Aside from being baptized, changing my name is one of the most biblical things I’ve ever done, following in the footsteps of Sarah (formerly Sarai), Abraham (formerly Avram), Paul (formerly Saul), and others. I’m weird, though – most people today don’t do that, and the people who lived in biblical times never had to deal with the hassle that is Social Security and the DMV.
Becoming Sarahbeth (from Sarah Elizabeth) was important to me, despite never liking the name Sarah. I hated how common it was, and that it meant “princess” in Hebrew, when I tried so hard to avoid the JAP (Jewish American Princess) stereotype my whole life. Nonetheless, it is one of the strongest connections I have to my Jewish heritage, and it is the name my father chose to honor his grandmother, my great-grandmother. Keeping Sarah in Sarahbeth honors his memory, and is sort of a family legacy.
I went to court to change it after being baptized. I’d wanted to do it for a while, but getting baptized felt like the right time to make it official. I had made a big step forward in my faith, but was also was coming out of an abusive relationship that made me yearn for a new start.
I still am Sarahbeth, legally. But that’s the name I put down on job applications, doctor’s forms, and of course, book covers. Like the name I was born with, I sort of grew out of that one too. Well, that’s not entirely true – I did get tired of the “It’s Sarahbeth one word with an ‘h’ no space no hyphen lowercase ‘b’” dance when giving my name over the phone, and constantly having to correct people who shortened it.
But I wanted to make it work. I’ve never met another Sarahbeth in person before (though I’ve stalked a few via Facebook) and I felt some degree of pride in having made it up. It’s my name, dammit! I would fight for it! And fight I did…until I met Joshua.
Actually that’s not the whole truth. We technically met in 2008, at Campus Crusade for Christ, but were both dating other people, so we never looked at each other “like that.” We were in the background of each other’s lives, casually saying “Hey” at bible study, but nothing deeper than that. By the time we ran into each other again in 2011, we were both single, though I was still devastated and broken after finally getting out of that awful relationship.
Obviously, I was not in a very good place. So when he said, “Sarahbeth is too long, can I just call you Sarah?” my response was, “Hell no, you may not.” So he then said, “Okay…how about Beth?” My response was “That’s fine,” even though I had no intentions of going by that at the time. We just ran into each other after about two years of silence; I wasn’t going to see him again (so I thought), so it really didn’t matter what he called me.
Well, I was flat wrong – two weeks after that day, we started dating. Two and a half years later, he proposed, and nearly two weeks ago, we got married. After some debate, I decided to keep Sarahbeth, but my last name doubled in length…and is also a compound name.
On the outside, it may seem like I chose to embrace Beth because my boyfriend did. I hate those books where the main character completely reinvents herself for a boy, and I hate to think I followed in that same pattern, but I don’t think that’s the case. With Josh, the changes that took place in my life were necessary – I entered our relationship still hating myself and wanting to be made new. He gave me the chance to do that by helping me see why I might be worth dating, and eventually marrying. It wasn’t because of him that I reinvented myself, again, as a stronger, healthier woman, but with him. And I could have done that without him, but I’m glad I didn’t. He’s a perpetually optimistic person who deeply cares about others, and I need people like that in my life.
For what it’s worth, I’ve grown into a Beth now, if that makes sense. It’s a name that conjures up a picture of a dark-haired, bookish sort of girl with glasses (gee, sound familiar?). It’s a name that’s sorta common, but not too common, and has an aura of mystery around it: is it short for Elizabeth? Bethany? And most everyone can spell it. That makes my life a heck of a lot easier. Last but not least, Little Women, anyone?
This is not the conventional path of most people, I know. It makes me odd and maybe confusing, and I certainly don’t recommend changing your name more than once if you can help it. I hesitated to even take Josh’s last name because of the ridiculous paper trail that will be following me for the rest of my life. But this is part of a love story, after all, so concluding it as Beth Stoneburner just feels like the natural thing to do.