They were questions from a script, boxes to check as a matter of procedure, and asked with about as much zeal as an automated attendant alerting me that my phone call may be recorded for quality assurance.
The judge asked why I wanted to change my name.
I told him I had recently married.
He asked me if it was in the best interests of the community.
I said yes it was.
He asked if I was a sex offender.
Um, that would be a hard “NO.”
He asked if I was attempting to escape debt.
No…but wait, is that a thing?!
He asked if I was otherwise attempting to hide my identity for any other nefarious purpose.
And with that and a court order signed with more than a dash of elegant bravado, I had a newly changed (I prefer “enhanced”) last name…with a hyphen and everything.
Neither my wife or I can recall asking or being asked “the big question.”
Being that over 10 years of our conversations, from the most mundane to the most intimate, took place via text and messenger we were able to review every exchange. We relived every thumbs up and emoji, every tear of laughter and pain, every virtual high five and warm embrace, every frustration, success, sniffle, smile, grumble, and giggle.
No such question was ever asked.
There was however a gradual shift in tone as this conversation, as this life, unfolded.
As we read through our messages spanning nearly as many years as this technology has existed, we came to understand that these were words not spoken between friends who at some point “fell in love.”
Somewhere along the way we simply came to understand what I am now certain has always been the case: I am hers. She is mine. We are Us.
There was no planning, no “ifs” and very few mentions of “when.”
There was no need to propose the idea of spending our lives
together. Such an obvious concept required as much acknowledgement or debate as
gravity or our need for oxygen.
No dowry was requested.
No honeymoon plans were made.
Dresses and tuxedos? Not even in an incognito browser tab.
No consideration was ever given to seating arrangements or
even guests for that matter.
Instead, as things progressed, our discussions involved practical matters like zip codes and health insurance, meal planning and schedules.
Of course, one of the biggest changes was kissing. (Man, why didn’t we think of that in high school?!)
The reality is we were already sharing our lives, side by side, intimately bound. We always had been and as such we found little in the way of either of us making the decision to marry. It was just a given. Everything else is just details.
And so, we got married.
Kristin Benninghoff is a name that has been locked in my mind and heart for over 25 years. Never once has Kristin ever been just “Kristin.”
“Well, well…if it isn’t Kristin Benninghoff.”
“Hey! Kristin Benninghoff! Come here for a second.”
“I love you Kristin Benninghoff.”
One name could never be enough.
Rhythmic and unique with just the right combination of soft and hard sounds, it can carry a bite or a smirk depending on the inflection…just like her.
Of German roots, Kristin is daughter of a strong, proud, witty, and decent father who loved her with an immeasurable force. A force that is rivaled only by her love for him.
His influence, his blessings and teachings, his humor, and his love comfort and guide her and by proxy do the same for Jakob, Olivia, myself, and Oliver.
She carries her dad in that name as she does with every beat of heart and in every breath conjured by her lungs.
Like her, for whatever reason, people have always combined my first and last name. To this day there are moments in a grocery store or pub when I hear “Jaasson Becehhhrra.” It’s always an old schoolmate or teacher.
For the entirety of our relationship, despite a period of time where she supposedly had a different last name, I have only known her as Kristin Benninghoff. I have no concept of her by any other name.
I do it too. I don’t recall any time where I’ve introduced myself simply as “Jason.”
My name is Jason Becerra.
Jason R. Becerra to be perfectly clear.
The “R” is a big deal.
Perhaps Kristin is the only other person I know who is as proud to be their father’s child.
My father is known to many people as a celebrity, a broadcaster, a writer, and singer (and more than a few other names I’ll leave out haha).
He’s a kind, decent, compassionate man who has spent a lifetime trying to help his family feel and find love, success, and joy in our own lives.
In his professional life he would work 20-hour days at 5 different places if that’s what it took. He has accomplished “success” by any metric in the broadcasting industry. He has sung to empty bars and sold-out arenas sharing the stage with legendary artists and humble anonymous musicians with equal passion. He has given voice and served as an advocate for members of our community who would otherwise have neither.
So too did he coach my pee-wee baseball team and hold court regaling my friends and I with tales of Pahokee, Florida. He bought me books, inspired me to write, bought me my first guitar, gave me my first copy of Pet Sounds, and has guided me through life one step and hug at a time. Everything I know about being a man and a father comes from my dad.
Kristin and I are who we are because of our families, because of our fathers.
So, there we were: Ms. Kristin Benninghoff and Mr. Jason R. Becerra.
It works ok I suppose.
We could leave them as is but it just felt…off.
Kristin is a Benninghoff. She is no more a Becerra than she is a Peterson, Xu, Abboud, or Alperstein.
The thought of her replacing “Benninghoff” with “Becerra” seemed unfathomable. It seemed crude and sacrilege.
It was a non-starter for me.
Similarly, I cannot separate myself from my name. I share it name with my father, my mother, and my son. It’s who I am. It’s part of what binds me to my family and what helps illuminate each step I take into my own future.
So, then what?
For a moment she considered hyphenating but that didn’t feel
right to me either.
Why don’t we BOTH hyphenate? Afterall, John Lennon took on Yoko’s name.
Just like that, Kristin and I had another of our many “well, duh” moments.
It makes all the sense in the world.
She was not joining the Becerra family.
I was not becoming a Benninghoff.
Our whole relationship going back to the beginning has been a blending of our lives into something new. Getting married was simply natural and obvious…like gravity and air.
We have made the choice to bring together everything our fathers and families gave us, everything that had defined us as individuals.
We are taking everything and everyone we have in our lives and sewing them together into something new (whether they like it or not ha-ha).
We give to one another every memory and moment, every good
time and bad, every smile and scar, all the laughter and loss that we have ever
had, shared or yet to be experienced.
All these things make us who we are…and who we are is Us.
How could we NOT have the same last name?
It became such a simple and obvious choice…. like gravity and air, and Us.
And so, we changed (enhanced) our names.
There are many layers to this notion of spouses changing or hyphenating (enhancing) their names after marriage.
Some may see my decision as a statement of sorts and discuss the idea within the political or philosophical realms. There are legal and practical aspects and certainly gender roles within society could and are being debated every day but I am not going to do any of that because none of it had anything to do with why I went to Harris County Court #310.
My name is my statement and my name is Jason R. Benninghoff-Becerra.
Be Well and Kind,