Maiden Names

It’s true that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but we wouldn’t really see it that way, would we? If it was called Stinkweed, for instance, it might smell the same but we’d begin to notice a slight garbage odor.

I called my book The Rooms Are Filled because it speaks to one of the main themes, recognizing the riches in your life, and it matches the tone of the novel. If I had called it Minnesota Michael Moves Away, which holds true to the plot, you might have thought it was a book for grade school students.

One reason Google caught on, I think, is because it has an interesting name that you can also make a verb. People love to verbify nouns.

Names do matter. We call our children Slade because we think it’s cool. Or Declan because it’s interesting and Irish. Or, in my case, Henry because it’s solid and traditional. I wouldn’t have named my child Slade and his parents wouldn’t have named their child Henry. Names matter to us.

I first understood this as my wedding date drew near. Until then, I hadn’t given much thought to whether or not I would take my husband’s last name. I suppose I just assumed I would.

I surprised myself when I felt strong resistance to the idea. For a year after our wedding, I remained Jessica Null. I didn’t want to drop my maiden name completely; I didn’t want a hyphenated last name; I didn’t want to be the only Null in my family; my husband didn’t want to take my name; I didn’t want to use Null as my children’s middle names. Finally, I decided to drop my middle name, Ann, and become Jessica Null Vealitzek.

When it came time to consider the name that would be on my book, I chose Jessica Vealitzek. I like how it looks, I like how it sounds. I didn’t want readers to have (more of) a mouthful to say.

But it has never felt right. I was Jessica Null more than half my life. I was a Null when I learned to write, holding a No. 2 pencil in my chubby hand. I was Jessica Null when I won a national high school writing award, when I got my first newspaper job, and when I earned my master’s in creative writing. I was a Null when I first thought of the idea for this book.

I was also a Null when I cried my first night at camp. I was a Null when my parents divorced, when I made the softball All-Star team, when I swam all the way to the buoy, when I made the decision to marry the man named Vealitzek. Of all things, I am a Null. More, even, than I am a Vealitzek. And if names can be living things, it felt like a betrayal of an old friend to leave it off the book.

That old friend has been riding along all these years, faithful and constant. It has helped define me. Without it, I am different, changed.

Yesterday, I emailed the publisher. The Rooms Are Filled is now written by Jessica Null Vealitzek. That’s the truth of it, and the heart of it.

Whether or not anyone will be able to say it in one breath remains to be seen.

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28 thoughts on “Maiden Names

  1. Hi Jessica,

    Thanks for the post. That really touched as I am emotionally attached to my maiden name and could quite relate myself. I read the prologue and am eagerly looking forward to the release of The Rooms Are Filled.

    Cheers and Best wishes!!!
    🙂

  2. Names are so important… not just to us as individuals–for all the reasons you discuss–but also as writers. I ran into that problem because my (married) name is so common: Julia Martin. Turns out there are a lot of us. Using my married and maiden name together is better Julia Munroe Martin but with a different set of problems. No one can spell Munroe! I’m usually Julie Monroe Martin. So I know all about names being mouthfuls or worse. That said, I’m very glad you chose to use both names — it’s very distinctive AND it’s who you are. Nice!

    • Thanks, Julia. I see what you mean. Though I’ve always liked that Munroe is spelled with a “u” — it makes a somewhat common name distinctive. And the whole thing together….quite author-ly. 🙂

  3. You obviously know I can relate to this… For THE same reasons, I did the same thing as you: Crytzer is officially (ask the SS office) my middle name and Fry my last. I like my maiden name; it’s unique in a sea of Frys. And: it’s WHO I am. So I, for one, think you did THE right thing, JNV! 🙂 I think it’s easy to remember because Null is only four letters! A LOT of women writers go through this; I think Allison Winn Scotch did the same thing (and devoted a few blogs to it a few years back)!

    As an aside, we joked (because hubby “got” why I wouldn’t want to change my name) that we should combine our names and be called the Frytzers (yes, it’s pronounced Fright-zers since my maiden is pronounced Cright-zer. Hee hee).

    • Thanks, MCF!

      I am so glad to have some of the comments here and on FB so I now know how to pronounce everyone’s name! I thought it was Crit-zer. Now I will remember to be frightened by you.

  4. I chose my maiden name for many of the same reasons when I published my book. I have a long married name too and I kept thinking if I went with it they would need to wrap the text around the book. lol! Can’t wait to read your book, Jessica Null Vealitzek!

  5. I love this post. I actually changed my name as soon as I married. It never felt right. My name helps to define me. It shows my Colombia background, it was with me during every significant part of my life – just as you note. A few years into my marriage I simply could not handle carrying my husband’s Croatian name. It wasn’t me. So, I changed it back to Mesa. My husband completely understood and supported my choice. My son has both our surnames – which is also a Colombia tradition. I am so happy your book will have your full name. I look forward to reading it!

    • Thanks, Karen. You found the perfect middle ground. I considered using Null as my children’s middle names; I didn’t for a purely superficial reason–I LOVE picking out names! I didn’t want to take up two choices with my maiden name.

  6. It will come as no surprise to you that I completely understand, totally support and applaud your decision. It feels right and complete. I have never regretted my choice to keep my name from the start and, except for the pesky voting thing, it has worked out just fine and allowed me to stay me.

  7. Lots of women can relate to this! I haven’t officially changed my name since getting married but I plan to soon. But it’s not much of a change; I was Quanie “Mitchell” and now I’m Quanie “Miller.” I will publish under my married name. I don’t think adding Null will be too much of a mouthful. I think it actually sounds nice.

  8. I am not that emotionally attached to my last name – simply haven’t found another that I like better. Though I have found a few that are worse. One friend married and had kids with a man whose last name was Annis. I bet if those kids had a dollar for every time they were tormented about their last name they’d be rich.

    Makes perfect sense to me that you want YOUR name on your book. And it sounds fine.

  9. Funny how our names define us, as much as we define them! Great post, Jessica. There’s a sense of loyalty with maiden names–though I love my family heritage I’ve always thought my last name was kind of ho-hum, so I’d probably change it up if I married someone with a better one. 🙂

  10. Jessica, I loved this post and your honesty! Compared to you, I feel different about my maiden name. I think it might be because of my childhood, and my relationship with my father now. If I don’t get married anytime soon, I will change my last name to the name that came to me one day, spoke to my soul, and just seemed to define me as a person better than my maiden name.

    As to what name I use to publish with, I always knew I would use a pen name, and when I thought of Chrys Fey I got chills. Chrys Fey is exactly who I am when I am writing. 🙂

    P.S. I think Jessica Null Vealitzek would look great on a book cover!

      • There is a little bit of a story behind my pen name. Chrys came from a nickname that my oldest friends call me and I just changed the spelling to make it more mystical. In other words, I changed the “i” to a “y”. LOL! And Fey is a nickname for people thought to have supernatural qualities, which fits my (unpublished) series perfectly. Thus, I became Chrys Fey. 🙂

  11. In truth, I wish I had thought more about this. It seemed so obvious to change my name when I go married but now as I get older and I realize there are very few Ingrahams left in this world. It makes me a bit sad…I like your solution a lot.

      • It actually is my official middle name- this was the tradition in my family- to replace our middle names with our maiden names but I never, ever use it. My ‘real’ name is Constance not Stacey and I don’t use that either. A lot to think about apparently!

  12. Thanks for sharing the story behind the name that will be on your debut, Jess. I wouldn’t have thought about it if you wouldn’t have shared. I love both of your names–they sound distinctive and interesting, like you. 🙂

    I’m one on the other side of the debate, who, because of a tough childhood, was happy to move on. I dropped my maiden name altogether. And though I’m one of a trillion Jennifer Kings, it doesn’t bother me. Very grateful for it. But you’re right, names are such an essential part of who we are as individuals. I think you made a great choice for your debut!

    • I heard from someone else with the same mindset. It’s interesting that a name can mean so much–whether positive or negative. Helps that it’s so easy to shed if we want to.

      And I think the “Lyn” makes your name distinctive!

  13. You will forever be Jessica Null to me! I loved the camp reference. 🙂 I didn’t know that you had changed your middle name to you Madian name. I love that! Now I don’t feel so bad for calling you Jessica Null still.

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