Yes, it’s true. I’ve decided to start publishing my fiction under my married name, Rebeccah von Schlieffen although legally I’m still Rebecca(h) Dean. My husband and I got married in San Francisco in 2007, but I didn’t change my name because it would have caused complications in Germany (or at least I assumed that was the case, knowing the country as I do). I thought about changing it when we got back to Berlin but I never did because a) I think the tradition of a woman taking on her husband’s name is an archaic throwback to the days when married women had little identity outside of being the wife of so and so and b) when I called the office in charge of such things, the woman on the phone said, “Ach, Frau Dean, that’s going to be very, very complicated.” When a German bureaucrat tells you something is going to be “very, very complicated” this means you’re really in for it.
But now that I’m a dual US-German citizen, I’m thinking about changing it after all. For one, it will make traveling with my children easier (since we have different last names, I now always have to take their birth certificates along to prove that I’m not abducting them, especially if they’re traveling with their German passports like they always do in Europe). On my German passport, I would also inherit my husband’s title. As I wrote in this post, I always swore I wouldn’t be tempted by this, but now that it can become a reality, being a German countess with a fat American accent does sound rather bad ass. And I have all the documents translated from my last bureaucratic adventure, so it should be easy enough. As a friend pointed out, when the German bureaucrat told me all those years ago that the process would be very, very complicated, what she probably really meant was it would be a lot of work for her.
The other reason why I’m considering leaving Dean behind for good is because of my father’s family, “the Deans” (i.e. my grandparents, my father’s sister whom I called Auntie and to a certain extent my father, at least in the years when he was drinking) had a huge impact on me growing up and are responsible for nearly everything broken in our family. The Deans were like a bad, old school Southern novel. Rampant alcoholism long cloaked in the civility of quality booze served at cocktail hour, weird sexual entanglements, mind-fucking manipulation, a stolen inheritance and an ultimate, dramatic downfall. You name it, the Deans brought it on.
A great family to come from if fucked up, colorful, alcohol-fuelled histrionics are your thing, a not great family to come from if you’d rather not spend years in therapy trying to get your life back.
Throughout my teens and most of my 20s I was that troubled. spooky, silent poet girl lurking in the corners, trying to hide behind my bangs. Inside I felt like I was being held together by yellowing tape and disintegrating glue; it took all my will power and energy to stop myself from falling apart. Sometimes, when my depression was at its worst, I had to lay in bed because if I got up I knew I’d have to cut myself. I’d lay very still and wait until my blood stopped screaming to get out of my veins.
This is what families can do to you.
But my depression got better as I headed into my 30s, or after my Saturn return if you’re talking in astrological terms. I settled into my life here in Berlin, got a great group of friends, met my husband in 2006 and started my family a year later. I learned to love and trust in a way that had been stolen from me for a long time.
Would this have happened if I hadn’t been the girl who ran away, from her family, from her country? I can’t say for sure, but sometimes I think if I hadn’t done this, if I had stayed in the US, I would probably be dead by now.
The truth is, I haven’t been Rebecca(h) Dean for a long time (btw, the h in my name has a story behind it that’s worth a post at another time, so stay tuned!) When I tell friends I made later in life about how tortured I was in my youth, how painfully shy, they have a hard time believing me. “Happy go lucky Rebeccah, the most grounded person I know? I don’t believe it!”
No, I’m no longer Rebeccah Dean the wounded, I’m Rebeccah von Schlieffen, the scarred and, believe me, there is a world of difference between the two. Even if I never legally change my name I’d like to publish under the name that better represents who I am now than the name I was born with.
Who am I kidding? I also want to publish under Rebeccah von Schlieffen because, frankly, it sounds cooler. It’s harder to pronounce, at least for English speakers (the last part is pronounced Shlee-fin). My birth name sans h is also the pen name of an English romance writer. Rebecca Dean, a pen name, the nerve!
Last but not least, changing the name I publish under gave me an excuse to design a new WordPress site, something I always like to do. That way I can keep rebeccahdean dot com as a private public journal where I can post personal things when I feel like it, the silly, the snarky, the heartfelt. What difference does it make? It’s not like anyone actually reads my posts except for you of course, dear Phantom Reader.
Rebeccah Dean von Schlieffen