This past week was my 30th Birthday. Now, I know the drill. Women are supposed to freak the eff out about their 30th because we’re old or whatever. But if 60 is the new 40, then 30 is the new teenager, right?
To be honest, I am so excited for this new decade. My twenties were a shit show to say the least, but I know that my third decade is going to rock.
My 30th Birthday is a big fucking deal for a couple reasons:
Until about a month and a half ago, I was seriously suicidal. I hadn’t gone more than a couple days without obsessively wanting to die for two years—since the big breakup.
During the aftermath of the aforementioned breakup on my 28th birthday, C made the suggestion that the world would be better without me in it. And you know what, I’m still here.
So, in celebration of the fact that I’m still here, I made a huge deal about this birthday. Like seriously, I was the most extra person that I can imagine. And that’s so awesome.
My thirtieth birthday and the year following are all about reclamation for me. Reclaiming my birthday, reclaiming my joy, reclaiming my life. It’s also all about defining and openness: defining who I am, defining what I want to be, openness to the changes that are coming. I’m trying to take on this next decade with intentionality and openness and I’m so grateful for the friends who are already helping me make this possible.
But the reason for this post is not just that. One thing I’m doing—the biggest thing I’m doing—to celebrate my 30th is to give myself a gift—something that I’ve wanted for a long time.
As a part of this process of reclaiming my life, I’m giving myself a new name.
There is power in a name. In different cultures around the world the act of naming a child is considered sacred. The word chosen for the name and the meaning behind the word are meant to imbue that being with those characteristics.
As a writer, scholar, and recovering philologist, the importance of words in my life cannot be overestimated. My life is dedicated to teaching others how to put words in different orders to communicate more clearly with those around them. I write about words, what they mean in certain orders, how that impacts the world. My faith even involves calling God ο λογος, “the Word.” I’m kind of a word person.
I am blessed to be part of two separate communities that value names as I do. In these communities, names are not just identity markers. The act of re-naming is also connected to taking on a new life. I think of my friends who have become priests or sisters, my friends who are non-binary or transitioning. They each took on these new names at important parts in their lives, showing that this new name symbolizes not only their identity but their choice to make a change, a commitment, a new life.
I’m taking on a new life. It might not involve any vows, but I’m making a promise to myself to love myself, to value myself, and to honor myself. I’m choosing to live. I’m choosing to be honest about who I am, to be authentic and real, to not hide behind my relation to other people. To be known not just as an aunt, a friend, a daughter, but as me—a unique human being with a name that symbolizes who I am and who I want to be.
This isn’t a decision I’ve made suddenly, or without a great deal of thought, or without talking with people I admire and trust. I’ve thought about changing my name since I was a teenager. I have never connected with Kaitlyn. I don’t hate it, it’s just not a name that suits me. I have made peace with Kait for quite a while, but still it’s not me.
The name I have chosen is Aurelia. It’s Latin for “gold.” It was my name in Latin class when I was in high school, so I’m already comfortable with it. Aurelia is a reminder to myself that I have intrinsic value—as scripture would say, we are worth more than finest gold (Is 13:12). I’ve struggled to feel any value in myself for a long time, especially since what happened with C. By calling myself Aurelia, I am reminding myself that I am rare, beautiful, and valuable—regardless of anything else. Gold makes me think also of the sun—of something bright, vibrant, shining. I want to be those things.
The nickname I’ve chosen and that a few close friends are already using for me is Ari. This is a common Jewish name and I love the meaning. It’s Hebrew for lion, old Norse for eagle, and Armenian for brave. I think that all those are qualities I want to embody. And it’s a mostly vowel-based name with only two syllables and super easy to pronounce and remember. Three letters. You can write them on your hand if you can’t remember them at first.
Now, for personal reasons that I don’t want to talk about publicly, I’ve made the decision to change my middle and last names along with my first. I’m happy to talk about this privately, but it’s a decision that I’ve made after a great deal of thought, prayer, and meditation.
For my middle name, I am taking my mother’s middle name, Ann. St. Anne is the mother of Mary, the grandmother of Jesus—a woman who I have always felt closer to than her daughter. Ann is also a form of the Hebrew name Hannah, meaning favor or grace. Hannah is also the first name of my childhood best friend and the last name of my dear friend, Corbin. So, to honor my mother, keep a powerful saint close, and connect with my two best friends—my name is Aurelia Ann.
For my last name, I am taking my paternal-paternal great-grandmother’s maiden name, VonTress (some family stories say Tress, some say VonTress). This name still connects me to my family and honors my connection with my father. It reminds me of where I came from, it reminds me of my dad, no student will ever come up with an inappropriate joke using it, and it sounds good after Doctor. It still shows that I belong to my family and, despite my desire otherwise, it still keeps me at the end of the alphabet.
I know this might seem selfish or confusing and I’m sorry if that is the case. I know some people might refuse to use my name, although I hope not. I know some will struggle to remember it at first and that’s okay. I know my true friends would never mean to hurt me by using the wrong name. I hope that everyone will accept this and embrace it as my choice to honor my individuality, my sacredness as a person with the right to define myself.
So, this is it, friends—my new name: Aurelia “Ari” Ann VonTress. Nice to meet you.