“What is your name?” the judge asked my 3-year-old daughter who sat quietly, her feet dangling from her chair. She looked up, her big brown eyes barely visible over the imposing wood table in front of the judge’s bench. “Go ahead and say your name,” I said, shifting in the seat next to her, trying to fit my pregnant belly below the table. “Lena,” she answered almost inaudibly. I glanced at my husband, Russ, and wondered if he, too, thought this judicial inquisition was going to scar her for life.
Her name, the name we’d given her, was the reason we were at court. Not her first name, but her last name, our family name. We wanted to change it.
The idea began to take shape when we were considering baby names for our second child, Lena’s sister. As a writer, I’m fascinated by the meaning and origin of words, and as a mother, I find it magical how a new life can come to embody a name and all it represents. Choosing a name, I believe, is a profound responsibility, so I spent hours happily researching. In the process, I stumbled upon the meaning of our last name, “Pechman,” the name my husband grew up with, and the name I took when we married. To my dismay, I discovered it means “bad luck man”— in Polish, German, Dutch, Hungarian and Czech. When half of Europe reads our name, they think instantly of misfortune.