The Idea: A New Name

Reposted from SheLoves Magazine.

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet …”
~William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Jan_Sars2Last week, in front of a smiling judge, with my right hand raised, I legally changed my last name to Joslyn. (And no, I did not secretly get married … * yet *)

I want to recount my reasons for changing my name, but I’m not sure my written words are going to fill the story with life the way I feel it woven into my bones. But *deep breath* here I go anyhow.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when The Idea to change my name first turned on like the light-bulb-of-genius in old comic strips. I knew I wanted a name that fit—one that I could put on like a familiar sweater.

The Idea might have first nipped at my heals when I was 14 and learned that the Salish Native Americans would give their children a name at birth, but a new name would be given by the tribe leaders at adolescence—one that reflected who they had become. Oh identity, how you have alluded me.

Or maybe it stretched through my thoughts over time, like how The Idea clamored into my consciousness when I would read about the first Sarah, how God spoke to Abram about his wife Sarai. That God changed their names and then miraculously added laughter to their old age. Laughter, cheer. (Guess what? Joslyn means happy or cheerful.)

But I think The Idea really stirred in me when I was 20. I had just completed a very emotional missions training program and my heart was raw and open. My sister-in-law told me how her father would send his kids out the door with a, “Now, remember you’re a Miller.” Kate understood her father’s meaning—as she and her siblings moved in the world, they were to do so honorably, rightly, justly. They were to live like Millers, and that meant their choices mattered.

That story has always sat with me, because for as far back as I can remember, my mission has been to walk in the world so differently than how I grew up.

You see, Richardson is a legacy name—given hundreds upon hundreds of years ago to the son of Richard.

But I have been careful to live my life much differently than what I’ve known of the Richardsons. My familial connection has been to the matriarchs of the family. My Gramma Doris—whose maiden name is Joslyn—is the relative who remembers. My strange, adventurous world always mattered to her and she made it a point to tell me how proud she was of me, how impressed with my willingness to serve and travel. When I spent a year as a missionary and relief worker in New Orleans, Gramma collected every single email I sent home and printed them out for me to read again later. She did the same thing when I spent two months volunteering in India.

The woman who raised my grandma was not her biological parent, but you’d never know it when you saw them together. Great Grandma J was a firecracker—a whole box of firecrackers, I suspect. My sister Joanna often spoke of taking Joslyn in honor of these matriarchs and replacing a married name she was no longer married to. The Idea nodded approvingly.

So you see, The Idea has been brewing for a while, like the sauerkraut jars atop the fridge and the kombucha in the pantry. It has been fermenting until the time was ready.

Then one day, walking along the beach with my sister Adina, our hearts exposed and our tears falling intermittently, The Idea burst forth.

I mused, “I wonder if Joanna would mind if we both changed our last name to Joslyn too?”

The words tumbled from my lips, down to my bare toes, and scattered along the Pacific coast. And as they tumbled they became more than The Idea—they became TRUTH.

These moments are sacred—when I speak and the words ring so true that I can feel it deep in my soul.

And so it was.

There is a world out there to be tasted and adventures to be had and I am on a mission to make up for all the fear I felt as a child. I let myself wonder what the heck people are going to think of the girl who willingly travels alone, remains single, speaks up for feminism and, heaven forbid, changed her last name. Then I told fear to leave me alone—because my new name means HAPPY.


My name is Sarah Elizabeth Joslyn, it’s nice to meet you.

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