When people ask about why I go by my last name, I have a couple of answers I can give. One of them is that there are a lot of Ashleys (and don’t even get me started on the Ashleighs and the Ashlees) in the world, and as proof of this, my brother recently got married to a woman named Ashley. There are not just a lot of Ashleys in the world, there are two Ashley McKelvys in my family.
It should be said that I think she’s pretty great. The first time I met her, my brother brought her to my apartment in Benton, Arkansas to, help me move. She hauled boxes and toted kitchen appliances down a flight of stairs and headed back up for more with a big smile on her face. Even I was cranky about moving, and it was my stuff.
But when it became clear that she and my brother were serious, I knew the name thing would be an issue. My friends call me McKelvy. Hell, even my boyfriend calls me McKelvy. My parents, however, picked Ashley out from all the other name possibilities in the world, and regardless of my own feelings on the matter, they think it’s a nice name. Plus, McKelvy is only distinctive as a nickname when not everyone in your house has it. When Ashley joined my family for Christmas, I suggested that one of us needed a nickname, but no one seemed to really take the lead on the Great Re-Naming Project. First of all, how do you decide who should change? I’ve been in the family longer, but I’m also not particularly married to the name. I might be willing to change if a suitable nickname could be decided upon, but I learned long ago that it’s not about what I’m okay with. This is really about other people having to change, which is a far more difficult proposition.
People I have worked with rarely call me McKelvy, even if we are friends. The reason? Paperwork. I fill out a form with my legal name, and people automatically start calling me Ashley. I can and have persuaded them to use my last name or “Mick” for simplicity’s sake, but if you don’t introduce that idea early and often, people will either fall into the habit of calling me Ashley or only about half of them will change and there will be a lot of confusion about what the new girl’s name is. Now, imagine that instead of working with those people for a few months during the summer or a year and a half, that is what people have called you YOUR ENTIRE LIFE. It is ingrained. My grandmothers will never call me anything else, and so it is unlikely that I will be allowed to change my name, though I am willing.
So how do you tell your new sister-in-law that’s been part of your family for mere weeks: Great to have you! Welcome! Now, what would you like to be called form this point forward? Our names are who we are. It’s our most basic form of identity. It’s pretty difficult to find the most polite but firm way to say, “no offense, but that’s mine. Change yours.”
Something has to be done though, and here’s why: My Grammy was telling some story about Adam and his wife, and she referred to them as “Adam and Ashley” and I can’t remember what the verb for that sentence was, but it clearly implied something they’d done as a couple. “Gone hunting” or “kissed” or “first started dating.” Whatever it was an implied romantic relationship that, regardless of what you may have heard about Arkansas, is not something my brother and I do together. But it was still kind of out there. All five or six people who heard her tell that story knew that she meant the other Ashley, but the implication still hung there in the air like a giant incest meatball until she finally clarified which of us she meant.
We all knew, and when she pointed out that she meant Adam’s then girlfriend, I was irritated that the clarification was made because, um, obviously. And yet, I had also been glad that she had explained herself just so the ambiguity was gone. Grammy couldn’t win, and neither can we. If one of us gets a nickname, it will be a long process of getting everyone on board with the switch, but if we don’t the rest of our lives we may just become “Adam’s sister, Ashley,” or “Ashley, Adam’s wife.” I think I’d rather be called Nerdy McReadsalot.