On September 4, 2000, standing underneath a tree with three branches that came together at the base, Dunreith and I held hands with Aidan in a circle and, guided by Justice of the Peace Bruce Zeitler, said the marriage vows we had written to each other.
This marked the end of a Labor Day weekend in which I had moved, left a teaching career, and become both a husband and father.
Shortly thereafter, Dunreith and I began the process to legally change our names.
It was a negotiated settlement.
I initially broached the topic by suggesting that, rather than having different last names, we all have the same surname.
My choice: Lowenstein.
This idea didn’t sit particularly well with my wife, who barely needed to hear the proposal before firing back that she had had her name longer, so that I should be the one, if anyone, to change. She made the additional point that Aidan also was a Kelly, so there were in effect two of them and one of me.
Despite this decidedly unpromising beginning to the conversation, we eventually came to agree on, and embrace, the name Kelly Lowenstein.
We liked the flow of Dunreith’s name going before mine over the reverse, agreed that we didn’t like the idea of a hyphen and felt more comfortable using both of our names rather than coming up with a hybrid like “Kellstein” or “Lowelly.”
We made the change official by having our Social Security cards reflect the combination name we had chosen.
This ushered in the beginning of countless discussions with administrators, school officials, receptionists at doctor’s offices, people in payroll and billing departments, and pharmacists, just to name a few.
The conversation usually involves the following steps.
We are asked our last name.
We give it, explaining that there are two words, Kelly and Lowenstein, with no hyphen in between them.
The person in front of us or on the other end of the phone line concludes that our last name is either Kelly or Lowenstein.
We repeat our original statement.
I often add that I took Dunreith’s name, which was Kelly, while she took Lowenstein, so that together our last name is Kelly Lowenstein.
The person appears to understand, and then asks if we have a hypen in our name.
We say again that we do not.
Although this may seem like an enormously tedious and time-consuming experience, it can have certain advantages in journalism.
In my experience, the vast majority of administrative assistants have been women.
I’ve found that telling them about having taken Dunreith’s name elicits one of two reactions.
“That’s interesting” or “That’s different” is the first.
The emotion behind this response can range from intrigued to skeptical.
The second response happens more frequently.
Much more enthusiastic, it includes statements like “That’s sweet” or “I’ve got to talk to my husband about that.”
The point for me as a journalist is my hope that the goodwill indicated by the second response will lead to my message being passed along with more alacrity.
I don’t have any data to prove this actually happens, and it certainly feels that way.
In this context, then, an additional reason for my being excited to travel to Chile was the fact that folks go by two unhyphenated last names here.
For those who don’t know, people generally have their father’s last name in the place where the Kelly is for us, while their mother’s surname goes where the Lowenstein does.
I will say that the attendance sheet I received from the University of Diego Portales for the Data Journalism course I’m offering gave me pause as the majority of the students were listed as having four names.
For example, what would you think a student named “Doren Jara Lowry Sebastián” would be called?
If you said, “Lowry Doren,” with Lowry being his first name, you were ahead of me.
By at least two, if not three, steps.
My confusion was not aided by the fact of our having two Oscars-the first one on the sheet is “Delbene Peñaloza Oscar Felipe”, while the second is “Pacheco Castillo Oscar Walter”-or that several of the students have three names.
Then there’s Rafael.
He was not on the sheet at all, but wrote down that his name was “Rafael Martinez.”
But when he sent me his email, it said that his name is “Rafael Martinez Carvallo.”
Throw in the additional factor that just three of the students have attended of the classes, and I don’t mind say that it’s been a bit of a struggle for me to get my head around the whole issue.
Over time, though, a pattern emerged.
If there are four names on the register, the first of the four is the father’s last name and the one that the student uses.
The third name is typically the student’s first name, while the fourth name is the student’s middle name.
In other words, “Aburto Miranda Katherinee Alejandra” is “Katherinee Aburto.”
“Araya Marambio Hernán Felipe” goes by “Hernán Araya.”
And so on.
My understanding of my students’ names has had an accompanying revelation.
Even though most of them have a pair of unhyphenated names, they and other folks at the university don’t look at my last name and think that it is Kelly Lowenstein.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
On professional invitations, name tags for presentations and students greeting me in the hallways, a consistent name rings out.
Dunreith loves it.
I don’t mind, either, even if I do feel a twinge of disappointment at the knowledge that the end of explaining our name choice is not as imminent as I had first hoped after arriving.