For 43 years I was Tracy Sutton. A good, solid WASP-y name, if a bit juvenile. (At least I don’t spell it Traci with a heart over the “i”). No one mispronounced it. Rarely was I ever asked how do you spell Sutton? And Sutton enjoys a certain Google imperviousness. I liked the anonymity. There are a bazillion Tracy Suttons on the planet.
Oh sure, it wasn’t a name immune to ridicule. Sutton rhymes with glutton and mutton. My aunt used to make fun of her little brother Bobby (my father) by calling him “Sobby Button.” But let’s face it, Sutton has the dulcet tones of WASP establishment. They name Restoration Hardware sofas after Sutton. It’s Anglo-Saxon, but a little less common than Brown or Jones. It has a whiff of snobbery. Sutton Place in New York City, for example. And it’s edgy too — Willie Sutton the bank robber.
I also have a long-established pedigree as a Sutton (if you go in for that sort of thing). I’m descended from a George Sutton who came over to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634 and became a Quaker, and later his offspring got hung as witches and such. It’s a true-blue American name. When people meet a Tracy Sutton they think “oh, what a nice ordinary person” and then they immediately forget you, because it is such an ordinary, forgettable name.
So imagine the act of rebellion it was to chuck it for “Schorn.” A name that 99.9 times out of 100 is mispronounced as “Scorn.” The c is silent. It’s pronounced “shorn,” as in — to hack off all your hair. Of ambiguous origins, the name may be Germanic, referring to an archaic term for shovel. (Sutton means “south of the town”… not that I’m comparing or anything. People of the shovel. People south of town. Which would you rather be?)
When I married my husband, changing my name to Schorn just seemed like the right thing to do. It meant a lot to him, and it’s an honor I did not confer on my two previous husbands. (Who, for the record, both had English, easy-to-pronounce surnames.)
I fully expected to be Tracy Sutton for life. I also intended in both previous relationships, to be married for life. It didn’t work out that way. I married my first husband when I was young and over the next 10 years, he descended into mental illness, for which he refused to seek treatment. The divorce was terribly sad and terribly necessary. My second marriage was brief and disastrous. I learned 6 months after the wedding that he had a double life and was a serial cheater. One small consolation as a two-time divorcee is that I didn’t have to get a new passport. Sutton remained constant even if my personal life was a train wreck.
And so I would’ve remained — safe, single, and Sutton — but for Paul. We met in New Orleans at Jazzfest in front of Solomon Burke, the world’s sexiest 400-lb man wearing a purple sequined suit, crooning “Cry to Me.” The trajectory of my life after that encounter was not what I expected. Paul might have been a Hurricane-induced fling, except that he is a Texas trial lawyer and Texas trial lawyers are renowned for their powers of persuasion. After a long-distance courtship, I married him. Really, I’m still not sure how I got here. I like to say he sweet talked me all the way to Texas. Which is a feat when you consider there are a 100 days of 100-degree temperatures here, snakes, scorpions and Rick Perry. He’s thatgood.
When I met Paul, he was recently divorced after a long-term marriage to a serial cheater. His life was also not what he had expected either. His ex-wife had used his name for over 20 years, but had never legally changed it. When he discovered her infidelities and divorced, she went back to her maiden name. He said the change made him feel relieved, because when a person steals 22 years from you, hey, the least they can do is give you back your name.
As a Catholic, he considered an annulment, but couldn’t do it because he didn’t want his children to feel illegitimate. I’m Protestant, so our marriage wouldn’t be considered valid in the Catholic Church anyway. But the idea of annulment — that a marriage is null because it was never entered into as a sacrament, with the true spirit of commitment — felt true for us both. We both had profoundly screwed up when it came to choosing life partners in the past. We were chumps. And although we were chumps who filed for divorces, we were people who sincerely valued commitment. My first husband chose his illness over his marriage, and my second husband chose his affair partners over his marriage. They had entered into those unions retaining a dysfunctional sort of autonomy. They held back. They “committed” with two fingers crossed behind their backs. You can have this symbol of unity, but not the substance of it.
Perhaps at some level I had sensed that, because I never felt compelled to change my name for them. Not that you cannot keep your name and be committed. Of course you can. But when I was a younger Sutton, I could stand apart on paper and retain my identity. I could say, I’m not with that guy. We’re not kin. I held back too, even if it was just my name.
With Paul, especially after both of our nightmares with infidelity, I wanted to demonstrate to him that I was jumping in with both feet. That my commitment was total. That it would be an honor to wear his name. He had never had a wife who legally changed her name for him before. And I had never legally changed my name for anyone. This was ours.
So I took Sutton as my middle name and jettisoned “Marion.” (Not such a hardship, really.) My marriage has the substance of unity, but this time I got the symbolism too. I went Old School. Taking my husband’s name felt (and still feels, three years later) like my one, true marriage. The past is annulled and this is who I belong with. I want everyone from the schoolteacher to the airport security officer to the pharmacist to see I’m with that guy. We’re kin. I’m a Schorn.
Not Scorn. S-C-H-O-R-N. ShhhhORN. The c is silent. Thank you.