I never married but I changed my name nearly 30 years ago. I did this after asking my grandmother how she’d feel about my borrowing her name and she said, yes, she would like that. Her name was Mercedes Shanahan; I took her first name too.
Back then, I became a writer while working for a feminist newspaper called Kinesis; that was where I posted my name change as well as in the B.C. Gazette.
Kinesis: News About Women That’s Not in the Dailies. That was our masthead.
Changing my name from Howes to Shanahan was, I suppose, a feminist gesture and one I never regretted. I killed off my old name because I loved my grandmother and once she died the name would die with her. So I took it–I gave it another life.
The old Howes half of my name will carry on: I have six siblings, most with children named Howes, so it’s safe. I love that name, just as I love them, very much, but Shanahan, now isn’t that better suited for a writer? Doesn’t it sparkle in a byline?
A while back I posted about my spinster great-aunt Mary Shanahan. That was after I visited the family cemetery and noticed that as an unmarried woman her tombstone only included “Mary,” dropping that last identifying name.
Sure it was her father’s name but Mary and Mercedes, and their four siblings, were raised by their widowed mother Sarah.
And I? I am another spinster Shanahan to follow Mary’s footsteps into the 2000s. It’s a tale of women, identity, and independence–spanning three generations.
“Kinesis” means movement. During the 80s and 90s when I wrote for that paper and honed my skills was also a time when the women’s movement thrived.
It was a time when our intrepid journalists exposed issues that are only now hitting the mainstream and raising the public’s consciousness.
We wrote about: PTSD; reproductive rights; sex selection in the Indian community; appropriation of aboriginal children; “comfort” women–who were abducted during the Second World War and systematically raped by servicemen.
We were also the first to report on missing and murdered aboriginal women. In fact, in 1986 I shot the cover photograph of a demonstration organized and led by prostitutes in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. These women lost sisters; they lost mothers and lovers; they feared for their lives. It was a generation before anyone listened to them.
Several of these missing women were slaughtered by Robert Picton. A name we won’t soon forget and wish we never knew.