Chapter 1 – What’s in a Name?

Better to see the face than to hear the name. — Anonymous

Hello! I’d like to introduce myself. My name is Pamela Anderson Bigsbee Kundera Evans —and, oh, what the heck, let’s throw in my maiden name, Brown, before the Anderson, just for good measure.

Have you ever seen such a string of surnames in all your life? No, I’m not royalty. But, as I came to find out, I am actually a descendant of royalty, so I guess I’ve earned the right to have all those last names. Yes, through my mother’s paternal heritage I’m related to Lucretia Rudolph Garfield, the wife of the 20th US President. She has a royal ancestral list as long as your arm, including, but not limited to, Emperor Rudolph I of Germany (1218-1291).

So, if we’re all connected anyway, we have the right to make as many linkages to as many folks as we want to. But thank goodness for the “by marriage” part after the names.
Until now, I had decided not to change my current last name in any way. Enough was enough! Having been Pamela Anderson once, and now possessing a name that somewhat resembled that of Linda Evans of Dynasty fame, retaining Evans added that star appeal in my surname line up. Why give it up?

And, now that I myself am rapidly approaching my first Social Security payout day, I’m wondering if the SSA will be able to find me. What if they send my monthly check to “the other” Pamela Anderson, down there in Hollywood, instead? Then I’m screwed! But that may be a moot point if there are no Social Security funds to distribute by then, anyway. Well, that’s another subject entirely.

I have a close girlfriend (let’s call her Cynthia) who has a string of last names like me; actually, she has one more last name than I. Many people know we are friends, but very few know we are kindred souls in that area of multiple “married” names. Even my friend’s present-day husband had no idea about all Cynthia’s previous surnames until the night before they were to head to the courthouse to complete their marriage license paperwork. Luckily for Cynthia, her fifth husband-to-be was understanding and didn’t back out. In fact, they have been living happily ever after for almost 20 years as husband and wife.

But I’m sure the “what-ifs” ran rampant through Cynthia’s mind that morning as she was preparing for the drive to the Marriage License Office. She felt her husband-to-be was still processing this new, shocking revelation and could change his mind. Cynthia’s hopes for a better future could have been dashed in an instant. She told me if he asked her the question, “Are there any more husbands you haven’t told me about?” she was simply going to say, “I’ll take the Fifth. And, baby, you’re it!”

Now, really. Think about that. What’s in a name, indeed!

Well, one more story about this friend. Cynthia confided in me that the absolute lowest point in her life came on the day she was pulled over for speeding. I said, “You mean to tell me that was one of the worst things that ever happened to you? Boy, then you’ve lived a sheltered life!” Cynthia jumped right back into the conversation with, “OK, imagine this scene. I was tooling along in my car and before I knew it, a CHP (California Highway Patrolman) approached me, his siren blaring, and leaned into my front window. He asked me if I knew I was speeding. I remember being courteous and cooperative. As I expected, he insisted on running my driving record. When he walked back to my car with the printout, I still didn’t know if I would be nailed or not. The cop had a puzzled look on his face. Then the interrogation began… “Are you Cynthia Smith?” I said “Yes, I am.” He then asked, “Who is Cynthia Lemmons?” “Oh, that’s me, too,” I said. “What about Cynthia Hendrick?” “That’s me,” and so on… When he made it to the end of the list of names, he chuckled, “I’ve never known anyone to have this many married last names.”

At this point, Cynthia collapsed in the driver’s seat, rested her head on the steering wheel, and burst out in tears. Then she got (and perhaps deserved) the speeding ticket, which was the icing on the cake. “It took a bit to regain my composure before I proceeded to ease on down the road.” But she said that this encounter over a speeding violation haunted her for some time. Cynthia promised, Number 1… since she was already a law-abiding individual, never to have a brush with the law again, and Number 2… to ensure she stayed in her present marriage. No more name changes, no more embarrassment, no more shame.

Like my friend Cynthia, I’ve had a few low points in my life. However, I was never brought to tears, thank God, over the name thing. I guess for me, it just became so tedious to always be tap-dancing around the truth or deciding in a split-second (as my life became like an episode of Perry Mason) to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Here’s the first low point. I had a very responsible position at a large, well-known high-tech company in Silicon Valley from the late 1980s through the 1990s. In fact, I had a twelve-year stint there. Isn’t it downright funny that I managed to stay at one company longer than in any of my marriages? How’s that for real stability? Anyway, during the time I worked there, I had three different last names. I’ll never forget when a colleague, who later became CEO of another large Silicon Valley corporation, said to me, “Pam, I’ve known you by three last names since you’ve been at this company. When I run into you, I don’t know what to call you anymore.” I replied, “Why not stick with Pamela? That’s safe.” Although that gentleman’s unnecessary reminder of my unsuccessful marital path made me uncomfortable, I decided the best thing to do was to make a joke about it.

If I stopped to think about the situation, the whole thing was rather odd. Who wouldn’t wonder, “What in the world is going on with this woman’s personal life?” So from then on, every time I ran into that guy at the office, we would simply make a joke about my marriages. It kind of made my day. On the positive side, I had actually developed a unique personal brand with him. On the negative side, if I were to contact him today, he might have difficulty sorting through the name thing and never respond to my email or LinkedIn request because he didn’t recognize who I was. Oh, well, he’s mega-rich and probably retired anyway… so much for that contact.

At a later time and at a different company, I remember the next low point that transpired because of my past transgressions. I was on an international business trip with a group of colleagues. I’ll never forget the sinking feeling in my stomach when, as we were standing in an immigration line at a foreign airport, one of them blurted out, “Hey, Pam, are you married?” I said no, and he quickly responded, “Have you ever been married?” to which I said yes.

I was praying for him to please stop the questioning, as I definitely didn’t want to go any further with this. But with a big grin on his face, he kept prying for answers. “How many times have you been married?” Despite my jet lag and frustration with this particular conversation in this particular forum at this particular time, I quipped right back, “More than once and less than five.” You would have thought he would stop … “No, really, Pam, how many times?” So I gave him a number, any number that sounded good at the time. He felt compelled to say, “Well, my wife and I have been married for 16 wonderful years.” I took this to mean he thought the two of us had differing values, and that my values weren’t acceptable to him.
I could be dead wrong, but from his reaction that day, I was certain this knowledge played into his assessment of me as a person. He probably thought I couldn’t possibly be a suitable leader. Interestingly enough, our family values are probably not different at all, just our life circumstances.

This kind of reception around the dreaded marriage question has taunted me for years. It’s sort of like my fear of flying. I don’t really expose my fear to too many people (although I guess I have now!), but it is there, tucked away deep inside. Only a few close friends and family members know the truth. Most have been thoughtful and kind enough not to slip those personal foibles into our conversations. However, some have done so intentionally. So be it. And since I don’t want to be on the psychological edge any longer, I’m spilling the beans now about me, myself, and I. I don’t have any other skeletons in my closet… just that one.

And I’m also quite aware of the fact that the legal, permanent record of surnames will never go away. You know, it’s worse than bankruptcy, because at least after seven years, there is no more record of those financial errors. But the “until death do us part” legacy is like a permanent rubber stamp, literally, and it continues to show up everywhere I go! Well, I’m getting over it!

One day, just like in the Hollywood hit movie Hangover, I awakened in a strange place in my life, opened my eyes, shook my head and looked around. How in the world did a nice person like me get here? Is there some way to retrace my steps, so I can see which of my actions led to what circumstances so I can figure out how I landed in my current station in life, where — unbelievably — I had acquired four ex-husbands before my 50th birthday?

But I never stopped to look back, always chose to go forward without much reflection. I plan to deal with all of this in Chapter 2.

But back to the name changes. Just because you do a game change doesn’t mean you have to do a name change. Had I simply kept only my maiden name, and not added my four married names after each divorce, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. After all, to be practical, just how many surnames can one fit — on a luggage tag, on a mailbox, on an application? Five is a bit much!

A thought-provoking article was recently published by The Atlantic Wire entitled “Women Are Still Being Judged for Not Taking Their Husbands’ Last Names” [ http://news.yahoo.com/women-still-being-judged-not-taking-husbands-last-181930123.html ]. A 2006 survey taken at an unidentified Midwestern university revealed that the student respondents were three times more likely to say that if a woman didn’t take her husband’s last name upon marriage, she was less committed to him and their future together.

I hate to burst the student population’s bubble at that academic institution, but obviously, my eagerness to assume my new husbands’ last names each time I said “I do” didn’t ensure long-term commitment on my part. I wonder what would have happened if I had done the hyphenated thing, or had just held on to my maiden name to begin with? Since I followed conventional wisdom and tradition, I’ll never know if I would have been more or less committed to my spouses because I chose their name over my own. Chances are that going the his-and-hers name route wouldn’t have made an ounce of difference in my situations. Lord knows, I couldn’t have been less committed when the going got tough. With that said, since we are now living in a civilized 21st-century society, you should make your own decision and do what works best for you. Choose the last name that you’ll enjoy following you around for years. And, I mean, years!

Lesson Learned: For my women readers: If you think you might have more than one marriage (and I truly hope you don’t), seriously consider retaining your maiden name, unless it is one you absolutely abhor. Now for the men: You have a great advantage, since you don’t add a new surname each time you marry. Good for you!

Another Lesson Learned: Try transforming (what seems like) the negative aspect of your history into your special positive brand. I talk about this in Chapter 10. You are unique, you are special and a little humor goes a long way in defusing what could be a potentially explosive situation when and where too many questions will be asked.

Ring EXchange – Finally Getting it Right: Life Lessons from a Multiple Marrier – Second Edition is now available online as an e-book (all formats) and paperback at http://www.ring-exchange.com/book/buy-now/.