My family was broken before I even entered the world. Regardless of your interpretative stance on the creation story(s) in Genesis, the first book of the Torah, it still conveys these universal truths: we are broken people, this world is flawed, and yet we are created in the image of the divine.
At this stage in my life, many are unaware that I was born with a different name: Alyssa Hunt. In elementary school, I once wrote “Alyssa Peterson” on a homework assignment and my teacher returned it to me, demanding that I write my proper name. She did not know that exchanging one name for another was a cry of identity at such a young age. I feel as though I have lived many lives between my birth name and my current name.
During her marriage to my biological father, my mother kept her maiden name. When she gave birth to me, she finally decided to change her last name to match me: Hunt. People thought she was crazy, but don’t all mothers do crazy things for their kids? She did not want for me to be alone as a Hunt. Eventually, and for all the right reasons, my mother remarried and took my step-father’s last name: Peterson. I was left as a Hunt because, as you can imagine, divorce is really freakin’ messy and complicated. From a young age, I was in a sea of so many different names and it caused a lot of stress and strife throughout my childhood.
In 2015, I was a sophomore in college and adopted, at the age of 19, by my step-father. When I returned to campus with a new last name, it was comical because I had to explain over and over that no, I did not get married over Christmas break. I was adopted. Yes, I am 19 years old and I was just adopted. I attended a Christian university where the term “ring by spring” infiltrated our lives before we could legally toast with champagne at a wedding.
My adoption is a story of redemption, much like the truth of the creation story I mentioned earlier in Genesis: we are broken people, this world is flawed, and yet we are created in the image of the divine. In scripture, adoption is used as a metaphor for bridging the gap between God and humans (Eph 1.5). In my life, adoption redeems the heartache and rejection I had experienced for many, many years. So, just like that, we filed the paperwork, stood before the judge, and I said goodbye Alyssa Hunt and hello Alyssa Peterson.
In 2018, I was engaged to be married and there was no question as to whether or not I would be keeping my last name. I was always very upfront about that in all of my dating relationships and every guy struggled with it except for my now husband. To be quite honest, the only question was if I would choose to hyphenate or not (because after you’ve done one name change, who wants to go through the hassle of another?!). I always planned to keep “Peterson” because I waited almost two decades to receive it.
In marriage, I believe that two people are separate and equal. Marriage brings us in unity, and yet we do not lose our personal identity. Take the unity candle tradition (also, I’m here to burst your bubble and say that it is a non-Christian tradition). Two persons each take their own candle and light a shared candle in order to represent two lives joining as one. But what does it say if and/or when the two people blow out their individual candles? You are marrying one another because you value that individual and all of their idiosyncrasies. To disregard that would be a disservice in your marriage.
Some might assume the hyphen is a feminist statement (well, duh, for me it kind of is). But it is more than that. Some people keep their last name for practical reasons. Others take their partner’s last name because it’s “tradition.” But my choice is political. You make a stand with your voice, your lifestyle, and your dollar. So, I decided to take a stand with a hyphen: Alyssa Peterson-DeWitt.
That, my dear friends, is the history behind my hyphenated name. Yes, it is longer than my birth name and my adopted name. Yes, all the letters do not fit on my credit card or on some paperwork forms. Yes, I correct people when they just want to call me “Mrs. DeWitt.” I believe that identity and names are powerful. Both of my names are a gift, and I am here to make these gifts my own.