Introducing…Carolyn Klassen

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This is not your typical “introducing our newest therapist/intern” blog.  I’m introducing me…my new name. Same therapist…different name.  Used to be Carolyn Bergen. Now…Carolyn Klassen.

It’s funny what happens to you when part of your heart gets born inside somebody else. Quote by Donald Miller. Poster celebrating name change to Carolyn O. Klassen, for therapist at Bergen and Associates Counselling in Winnipeg

I got married in April.  And when I got home from my honeymoon, I was still a Bergen…

You see, I got a whole new pack of Junior Tribe Members and a husband that I wanted to invest in. One of my JTM’s just came home from a year away. They were priority #1.  And catch up at the office from when half (or more!) of my brain was running a wedding, not a practice. And then, well…summer.  And in order to change my name I needed to go downtown and get a formal marriage certificate and that was an errand that didn’t get to the top of my list until lately.

So, as of today, October 1st, 2015, I’m Carolyn Klassen.

This changing of my name is hard and exciting.  It’s a decision that folks have to decide when they get married. Different people do it differently…what is right for one person might not work for the next person.  My story is unique.

A long time ago, I got married for the first time.  I was just fresh out of university and working to understand and figure out who I was as an adult.  I fell in love and was to become married. It meant that I would be moving to a new city in Saskatchewan to live with my new husband, get a new job, move into a new apartment, and join a new family…far away from my family.  I wanted to keep the name I grew up with.  It felt quite important to bring my name with me.

However, I was marrying someone from small town Saskatchewan…where all women always changed their surname to their husbands.  There was no category for him and his family for me to keep my name.  It would seem disrespectful.  It would seem as though I wasn’t fully prepared to be joined with him in marriage.  It would be confusing to have a different last name as many in his world had no concept for a married couple with different last names.

I am a flexible easy going person…and I reasoned that changing my name even though it was hard was the one of the many give and takes that would occur within the context of marriage. I changed my name to Bergen…it was hard for me, but I did the expected thing…the thing that needed to happen to make it all work.

That’s what spouses do, right?

It was about 6 months into our marriage where my Former Husband, and I were watching a cop show on TV. The show featured someone who was in the FBI’s Witness Protection Program and establishing a new identity. During the commercial, FH turned to me and said, “Wow…can you imagine what that would be like…moving to a new city, creating a whole new life…and having a new name.  Like, to change to a different name than you’ve always had…it would be like a new identity…a name is sooooo much a part of identity...and so to change your name…such a big deal…”

His voice trailed off as I stared hard at him.  He looked at me hard and slow…wondering why I had suddenly turned mute and only looked.  I could see his face changing as it slowly dawned on him what he was saying…and realizing that he had so easily assumed it was no big deal when he realized it was actually was a very big deal.

I felt understood, profoundly.

I don’t remember much that happened after that conversation until Valentine’s Day…the first Valentine’s Day after our wedding.  As FH’s gift to me for Valentine’s Day, he handed me an envelope with a form in it.  A name change form. 

In what I regard  as up there with one of the most romantic moves of all time, he gave me the gift of changing my name back, regardless of what others would think, and how his community would handle it.

It was the acknowledgement of the form was what I needed…moreso than the name change itself. I felt understood and my difficult validated…that was a gift that was powerful and life-giving. I had already been a Bergen for the better part of a year, and the fuss seemed more trouble than it was worth.  I did however, feel his blessing to use my maiden name as a middle name. I’ve signed all my documents “COBergen” for a lotta years…and now I will sign “COKlassen”.

When my marriage ended many years ago, many thought I would return my last name to my maiden name. Why continue bearing a man’s name that I wasn’t married to any more? Two very important reasons…one very emotional, one very practical.

  1. Emotional: My Junior Tribe Members had assumed that I would change my name, as a friend of ours recently had after her divorce. They asked me what would happen to their last name when mine changed. They wondered about hyphenating their name. They wondered about the loss of having the same last name as their mom. They were sad about the possibility.  In a world where it felt like they had already lost so much, it made so much sense to keep my last name the same as that of my children.  It was important to me after their lives had changed so much to do everything I could to stabilize their world. We liked having the same name, me and them.
  2. Practical: I was now the sole provider of our little family and in private practice as a therapist…and highly dependent on the Yellow Pages for business (Yes, the time before Google wasn’t that long ago). To be candid, the “B” therapists showed up first, before the “O” therapists, and when potential clients looked at the Yellow Pages, they would start at the top and work their way down.  Having a last name that began with B helped me feed my family.

So…I remained a Bergen when I became single again.

Fast forward 10 years…and I fall in love with Mr. Klassen. We marry. Now I have to decide what to do with my last name.

My new husband is older and wiser. Life has taught him that last names are less important than the process by which last names are arrived at.

He gives me complete freedom to go back to my maiden name or take his.  He’s reluctant to have me remain with Bergen, given that this name is another man’s.  But even there he’s not bossy about this. This makes sense to me…I don’t want my current last name either now.

Now the dilemma:

  • I’m a long way away from my maiden name.
  • It doesn’t feel like I’m moving forward to go back to an old name as I join together to form a new family. I discard that idea rather quickly.

Which leaves me to take my new husband’s last name:  Klassen.

It means changing my name to something different than my biological JTM’s.  That’s hard.  They’re adults now, so it may mean that it is harder for me than for them…but it matters. It’s another belated loss that their parents’ divorce has given them. Kids are kids even when they’re adults, eh?

However–and the black humour here is not lost on me–my husband’s late wife--her name was “Carolyn Klassen”…and she was a therapist too.

I mean, seriously, Carolyn is not that common a name, and we both share it?

To become Carolyn Klassen means that the world, especially her friends and family, have to be compassionate towards me as we share the name.  They will have to understand that I don’t mean to replace her, or disrespect her, or in any way minimize her memory.

There have been some interesting moments.  J’s late wife, Carolyn, was exceedingly generous. More than once I have answered the phone and when “Carolyn Klassen” is asked for on the phone, I say “speaking”.  The voice on the other end of the phone thanks me for my past generosity and asks me to again consider donating. It’s either chuckle or cry.

(For the record, if she supported it, I support it too. That’s part of honouring her.)

I don’t even try to explain that the Carolyn Klassen they are looking to speak to isn’t me. What would I say? Why would they believe me?

So…as of today, I am Carolyn O. Klassen. But don’t call me Mrs. Klassen…that’s my mother-in-law.

Just call me Carolyn.

Everybody just calls me Carolyn…I wish I could just be “Carolyn”, like Cher, or Madonna…but I don’t think I have enough personality to pull that off. 🙂

But I’m still Carolyn. Me.

A happy married me.

1 Comment

  • Brenda Skene

    I have known you for a few years and I am so happy to have just read your story. Carolyn, you’re a real person with a real life! Lol
    I relate to so many ways in your story especially with tha name change, divorce, and remarrying and another new name.
    Also, I was adopted at 3 weeks old and went from a name I was born with to my new family name. I thank God for you and being my therapist and look forward to what you’re both doing in my life.
    Brenda S.

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