divorced, in 2007, I opted against reverting to my maiden name, because I felt I had really come to an understanding of who I was, as Nicole Seiffert, largely with the kind and compassionate support of the ex-husband whose surname I retained. I kept the name even when my partner and I married, in 2013.
In 2015, my partner came to the understanding of who they were not, and began the journey toward coming out as a gender-nonbinary person. When they realized that their given first name no longer suited them, they began using their last name as their first name when introducing themself to new acquaintances, and then in their workplace, and finally, with friends. Alas, because they neither aspired to be a one-named pop idol nor the redundant Porter Porter, they knew they would need to find a new last name. (In case this is new territory for you and you started twitching when it looked like my writing shifted from singular to plural just now: Porter’s gender pronouns are they/them.)
Porter’s change to gender-nonbinary prompted an identity change for me, too, from lesbian to queer, and as they began to think about the process of changing their name, I said that since it looked like this marriage thing was going to stick, it might be nice to share a last name. So, where to begin?
We decided to jump on the DNA testing bandwagon, so we could find a surname from an ethnic background we shared, and we wanted to choose one that was reasonably rare in the United States. Porter was interested in name origins that suggested qualities such as strength or wisdom, and I thought it would be awesome to have a name derived from crow or raven, because they are meaningful to me.
Ultimately, our search looked like about four weeks of going through pages and pages of surnames from numerous online databases, writing down names we liked, and checking in with one another. We had nearly settled on another surname ending in x, when I happened to click into a potential distant cousin’s family tree and saw a pedigree listing of a dozen surnames, including Rennix. I had a visceral response to the name, which I hadn’t seen before, as did Porter as soon as I shared it, and thus it was decided in that moment.
Incidentally, after we decided, I found this on SurnameDB, the Internet Surname Database: “[T]his unusual name is English. It is locational, and found mainly in the north of England and Scotland. The source for the name is a place called Renwick, in the county of Cumberland, near to the town of Penrith, and the Scottish borders. The placename is first recorded in the year 1178 as Ravenwich, and has two possible meanings. It may mean Hraefn’s dwelling-place from the Olde English pre 7th century personal name Hraefn, the raven, and probably used in the tranferred sense of someone with very black hair, with wic, usually a dairy farm. The other interpretation is ‘The farm on the River Raven’, from the dark appearance of the water.”
Yes, we ended up with a name from our shared English/Scottish heritage and I got my wish for a name related to ravens!
This is exactly the way the universe works, when you let it. How will you let it work for you this year?