How I became Ms Knight...
Here’s a thing you might not know about me - I picked my own name. I was born with my family name (obvs) and when I got married, I took my partner’s surname. When I left that marriage, I was faced with a dilemma - I knew I wanted to change my surname, but I also had a lot of tricky memories attached to the family name too.
I got married young - works for some people, didn’t for me.
I was 24 when I got married. Looking back at it now, I put myself under intense pressure to get married young. The pressure wasn’t being put on by the people around me - in some cases, the exact opposite advice was offered - but I think that growing up the youngest of four gave me ideas about what made me “adult enough” to hold my own with my siblings. Marriage was definitely on that list.
I’ve got a really vivid memory of sitting with my family at my cousin’s wedding breakfast, absolutely fuming. The conversation had turned to who would get married next, and I was not on anyone’s list. Could they not give my relationship the consideration “it deserved” or think that I might be planning to have the big party and white dress next?! What about this babyface doesn't scream lifelong commitment to prom date?! I couldn’t say anything to the collected uncles and aunts, so I just quietly seethed into my dessert until they changed the topic...
I was still a university student at the time.
I think in that gap between believing it was ABSOLUTELY VITAL I got engaged ASAP and the actual wedding, my family surname built up a bit of a weird trigger in my mind. It reminded me of the ways that I was “failing” (to meet my own standards) and I used it as little as possible. I encouraged all the children I worked with to call me by my first name. My signature even evolved to be increasingly illegible. None of this was conscious at the time, but I can recognise the pattern with the advantages of distance.
I started again - definitely worked for me!
I re-booted my life again when I was 30. It came after a massive collapse, mental health issues up the wazoo and what felt like a devastating and complete reconstruction (all topics for future posts!) Very little of my life was the same one year later, and I loved it. I had a new cosy flat, less self-imposed pressure and one ex-husband. I was getting coaching, and each day felt like one step closer to the dream future.
Except there were constant reminders of what I’d done - that “married name” cropping up again and again. I hadn’t been so surname-averse in the gap between marriage and divorce because it had become a mark of success in my mind. Proof that I had “found a man” and “was loveable enough to marry” so was, therefore, a “successful adult”. Some of my friends even called me Mrs B. A gorgeous former colleague of mine blended our surnames together into a wonderful team name and put it on my office mug. It was EVERYWHERE.
What’s in a name?
I was stuck. I didn’t want to keep that reminder. I felt vulnerable with either surname - too easy to trace down where I was living and get my otherwise protected address. But also, I didn’t want to go back either - I wasn’t ready to confront the memories and the choices I had made back before my marriage. What was I supposed to do?!
Here are three moments that got me unstuck:
One: On an epic Friends re-watch I came across the episode where Phoebe briefly became Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock (or Valerie to her friends). It’s a funny little filler episode - I doubt the writers intended it as perspective-shifting, but there was a moment in it that gave me a little shiver. To paraphrase…
Phoebe: “What should my name be?”
Official: “Anything you like.”
Phoebe: “Well, not anything…”
And her face lit up - a flash of blinding joy - and there was a tickle in my tummy too. My gut instinct saying ‘lucky Phoebe getting to pick her own name. Why don’t I live in a sitcom?!’
Two: one of my best friends announced her intention to change her own name via deed poll. Not because her marriage was ending, but because her gut said that the name she had on paper didn’t feel right. It was a good name, it just wasn’t her name. Before that moment, I had no idea that actual real-life people could just make up a surname for themselves. I started talking to people about it - what would it be like if I didn’t have to choose between ‘a’ and ‘b’? What if there was a secret option ‘c’ that had never even occurred to me?!
Three: my other bestie nudged me into falling in love with a web-comic about fictional queer ice hockey players. Then she brought me into a group chat of wonderful humans who shared the same love (and also were queer and neurodiverse too). I found a tribe and I was gifted a nickname for the first time in my life. My “hockey name” was Sunny - because like one of the characters in Check Please, I was accepting of all genders and sexualities (and love a bit of a rant on social justice issues). His hockey name was (unfortunately) ‘Shitty’ (but I am not) so I became Sunny, and I LOVED IT.
It started as a bit of a joke. I crowdsourced opinions, and boy did the group chat have Opinions. 'Shitty' got his hockey name because he officially was “B.S. Knight” - I was Sunny, so clearly Knight was the surname to go for, right?! I dismissed it as too ridiculous to even consider, but it kept coming back to me. It was giving me the same little tickle in my gut that I had when Phoebe became Princess Banana-Hammock.
For the longest time, I’d been giving my power to other people. I was the Mum-friend, the people-pleaser, the “good wife” - I lived to serve and that’s all that I did. Coaching was helping me put boundaries in, but I didn’t want to just give up my acts of service - I wanted to serve with strength.
If you think about the mental picture you have when you hear the word knight, you probably get the image of someone confident, strong, chivalrous and brave. Ready to fight, but only for the noble cause. In the tarot, the Knight cards are usually brimming full of energy and bringers of change. They signify people who are honest, quick-witted and assertive. Exactly the energy I wanted to claim for this new version of me.
I’m not going to lie and say that it was a universally popular decision, because, well, it wasn’t. There were members of my family and friends who thought I was making a mistake and couldn’t understand what on earth I was thinking. I’m sure there are probably some who still think that today. But that doesn’t mean that it was wrong.
I know a lot of survivors of trauma now, and a surprising number of us have picked our own surnames. I also have a wonderful circle of trans and nonbinary people around me, who’ve claimed their true names as part of their transition or coming out. I’ve come to understand that it’s a bit of a “thing” - we pick names or symbols for ourself which help us tune into the energy of who we have chosen to become, and then go out into the real world and embody it.
Not gonna lie, I think this energy suits me best of all!
I’m not suggesting you need to rush out and change your name (though if you’re wanting to, by all means, carry on!) I’ve told this story today because it speaks to a bigger truth that’s infused throughout all of my coaching practice: transformation occurs when you work out what energy you need to get your desired results, then you go out there and embody it. Align to how you want to be, instead of entangling with the places you’re “stuck”. And if in doubt, listen for a little tickle in your gut.