Edit Desk: Scrubbing away my surname


Names can be a fraught thing. That’s why I’m changing mine. 

Identity is a tricky subject, but names? Most people make peace with theirs. Whether it’s short, basic, long, boring or complicated, your name isn’t something you can just get rid of (despite my attempts to). 

Names carry weight. They mark lineage and culture and are the basis of personhood. After all, we aren’t just a nine-digit identification code in each other’s phones. 

It’s only natural that when I think of people, I see both of their names. 

But when I think of myself, I just see “Layla.”

My parents (in)famously agreed on it because of their affection for the song “Layla” by Derek and the Dominos (they have great taste by the way). Granted, I don’t know a single thing about Eric Clapton besides his involvement in my namesake. I’m still extremely thankful.

I can’t say the same about my last name, Warshaw. 

And no, it’s not just because I think it looks ugly (but that’s also a reason). 

In college, I made it cumbersome for people to discover my last name. I don’t say it, I don’t write it when I don’t have to and it’s certainly not in my Instagram bio. On Zoom, I’ve changed my settings to display only my first name. I even feel a resounding accomplishment when people shyly admit they don’t know what it is. I think “Hurrah! I’ve succeeded in scrubbing away my surname!”

Unfortunately, I’m usually not that lucky.      

When I thought about graduation, the idea of seeing it on my diploma made me frown. The thought of hearing it wasn’t any better. I have had enough. 

This disillusionment didn’t start in college though. I remember instances of dissatisfaction as far back as elementary school. 

I once had a gym teacher who would (in his mind) affectionately call us out by last name only. I winced every time. I asked if he could just call me Layla. He wouldn’t humor my request. 

It wasn’t the end of the world, but I wondered, “Will I feel like this forever?” 

My family is large and blended. (I’m also not adopted). As a result, I was bestowed a name I have no biological connection to. Seventh-grade me wouldn’t be shocked to learn my feelings never changed. 

Warshaw is a loose thread, a dangling bit of dust. It’s an insistent reminder of my taut relationship with identity. I have family, that I love dearly, who are Warshaws. I am not one of them. Families can’t always be neatly tied and topped with a bow — least of all with something as mythical as a bunch of letters strung together. 

Besides the fact that it’s awkward to explain how I’m not Jewish or Eastern European as the name suggests, the formative Warshaw isn’t someone I’m proud to represent. So why should I carry the burden of someone I’m not even related to? 

My actual grandmother, Perla Navarro, is a different story. She moved to the U.S. from Peru as a young adult in the 1960s with ambitions in journalism. 

I’m sure it would thrill her to see I chose to study journalism myself. It would thrill me even more to see “Layla Navarro” on my diploma. 

When whispers of my decision circulated around my family, I was met with tremendous support. I’m changing my name not to upset anyone or alienate myself, but to honor a woman whom I owe a lot to.

I intend to carry Navarro with grace, pride and belonging. Gone will be the days of constant sighing, jolting and twitching. 

Admittedly, I’ve procrastinated this process (senior year really does flash by). 

Registering for graduation was the first step. So while the legal paperwork isn’t finalized, I will be walking as Layla Navarro.

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  1. Not surprised a school that wouldn’t recognize AEPi as a fraternity until recent years would feature an article about a girl wanting to remove her Jewish last name.

  2. I’m sorry, I honestly could not go beyond, “After all, we aren’t just a nine-digit identification code in each other’s phones.”

    Is this a reference to one’s phone number, since we’re talking about something in a phone? … Phone numbers are ten digits, not nine. Social security numbers are nine digits. Are we keeping social security numbers in phones now?

    — Lehigh graduate school alumna. I despair.

  3. Graduate school alumna on

    “After all, we aren’t just a nine-digit identification code in each other’s phones.”

    Is she referring to phone numbers, as are usually stored in phones? Phone numbers are ten digits each, not nine …. at least in America and around Lehigh. It is social security numbers that are comprised of nine digits.

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