This Woman Changed Her Name So She Could Be Herself
Growing up, I wanted to be a writer myself, but I felt that job was taken. "You're not related to the art critic, are you?" people asked. If they gleaned that I had an interest in writing, they'd say, "Chip off the old block, eh?"
I hated that metaphor: He was a granite monolith, I a shard. He was leaving heavy footprints in the earth while I tiptoed behind.
At 22, I was hired by The Austin Chronicle. (As uncomfortable as I felt pursuing a writing career, I couldn't get a job anywhere else.) As I filled out the new-hire paperwork, I discovered a little box that read DBA, or doing business as. That space vibrated with potential. Sitting at this newspaper's office, I was edging onto my father's turf. But when I saw that box, I thought, Who do I want to do business as? I wrote down Ada Calhoun.
Calhoun is my middle name. I was born on Saint Patrick's Day, so my parents named me after an Irish friend. ("How nice!" said Betsy Calhoun Baker. "But my name is Scottish.") With my new designation I felt reborn. Ada Calhoun had no past, only a future. She was her own person. She was confident. She dressed sexier. She said her name and people didn't ask her to spell it ten times. It wasn't just a pen name, though it did help me feel freer in writing articles for the Chronicle and, later, elsewhere. I used the name socially, too—most of my friends have no idea who Ada Schjeldahl is.
Ada Calhoun has existed now for 17 years, most of my adult life. I've been operating as two people for so long that I hardly notice, the way a bilingual person switches between languages without thinking.
I'm about to publish a book about the street where my parents live. I dedicated it to them. And yet, the title page bears my other name, the one I gave myself. The one without which I would never have written a word. The one that's all mine.