March 15, 2001


Late afternoon. I am standing in front of the supply closet --  'shopping' for Kleenex and transparency film and 3/4" binder clips -- when Bob the Engineer Guy suddenly appears at my side.

"So," he says conversationally. "What's your new name gonna be?"

I am momentarily stoopified. My new name?

"Am I being given a new name?" I ask, pleasantly baffled. I'm thinking, Maybe he's talking about my new job title? After all, there are a lot of people around the office who remain unclear about my status with the Totem Pole Company: me included. "You mean, 'Executive Administrative Coordinator for the Northern Region?'" I say, uncertainly.

He points to the diamond on my finger. "No," he says with a *You're-Such-A-Big Dummy (But-I-Like-You-Anyway)* smile.  "I mean, what's your name going to be when you get married?"

Oh. Duh.

How could I have missed that one?

"Rafter," I reply ... suddenly feeling a little shy about saying it out loud. "Terri Rafter." The name still feels foreign and unwieldy on my tongue, like an exotic new entree on a restaurant menu. It sounds intriguing  ...  it sounds like something you're going to enjoy  ...  but you're not yet convinced you're pronouncing it correctly. (And you don't want the waiter to think you're an idiot.)

"Rafter, like the tennis guy?" Bob asks, and I say yes, Rafter like the tennis guy. (Something tells me I'd better get used to this question: I'm probably going to be hearing it a lot over the next twenty or forty or seventy years.)

Bob says wow, that's going to be really easy to remember, isn't it? I nod. I suppose that if you're one of those people who knows a tennis ball from a melon ball, it will be easy to remember. 

All of a sudden I'm feeling unexpectedly overwhelmed. I wander back to my office, with my Kleenex and my transparency film and my 3/4" binder clips, and I just sit there for a few minutes ... staring out the window at Lake Merritt ... pondering the wonder and the mystery (and the implications) of my new name-to-be.

Terri Rafter. Holy shidt! I'm going to be TERRI RAFTER.

Of course I would be lying if I said I've never contemplated the impending name change until now. Basically I've been doodling the name *Terri Rafter* on napkins and telephone message pads and public bathroom stalls since October 30, 1998 at 7:17 p.m. PDT.  I just hadn't given it much thought lately. There have been all of these other, bigger, more pressing wedding-related concerns to deal with: figuring out how to safely drop seven dress sizes in twenty-four weeks, for instance ... trying to pick out a wedding invitation that won't offend anybody's mother ... deciding whether or not *FootNotes Green* and *Teal* are the same color. (They're not, btw. They're MOST EMPHATICALLY not.)

But now all of a sudden I'm thinking My ID! I'm going to have to change the name on my California State ID!  And on my credit cards, too, and my Social Security card, and my voter registration card ... my e-mail address at work, and my domain name owner information, and my listing at the fem • mass website ... my name on the rental agreement ... the nameplate on my office door ... the initials on my best pair of ...

Oh god. I just ordered new checks from the bank! Four boxes of them!!


I went through similar name-change trauma the first time I got married, twenty years ago. (Although I didn't have checks or credit cards or valid I.D. of any kind, in 1981. Or an e-mail address yet. Or a domain name. Or an office nameplate, or an office door ... or an office, for that matter. But I remember what a pain in the butt it was to change my name on my library card.)

Even so, I remember that I was thrilled to pieces to be trading in my maiden name for a spiffy new *married* name. Part of that was the name itself: I didn't like my maiden name ("Vert") while I was growing up: I thought it was too odd and unattractive and harsh-sounding, and that it lent itself far too easily to lampooning by young playground comedians ...

Flashback to second grade ...

Billy Utterback: "Look! It's Terri Vert-ical! Terri Vertical, Terri Vertical, hahahahaha!"
Young Defensive Secra: "Shut up, Billy Underwear!"

... followed by immediate flashback to seventh grade:

Bill Utterback: "Look! It's Terri Per-vert! Terri Pervert, Terri Pervert, hahahaha!"
Slightly-Older/Still-Defensive Secra: "Shut up, Bill Butterbutt!"

But mostly it was that ages-old, lifelong song-and-dance of not liking the person I was. The first time I got married, I wanted to shed my old name, the way a lizard sheds its skin, and wrap myself entirely in my new husband's name and his identity and his family and his history, and reinvent myself completely until every *molecule* of Terri Vert disappeared and was replaced by Terri Polen. (Which is pretty much exactly what happened, unfortunately. But that's another story for another day.)

It's different this time.

For one thing: I'm more respectful of the name I'm leaving behind, this time around. I may not be as fond of my old married name as I was at age 23 -- I may have developed darker, more complicated feelings about it, over the years -- but it is the name on all three of the Tots' birth certificates: for that reason alone I will refrain from denouncing it or poking fun at it or celebrating its passage too noisily in public. But there is also the fact that I was Terri Polen for twenty years, and I know that and accept that and am fine with that. I understand now that while you can change who you are ... you can never change who you were.

My phone rings, just then.

For a fleeting moment I am tempted to answer it "Terri Rafter"  --  I want to hear myself saying it out loud again, just one more time  --  but I resist the impulse. (If it's David or one of the Tots or my boss, they'll tease me silly.)  So instead I answer it the way I always do -- Totem Pole Company, Terri Polen speaking -- and it's a good thing, too, because it turns out to be a Very Important Client who has called to drone on and on about Offset Barrier Type-Y Crossings With Signalized Crosswalk Indicators for half an hour, while I listen and pretend to be fascinated and murmur "Uh huh" and "I see what you're saying" and "Absolutely! Absolutely!" every thirty seconds or so.

It's only after I hang up that I glance at my message pad and realize that I've been doodling the entire time I was on the phone:

one year ago: bridges [burning and otherwise]

throw a rock