I changed my name sometime in 2008, in part to celebrate my partner’s heritage and in part to signify a new start. It is a relatively trivial procedure in the US, but I did not take it lightly. My reasoning was as follows:
I am a first-generation Soviet refugee, born in Moldavia, and for the second decade now, an American citizen. The USSR is no longer a real place. Since my family’s departure, the republic of Moldavia gained independence, changed its name, its official language, and its alphabet. My mother is of an intermixed, post-WWII Eastern European stock, while my father is a Crimean Jew. That makes me neither Russian, Jewish, Christian, nor Moldovan. If there is an identity to be had from this personal history, it is an identity of an immigrant. And like many immigrants before me, I change my name as an act of renouncement, assimilation, and as a statement of independence from the forces of historical contingency.
A year or so ago, I got married. Changing my name to reflect both mine and my partner’s heritage (she is Korean-American) makes sense for our children. We reasoned that it would good to preserve both of our lineages, especially for the future generations that may be curious about the history of both families.
The practice of a family taking on the man’s name while suppressing the woman’s felt strange to the both of us. Yi Tenen is perhaps unusual in that it combines Korean and Yiddish roots—it is a hybrid name that we hope can honor and give new life to both of our families.
Dennis Yi Tenen