I think I was 10 when I realized that I hated my name. Well, mostly just my middle name. In a world full of normal sounding ones, like Ann or Elizabeth, there I was, stuck with the name Rachel Roshani. I didn’t even know how to pronounce it. I just knew it was foreign, meant something about sunshine, and most especially that it was different. Too different for a 10-year old-girl who was already dealing with a sprouting unibrow and upper lip hair.
Throughout my childhood, I would avoid sharing it with others and feel a tinge or envy every time I spun around those store carousels full of personalized rainbow magnets and keychains. I'd never find Roshani, at least not here in America, so it was pointless to even try. I just couldn't understand why my parents would give me a name that was so unusual (and we all know what unusual translates to in kid lingo: weird).
So there I was, over 15 years later at the Philadelphia Social Security Office, about to legally change my name after getting married. The moment my 10-year-old self dreamed of her entire life! As the teller processed my paperwork, he asked:
“Is Rachel Guerrera Creighton the exact legal name you would like?”
“Yes” I replied, curtly. This must have just been a question he was required to ask.
“Are you sure? You don’t want to keep the middle name you were born with?”
Now I was confused. Who was this guy and what was his deal? Did my proud, Indian mother find him before me and pay him off?
“I’m sure, sir. Can you just process the paperwork, please?” **cue awkward fumbling in bag looking for anything to prevent me from making eye contact with Sir from Social Security**
I thought we were done. I really did.
Plot twist: we weren’t done.
“It’s just a really unique name. I’ve never heard it before. Very beautiful. I’m sorry. I’ll go ahead and process your paperwork.” And then with the push of a button, Sir did just that.
One thing I am very aware of is how indecisive I can be and as I walked towards the elevator, I felt some type of way. I avoided changing my name for months, to the point where my husband questioned if I would ever really do it. I knew I wanted to keep my maiden name, mostly for professional purposes since it was the name in which I received my academic degrees. It also had oddly become somewhat of an affectionate title over the years by my various coaches. Without fail, they would always scream “GUERRERA” as loud as they possibly could, never Rachel. It was what I grew used to hearing and reminded me of my days as an athlete. And now, after finally deciding to get this name change over with, Sir from Social Security threw me for a total loop.
It wasn’t necessarily regret I was feeling. Was it sadness? I had always known my middle name was unique, but I began to realize Sir was right. It was also beautiful. By definition, Roshani means light, or brightness, interpreted by some more specifically as sunlight or sunshine. It served as a tribute to my mom's Indian heritage, carefully chosen by my Aunt in Singapore only after she learned of the date, time, and place of my birth. In that elevator, I fully grasped for the first time how special my birth name truly was. And I had just said my official goodbye to it before ever really appreciating its significance. I told myself that if I ever had a daughter, her middle name would be Roshani. She would probably initially despise me for it, just as I did, but eventually would grow to love it and most importantly own it, with more pride than I ever had.
My days as Rachel Guerrera Creighton came and went. Very slowly adapting to reading this new title printed on mailing items sent to our house. To be completely honest, it's still something I’m getting used to after almost three years. Just a few weeks ago in our local grocery store, I heard someone call out “Is that Mrs. Creighton I see?!” and I immediately spun around to look for my mother-in-law. As it turned out, my mother-in-law was not coincidentally in the same store as me. My friend’s mom had been referring to ME, Mrs. Creighton 2.0, sporting joggers and a messy bun, casually perusing the candy aisle. I laughed to myself not only because I had been caught crouched down hunting the newest, sweetest specials in Aisle 7, but because I realized how genuinely perplexed I must have looked in that moment, eyes darting around looking for the other Mrs. Creighton. My girlfriends who are married have shared similar sentiments when it comes to this transitional period. There is a humor in it, but there is also a struggle that occurs in letting go of that part of your identity. Today, more and more women are choosing to break with tradition by keeping their birth name intact, which I fully understand and support, especially after going through the process myself. For me, I had never seriously considered not taking my husband’s last name, but that didn't mean it made the experience any easier, or more fulfilling.
So it was no surprise that when it came time to choose a name for my new business, I found it especially challenging. Rachel Creighton Photography? Rachel Guerrera Photography? Both could work and sounded professional. But they just didn’t feel right. I thought of coming up with a totally different name, which I did end up creating, called Woodleigh + Bainbridge. The name had meaning, representing the streets of our first apartment together in Philadelphia and our first home in Havertown. But was that what I wanted to see printed as a photo credit if my work ever got published? I knew I'd want to see my own name, so that was out too.*
Throughout this naming process, I had done a ton of reading trying to learn more about business branding. I don’t remember what I was reading at the time, but one idea that stood out was using alliteration to help make your brand name stick. What other R word could I use to go with Rachel? Roshani practically flew out from my computer screen and smacked me right in the face. HOW had I not thought of it before? I had wanted a name that was true to me, but also allowed me to stand out and be unique in some way. Ironically, the name I had resented for years because of how different it made me now fit perfectly with my new business, in both its sound and meaning. I'd not only be using light to capture clients with my camera, but shining light on the love and life they each shared through photographs. It felt so good to have me back in this new art form and career.
I know my mom will laugh and tell me she is proud when she reads this story. Without skipping a beat, she will also take the time to remind me that as my mother, she really does know best. Both now and years ago when she brought me into this world and filled out that birth certificate. And she'll be right. She always is.
**Note: I loved the name Woodleigh+Bainbridge so much I decided to hold on to it! From here on out, Woodleigh+Bainbridge will be the official name for my personal blog. New logo + branding to come 🙂