Though I supported Juan changing his name, I was worried, too. I thought he’d feel adopted. All of his life, all 13 years, Jody and I had known him as Antonio. If he was now Juan, did that wipe out all the years he was Antonio, our son? I was worried that he wouldn’t feel a part of our family or our son anymore. I was worried about the distance that would organically occur from having been Antonio to now being Juan.
I changed my name in 2002. I used to be Ann Smith. I wanted to shed my past. Antonio, on the other hand, wanted to claim his past.
Maybe it was because I had changed my name and knew how important it was to claim one’s identity that I was able to temper my fears. I didn’t speak of them. Instead, I took Antonio out of school and drove him to the Hennepin County Courthouse to put his name application in. On the way, I spoke to him about how people would still call him Antonio just like they still called me Ann after I changed my name. Call me what you want, I thought then. I’m changing my name for me. I told him that he could decide to not care whether people called him Antonio or Juan and it might be less stressful. I explained that in time what name people called him would change and at some point when someone called him Antonio, he would know that they knew him from that part of his life. All the new people he met from here on out would know him only as Juan.
To ease my name change from Ann to Elizabeth I decided to tell people that they could call me Beth Ann. Beth Ann felt like a stepping stone to Beth. Even before then I had to ask myself what I wanted to be called. Did I want to be Elizabeth, Liz, Lizzy, or Beth?
When Antonio and I stood at the window the clerk taking our information was confused. He became even more confused after he asked me what Antonio’s name was changing to and I looked to Antonio for clarity.
After I turned back to the clerk, I read the furrow that had developed between his eyes: How could this mother not know the answer to what her kid’s name is going to be? How could she be allowing him to make the decision? Wouldn’t this have been figured out before this moment?
The clerk pushed pen and paper towards us. “Write it down. First. Middle. Last.”
I slid the paper over to Antonio. He wrote, Juan Jose – first name. Antonio Sol – middle. di Grazia – last.
In the coming days I stayed attentive to see if there was any distance between Juan and me. Any sign of rebellion now that he wasn’t Antonio but this new guy Juan Jose. I worked to call him Juan Jose, correcting myself when I said Antonio, remembering how respected I felt when someone called me Beth after I changed my name.
The distance didn’t come. I’m sure it was helped by still needing to be this 13-year old’s mom and asserting my momship. Juan Jose was tardy to his sixth hour class. This was his 13th tardy of the year.
“You don’t understand, Mom,” he’d say to me. He’d go on to explain the difficulty, the impossibility of getting from one class to another on time.
“I want to understand,” I’d say. “That’s why I’ll walk you from one class to another to experience it first-hand.” I added, “ And since I’m there, I’ll just sit next to you in class.”
This wasn’t new to Juan. When he was Antonio, I had already done this twice before during the school year and a number of times during sixth grade.
But, it appeared that I needed to up the ante because I wasn’t understanding his difficulty. After spending his sixth period together, I followed him to his 7th hour class. All the while he kept telling me to go home—none too quietly.
“Oh, no. I took the afternoon to be with you, Juan,” I replied.
He ducked into a bathroom. I waited in the hallway for him. Leaned against the wall, said hi to kids and teachers. Shook the principal’s hand.
It took Juan about 15 minutes to speak to me in his 7th hour period. He realized that I wasn’t going to go away.
No, I’m his mom. He’s my son. His name change didn’t change that a bit.