All posts by Nicole Rennix

The Importance of Being Rennix

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?

Introductions and Apologies: Family of Origin, Meet Family of Choice

Whereupon responses to a meme get me up at 2 A.M. to say things that have long been on my mind.

It started with this meme that I posted on that big social media site:

Which generated the following comments (and my internal responses):

Father Of My Daughter (FOMD): How about we ban them both?

(Um, NO.)

Father Of My 7-year-old Grandson (FOMG): Both can be considered terrorist. The worse part is the Democrats like both.

(What. The. Actual…?)

My Very Good Friend (MVGF): Nicole, do you know this ignorant twerp? Oh, sorry…was that a personal attack?! My bad.

(Aw, shit, Joe.)

FOMG: Oh you’re such a mean person Joey. Makes me want to cry like Chucky Schumer.

FOMD: Nicole do u know this ignorant fucktard joe?

(Well, that escalated quickly. Perhaps I’ll go to bed early and figure out how I want to respond while I sleep.)

And, indeed, I woke up a little after midnight with this unfolding in my mind, which it continued to do for two more hours, until I got up and gave in. So, onto those introductions.

FOMD, FOMG, meet MVGF, also known as a member of my family of choice. Why is he My Very Good Friend? Because he cares very much about things like basic human dignity, social justice and human rights, including accessible health care for all. To my chagrin, he did lead into the comment stream with a personal attack, but I dare say that this is something being modeled several times a day by the foul leader of our torn country—who keeps getting passes to do so! Incidentally, MVGF is also pretty hip to our Constitution. If you look real hard, you’ll see that freedom of speech and the press, and freedom from religious persecution are kind of a big deal where the law of the land is concerned, as are the checks and balances designed to keep rogue individuals from taking them away. But I digress…

MVGF, meet FOMD. He had something to do with that awesome young woman you know, the redhead who looks kind of like me. When he met me, I was a rabid conservative with a strong Bohemian streak that mystified my rabidly conservative parents. (I am ashamed to admit that I voted against Obama the first time, and kept silent when my dad said inane things like, “He’s a halfwit who can’t even talk without a teleprompter.” And much worse things.) Still, FOMD and I remain connected on that social media site because, despite our differences, we have remained civil and are both invested in seeing our daughter grow up and navigate the world.

MVGF, meet FOMG. He and his wife adopted the son of aforementioned daughter, when she was a 20-year-old Marine who knew she was not equipped to raise a child. There is no doubt that they love him dearly, and provide for him well.

FOMG, given some special needs, I am always perplexed to see you decrying the Affordable Care Act and the like. And I marvel that you would support someone so base, and wonder whether you think your president is the kind of man you hope your son turns out to be, or whether you’d be comfortable leaving your wife alone with this man. I also wonder what you’d think if someone else were in charge and signed an executive order banning all Christians because Fred Phelps.

Now, I am going to turn the lens back on myself, say more about my bigoted upbringing. and make some apologies.

A year or two ago, my cousin M posted pictures, on that social media site I keep mentioning, of herself and friends at a winery a few miles from my house. I was hurt, because I had not seen her since I moved away from Southern California, in 1991, and even after I noticed that she was practically in my back yard, and I offered to meet her somewhere for coffee, she said she didn’t have time to see me. A few months ago, I mentioned the memory to my dad, and this conversation ensued:

Dad: Well, she doesn’t like me, so maybe she has extended that to you.

Me: Why do you say she doesn’t like you?

Dad: Because she thinks I’m a bigot.

Me: *crickets* and dumbfounded stare (You ARE a bigot!)

Dad: I’m not a bigot. I just hate Mexicans. *belly laugh*

To fully appreciate the depth of the vulgarity of this statement, readers need to know that my cousins (my dad’s sister’s three daughters) are all half Mexican.

I continued to stare at him, silently, with my mouth agape, and then I went into the bathroom and sobbed. It has haunted me ever since.

M and C and L, if you are reading this, I want you to know how truly sorry I am for any times in your life that my dad tried to make you or your mother feel less than with his ugliness, or any times that I might have been blindly complicit in same.

I also want to apologize to my other cousin M, who bore the distinction of being the lesbian until I came out a decade ago. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t even come out to myself until I was 30, because I could still hear the derision and bigotry, but said nothing to call him out on it, except maybe, “Yeah? So what?”

What I have said to my dad, several times in recent years, is, “This isn’t what you taught me! You taught me that kindness matters!” It is, and it isn’t. He did, and he didn’t.

Kindness does matter. So does speaking up about injustice, and fighting hate, and those who would promote it. Which brings me back to this: