I used to have an All-American name.
When I took shahhaddah, I felt that I was really done with it. I changed it to "Yosra" which was an Arabic name that my Muslim man and I had picked out. The reasons for choosing "Yosra" had more to do with how it dovetailed together with his name than about religion. At the time, I didn't even know it appeared in the Holy Quran. Getting a new name was a kind of re-birth---a re-packaging of the NEW AND IMPROVED ME!
I am Yosra and "yes" that's my legal name. I paid my money and I have it on all my documents. I carry around my official name change decree when we visit government offices in Egypt (just in case there's an issue about it somewhere).
I've been Yosra since February, 2003. My mom, who gave me my beautiful birth name, stood up in court on that day and said that she was aware that I wanted to change it. It's part of the legal process. That must have been hard on her---as a LOT of my life has been hard on her. May God forgive me and reward her.
I had thought that I could change my whole name when I married but NOPE I couldn't. You can only change your last name. I didn't have a problem changing my first name but that last name was an issue. That day we were to pay for a marriage license, I actually sat stupefied in the waiting area mulling over what I should. Something just felt mixed up.
What would have really helped was some Islamic guidance but because I was with a non-practicing Muslim man who was not forthcoming. At this time, I had already been married and had given up my maiden name (my surname or family name). I was trying to build a future but I had another man's family name still pulling me into the past. That felt wrong but it was the same last name as my kids from that marriage had. I liked being connected to them---if only I could keep our connection without being connected to the ex.
Should I go back to my maiden name now that I was no longer a maiden?
Should I take the family name of my new husband?
I actually told my man that we had to go. I couldn't think any more. So despite having taken a number and having waited for our turn, I gave up our spot in order to think clearly. I would be "Yosra" but Yosra----What?
I talked it over with my dad. I had already given up the name, he reasoned, so the deed was done. No need to feel badly about it now and going backwards. He thought that I should just move forward.
Here's one of the problems reverts face: we get council from all over God's green earth, because that's what we're used to doing, but we don't go to God. Yes, the answer was there but I didn't know I could find it so I didn't look.
Islamically, a woman is ALWAYS part of her family; it's part of her identity. She doesn't lose her self when she weds. Now, someone try to tell me that feminism is a Western ideal. No way!
We did go back to that government office and take another ticket to wait in line. I was a bit shocked. The previous week our ticket number had been 322 and I had remembered it since the number 22 was our special number. I even kept the ticket! Now, I was looking, once again, at 322. Subhanallah. What were the chances? I took it as a sign that God was with us---and of course God always is.
Sadly, I did sign off to change my last name once again.
I would now trade my easy-to-pronounce last name for a new chance at family life. When I married that November, I became All-American First Name + Unpronounceable-Arab Last Name. Three months later, I went to court to become Yosra Unpronounceable-Arab Last Name.
On paper, I now looked like I was from the Middle East not the Midwest. Little did I know, the month after the change, I would be out of a job and searching for employment with that name. I'm sure you can all imagine how well that went.
Four years later, our marriage ended. Divorce is never easy but it is harder for a woman who has given away her name. What should you do? Keep a name from a family that no longer considers you kin? Give away a name that your child has? This time, on my divorce decree, I signed away my foreign moniker and went back to my Scottish roots. I was now Yosra American-Last-Name.
I liked it. I saw me better for what I was: I was a mix but no longer mixed-up. Although I was Muslim, I was never Arab! I could never be Arab on paper and Anglo in person. I liked that my name represented the full circle of my life. I had started in one place but ended up another; I had made choices; I was dynamic.
I vowed that day that I would NEVER give up my family name again and I haven't.
In 2010, I married here in Egypt and kept my family name. Ahmed, who observes his faith, never even considered that I would change it. That's a big positive difference.
As for my first name, I learned after a year of having it how beautifully "yosra" was used in the Quran. I have come to embrace its important for my faith and to slough away the other reasons that once were tantamount in my mind.
Letting go of what you once held dear is part of coming to Islam. Staying in Islam necessitates reflection, realization and recollection of who you really are.