Self-Induced Identity Crisis: My Two Names

Jul 25
2010

Something I’ve always known I’d never do if I got married was change my name.  Meyers is my last name and Meyers it will always be. Taking someone else’s name always seemed surreal and rather archaic to me – becoming someone else’s property and all that. (Though the reason my long-time committed partner and I will never get married has nothing to do with that.)

But ironically, I have changed my name. Sort of. And I have no one to blame but myself.  I exist now as both Robin Dale Meyers, my given name, and Robin Daléa, my stage name.

I’d like to blame Hollywood. After all, my entire life I thought of myself as Caucasian and then when I moved to La La Land, they told me I was multi-ethnic.

See, Hollywood has no imagination.

Being multi-ethnic is like being a spork. In the same way that a spork is (supposedly) handy to use as a spoon or fork,  I can pass for Latina, Italian, Greek, Israeli, Lebanese, Middle Eastern and almost every other color between black and white.

However, with a name like Robin Dale Meyers, the label “Caucasian” jumps up. So within this utensil metaphor, my name is a knife.

None of this should matter. I look like a spork; so cast me as a spork. But when Hollywood asks for a spork, gets a headshot that looks like a spork but has a name that says, knife – the incongruence is too much for them. “I wanted a spork!” they say petulantly and my multi-ethnic face and Caucasian name hit the wastebasket in 1.3 seconds.

So I’d like to blame Hollywood. Clearly, the identity crisis began because the health of my piddly acting career depended upon my name matching up with my look. And so, Robin Daléa was born.

But she didn’t arrive easily. First I agonized over changing my whole name. (Maya Serrano, perhaps?) But to completely diverge from my given name just felt…weird. Like Robin Dale Meyers never existed.  Like people wouldn’t really know who I was.  Like I was lying.

Which, of course, I would be.  But it’s like I was lying to myself.  Nothing was attached to Maya Serrano – no personality, no history, no human being.  Just ether.

Simply put, those names had no meaning for me.

I needed to come up with something that was close to my name, or I’d really feel not only like a fraud, but like a non-entity.

So with a little help, I came up with this: Robin Dale plus an “a”.  Add accent. Done.  I was exhausted. Because I had been terrified of completely annihilating my identity.

And guess what?  It worked.  Commerically, anyway.  (The difficult, exclusionary world of film & TV is…well, just that.)  After a haircut and the right agent, I was suddenly getting sent out often as “Hispanic Mom” and “Multi-ethnic Mom”. Voila.

Problem solved, right? Crisis averted? I’m now Robin Daléa. Move on.

But I couldn’t. I couldn’t just be Robin Daléa, even though it would certainly be easier.  I wouldn’t need two different business cards and two different emails. Even though it’s only a letter and an accent and a last name away from my given name, I just couldn’t be Robin Daléa all day, every day.

Identity is a complex, funny thing. It’s been four years since I adopted Ms. Daléa and I no longer have to remind myself in an audition which name to say. She seems to have finally found a comfortable backseat in my life and she embodies me as an actress. Robin Daléa is multi-ethnic and so am I. However….

…the thought of completely giving up Robin Dale Meyers is unfathomable.  Heart-breaking. Murder. She is me. She has been me for 41 years. I cannot just unzip my skin like some Shel Siverstein character and shed her in an unshaped heap on the floor.  Whereas all those funny names I came up with had no meaning, this name has every meaning in the world to me.

I cannot let it go. And I cannot fully blame Hollywood. The emotional attachment I have to my name is probably the deepest attachment I have to anything in my life. Which is funny, because it’s just a label, really.  A rose by any other name, right?

Robin Dale Meyers by any other name would still be 5’ 2”, 105 pounds and look like she has ancestors from half the countries around the world. She’d still be getting older, hate wearing heels and dance to rock/soul/blues music while making dinner. Some strangers will still speak to her in Spanish when asking for directions. But still, these words – Robin Dale Meyers – represent this person. They always have. I am a knife.  Don’t call me a spork, because I’m not a spork, I’m a knife.

Unless you’re in Hollywood.  Then I’ll pretend to be a spork.  I’ll be a Hispanic Mom, Lebanese lesbian, an Italian-American woman in a love triangle with two brothers…whatever the script calls for.

But if you’re sitting in my living room, Robin Dale Meyers, non-practicing Jewish kid from Westchester County, New York who only speaks un poquito Espanol, will be your host.

Is it tricky to juggle these names?  You bet. But I just can’t choose to squelch Ms. Meyers when I’ve tried so hard all these years to let her be who she is. Hollywood, you’re off the hook; I take full responsibility.

Maybe someday I can do what John Mellancamp turned John Cougar turned John Cougar Mellancamp turned John Mellancamp did and take the long way back around to my name.  Maybe by then sporks will be accepted as a functional piece of silverware too.

 

18 Responses to “Self-Induced Identity Crisis: My Two Names”

  1. CallmeDr.Chappelle says:

    When I added my husband's name to mine (no dashes; my maiden name is now my middle name), I looked at this as an opportunity to create, from scratch, the wife wanted to be. Just as I chose to adopt his name, I also chose the stereotypes, cliches, biases, mannerisms, rules and expectations of my alter, wifey world. It was a great opportunity to reinvent myself.

  2. Meyers69 says:

    That's fascinating, Dr. Chappelle! It never occurred to me that taking someone else's name in marriage would be an opportunity to reinvent yourself. I suppose the argument is that you could've easily reinvented yourself without the name change. But it sounds like they – the reinvention and the name – were linked. Much to my point. Glad to hear it was a positive experience! And I approve your choice in husbands.

  3. Alfi says:

    And then there's Hillary Rodham Clinton

  4. Alfi says:

    My mother had no middle name, but used her maiden name as such on many occasions, and often used the first initial of her maiden name when she signed things.

  5. betty malicoat says:

    What a question! I personally hated my last name when I applied to an art college and got a reply that asked me
    which one of the five Millers was I? So, I went to rather extreme measures to avoid simple by marrying men with complicated names like Gompertz and Malicoat. Identity crisis indeed. Decades later I'm appreciating simple as in
    one of five Millers.

  6. Meyers69 says:

    And isn't it then interesting, that your offspring quite purposely changed his whole name in his early teens to avoid the name you married into!

  7. Jen Weaver says:

    This reminds me of the stars who were flat out told to change their names i.e. Rita Hayworth, Marilyn Monroe, Patty Duke. They all have been quoted using their real names in a way to keep their fame separate from their real selves. The women the world knew was not the real them. The star version of themselves was somehow a completely different person, and had to be. It's really interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Meyers69 says:

    Good point! Am I that famous and I don't know it? 🙂 And then there's Martin Sheen, who was born Ramon Antonio Gerard Estevez. Here's what IMDB.com claims he said about his name:

    "Whenever I would call for an appointment, whether it was a job or an apartment, and I would give my name, there was always that hesitation and when I'd get there, it was always gone. So I thought, I got enough problems trying to get an acting job, so I invented Martin Sheen. I've never changed my name; it's still Estevez officially.

    [on changing his name] I never changed it officially. I never will. It's on my driver's license and passport and everything: Ramon Gerard Estevez. I started using Sheen, I thought I'd give it a try, and before I knew it, I started making a living with it and then it was too late. In fact, one of my great regrets is that I didn't keep my name as it was given to me. I knew it bothered my dad."

  9. Kari O Kohl says:

    I found it super easy to change my name. I had already taken on a whole new identity by changing religions, and I hated the looks I gave when I tild them my name was Ms. Wilkinson but I had a Jewish star prominently displayed around my neck. I couldn't wait to get rid of my so-completely-not-Jewish name. I had always imagined I would keep my name when I married, being a good feminist girls, but I couldn't wait.
    Moving around to different places as a child, I think I had already learned the advantages of being able to be flexible with your identity, and the advantages that came with a fresh start. If I got divorced, I think I would adopt my mother's maiden name, which is my middle name, as my new last name. Even less Jewish than Wilkinson (Odquist) but so ethnically cool that I'd be OK with it. Probably 20 years as a convert has made me less uncomfortable with people "discovering" that I converted.
    Of course, I know the real reason you can't get rid of Mssssssss Meyers as a name. Are you still infatuated after all these years?

  10. Alfi says:

    I know why also, Msssssssssssss Kohl.

    Friendly Alfi

  11. Robin Dale Meyers says:

    Actually, Alfi, you don't know…and I'll never tell…!

  12. Turner says:

    Did you ever consider "the actor, formerly known as Meyers?" for your stage name?

    When I got married, I took Colin's last name and my maiden name became my new middle name, so I don't feel I have lost anything – other than two weeks of my life of waiting in line at Town Hall, the Bank, the DMV, the Passport office, my Car Insurance website, my 401(k) website, and on various school alumni portals making the edits…..sigh….

  13. Jon says:

    What about the your long-committed partner changing *his* last name? He seems to have less of a complex about the whole name-game thing, right?

    Of course you already know how our married name story went – we both kept out last names, but the kids got mine (for reasons I forget).

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