I was 10 when I realized that my dad wasn’t the person I thought he was. My parents were getting divorced, and he informed me that he’d be moving halfway around the world to Vietnam.
When I was younger, my dad was my hero and I wanted to be just like him when I grew up. This all changed when I saw how he handled the situation. As a naïve kid, I could barely process the divorce, let alone the idea of my dad abandoning me. He saw how much I was hurting, but did little to comfort me and decided to leave anyway without much explanation, selfishly leaving my mom to take care of me on her own. For the first time, I saw that we were low on his list of priorities.
Of course, there were other red flags. He made countless commitments that he couldn’t keep. When I was 11, he promised to visit often but this turned into him only visiting once or twice a year. When I was 13, he promised to come to one of my dance performances but showed up late and mistook another dancer on stage for me. When I was 16, he promised he’d teach me how to drive but he never did, leaving my mom and my best friend’s mom to teach me instead.
Our relationship only deteriorated further as time passed. Several years after he moved away, he was still asking about my friends from when I was 10 — friends I had long lost touch with — even after I corrected him. He was completely clueless about my life and made little effort to remedy it.
By the time I was 20, I got tired of acting like this complete stranger had a place in my life, and I decided to cut ties with him. I started ignoring his messages and emails (which were far and few between anyway). I didn’t want anything left to link us and I didn’t want people to compare us. So, I thought about changing my last name. To me, sharing the same last name meant that we’d share the same traits as well, but I’d never be as careless and thoughtless as he was.
I considered changing my last name to my mom’s; after all, she had been there for all the things he’d missed and had given me the unconditional support he never gave. I even played around with the idea of changing it to something totally unrelated to my parents’ names — something that might be catchier and more recognizable. The thought of a brand new name was exciting — as a college student, I felt like I was finally figuring out who I was. Changing my last name felt like a representation of the independent adult I was becoming.
While this change seemed empowering, I started to doubt my decision when I was 21 and in a design principles class. The professor assigned us a project to design a logo with our names. The Hernandezs, Nguyens and Thompsons of the room groaned as I sat there with an idea already forming in my mind. When stylized in all lowercase, my last name could be created with two matching circles, with a line down the side of the first one to form the “d.” I added a circle in the background and I had my logo. My peers expressed their jealousy at the shortness of my name — it was simple and memorable — and the professor was impressed with the elegance of my design.
After this, I reconsidered my plans and decided to keep my name, at least for the time being. It might seem silly to base such an important decision off of aesthetics, but as a graphic designer, I’m constantly thinking about how things look and are represented.
What’s in a name, anyway? Sure, I share it with my dad, but we share little else besides DNA. The chances of running into people who know him are pretty slim since he lives halfway around the world. Best of all, most of the people I know don’t even know him. None of them know me as my father’s daughter.
I realized our names don’t define us — instead we fill them with our own identities. My name has nothing to do with my dad and I’ve reclaimed it as mine. I thought about the ways my name had been used endearingly by my friends: When I was in high school choir, I was known as “Victoria Do Re Mi” and when I became creative director at The Daily Californian, people started calling me “VD the CD.” These are some of my favorite memories and I refuse to give them up just because of my dad.
In the end, I’ve decided I don’t need to change my name. I’m happy with just making it my own.