Some Observations About Being A Girl Called Tarzan

When your first name is from a children’s story about a white guy raised by monkeys and your last name is adapted from Star Wars, you have to answer a lot of questions.

“Like the jungle?”

“You mean like Lando?”

“Is that Armenian?”

At Starbucks, the baristas don’t trust their ears and often ask me to spell it for them. But by far the most common response: “Um…what”?”

In the early days of being called Tarzan, I fielded these questions with a story and a laugh. I don’t anymore. I introduce myself and blow right past it, preempting new acquaintances with my own questions.

“I’m Tarzan. It’s nice to meet you. And how do you know the bride?”

At the risk of sounding narcissistic, it takes some balls for a woman to walk into a room and call herself Tarzan. Proverbial balls, of course. And really, that’s the whole point.

Anyone can be an Amy. Amy is soft and unthreatening. While some pretty badass female comedians are giving the name Amy a new spin, the collective subconscious still sees Amy as a character in Little Women.

So I changed it. And the public’s response has been, well…interesting. You can tell a lot about a person based on the way they react to my name. Some will dig relentlessly until they uncover my “real name,” others need to know me better before they can use it in earnest, while others – the majority, actually – are just excited about the idea that choosing your own name is actually possible.

Thing is, most people aren’t aware that you’re actually allowed to change your name. Not because they haven’t looked into it, but because they never really considered it. We think that our names are something we’re stuck with for life, a matter of fate. In Ontario this just isn’t true. And I have the revised birth certificate to prove it.

All it costs is $137 and a few hours of your time.

What’s interesting is that other people are a lot more attached to my name than I am. They see me as Amy, and it’s a hard one to let go of.

I’m fortunate to have a partner who sees life as his personal funmobile, and applauds any attempt at making life less boring. It takes a brave man to be married to a girl called Tarzan. Even more so when your name is Jay. I bow at the feet of his adaptability.

When Jay and I decided to have a baby, we were faced with with the decision of what last name we would give our son. Jay is estranged from his father, and mine is deceased. Both of our families are matriarchs, led by powerful women who completely own our hearts.

Not just that, but our cultural practice of defaulting to the father’s last name just never sat right with me. And defaulting to the mother’s last name just seems like reverse sexism, in my opinion.

So we made up a new one. While, borrowed more like.

I’m lucky to have a very understanding family, a good number of which chose their own names years ago. There’s my mom Pashana. My sister Zion. My uncle Abraham. My aunt Pearl. My uncle D.R. Blackmore. And of course, my main man Jay Kalryzian.

Notwithstanding the time it took to build a new neural pathway with the name Tarzan on it, they pretty much jumped right on board. For Jay’s family, the name change was a bit harder to swallow. And I get that.

Names are tribal. Or they used to be, anyway. And I suppose that to certain members of his family it felt like we were leaving the tribe. And to be honest, in some ways we really were.

What frustrated me most about the backlash is that women change their names all the time. Historically we’ve been expected to drop our names without question, and merge with our spouses’ tribes.

If married women can change their names, celebrities can choose sexier, more catchy monikers, and writers get to use pen names, why shouldn’t men be allowed to change their names too?

I was a little peeved this morning when I saw an article about “Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau.” In Quebec, women don’t take their husbands’ names. Legally, it’s not possible. Unless you can prove before a judge that you’re somehow traumatized by your last name, you get what you were given at birth. But that’s beside the point.

Slapping the Trudeau label on Sophie Grégoire devalues her independent worth as a strong female voice in Québec. Yes, she’s married to Canada’s sexiest prime minister, but let’s not forget that she is an entity unto herself.

And I get that it’s a two way street.

It’s possible that my son may one day face a name dilemma of his own. Gaïan Kalryzian is a bit of a mouthful, after all, and people either get it or they don’t. If my son decides to change his name at some point in the future, I’m okay with that. I’m not attached to it. I want him to be whatever he wants to be. How do I know he wants to be Gaïan?

There’ve been some unexpected bonuses to being called Tarzan. Not only do I dominate any search engine – a huge bonus for a writer who makes her living online – but it forces me to act in a confident, empowered way at all times. You can’t walk into a room, hang your head down, and call yourself Tarzan. Nobody will buy it.

I used to get asked about my “real name” at almost every new encounter. I don’t anymore. What I’ve found is that people own your name as much as you do.

The end result of my name change is that I have zero attachment to any of my names. I prefer to be called Tarzan, but I really don’t mind if you call me Suzanne or Joan or Sally. It’s just a label, after all, and there are enough of those in the world.

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