Changing My Name Back

My dad, Jack Cantwell, had bipolar disorder and died by suicide in 1998. When I was born, my mom gave me the name Carrie Ann Cantwell. I was born with my dad’s last name.

I had a strained relationship (if you can call it that) with my dad. His bipolar disorder made him moody, unpredictable and scary to me. He was either lost in another world in his head (he was there, but not there) or irritable and snappy. When he was in a good mood, I always approached him with caution because I knew it wouldn’t last. I got my feelings hurt many times, getting my hopes up when my dad would pay attention to me, and then having them dashed when his depression would always inevitably return. I felt rejected and unloved. My relationship with my dad and his bipolar disorder, combined with my own bipolar diagnosis after he died, affected me so much that I’m writing a book about it called Daddy Issues: A Memoir.

I’ve been married twice. The first time, I was twenty, and my ex and I decided to both combine and change our names. His last name is Ross, so we both changed our names to Rosswell. Yes, I spelled that right. It’s with 2 Ss. I can’t tell you how many people kept trying to change it to Roswell and I had to correct them every time. Regardless, it was what I felt an equal deal for both of us. He and I didn’t last, though we’re friends now, and when we got divorced only eight months after getting married. Did I mention I was only twenty? I changed my name back. It was such a short-lived relationship and I just felt it made sense to go back to my dad’s name.

In my thirties, I began to build what is now a successful career in the film industry. All the work I get is through my great reputation and word-of-mouth. When someone would ask around, looking for a competent graphic designer, people would say “Oh Carrie Cantwell can do it, you should hire her!” I started in the movie business in Atlanta in 2005, and it wasn’t booming like it is now in Yallywood (I wish I’d coined that term). From 2005-2010, the movie jobs in Atlanta were very few and far between. The competition was stiff. I had to take pretty much everything that came my way. And my name was how I got all my work.

Then, in the fall of 2011, I married a guy I’d been dating and living with for two years. He was sweet and considerate in the beginning of our relationship, but he ended up being controlling and verbally abusive. I’m a feminist, and I’m not the kind of woman who’d normally take my husband’s name on principle. I felt it meant I’d be losing my identity. Plus, my name was my career at the time. The thing is, I lost my identity (and all my self-confidence) in that relationship. It happened gradually, insidiously, over time. I was the frog in the pot of boiling water. The temperature was turned up gradually, so I didn’t notice I was being boiled alive by the time I said, “I do.” My ex snowed me into thinking I was nothing without him, and he pressured me into changing my last name to his. I’d unknowingly relinquished control over my own sense of self by the time we were getting hitched, so I didn’t feel resistant like the normal, healthy me should have. Even though I knew my name was how I succeeded in my career, I let all that go so I could appease him.

Then everyone I worked with knew me as my new name: Gale. The movie business picked up in Atlanta around 2011, right after I changed my name, and I met and worked with tons of new people who not only continued to hire me repeatedly (knowing me as Carrie Gale) but who also literally stopped calling me Carrie and would refer to me as CarrieGale like all one word. And they referred me for jobs as such. When my career really picked up, and I developed the kind of reputation that allowed me to choose which jobs I accepted, I was known as Carrie Gale.

I finally got up the courage to leave my ex-husband in the fall of 2013. In January of 2014, we were divorced. I remember my divorce lawyer asking me if I wanted to change my name back. I thought about it. Carrie Gale did have a nice kind of sing-songy ring to it. It sounded nice. It sounded professional. And it was professional. It was my professional movie career identity. Plus, all the baggage of my daddy issues would be unpacked with the return of my original last name of Cantwell. At the time, I wasn’t ready to risk my career. And I also didn’t want to embrace the name attached to the man who’d caused me so much pain growing up, regardless of how much pain the man with the last name Gale had caused me. So, I chose to keep it. My lawyer (a feminist, type-A personality woman who’s very sure of herself, like I am) asked me if I was absolutely sure. She even told me it would be free to change it back if it was attached to the divorce, and if I wanted to change it later, it would cost a lot of money. I’m frugal by nature, and even that didn’t stop me. That’s how much weight was being dragged around behind the name I attached to my dad.

And now here we are, in 2019. In late 2018, I started working on my memoir. It’s an emotional journey I’m still going through as I work on the book. A huge part of this book is re-living a lot of the anguish I suffered as a daughter growing up with a bipolar dad. But it’s also cathartic and healing. I’m finding that the more I write, the more forgiveness and acceptance I feel for my dad. It’s taken me so many years, but I now understand that my dad didn’t behave the way he did because he didn’t love me, he was mentally ill. It took me accepting my own bipolar diagnosis to realize that my dad’s actions were the result of a mentally ill brain. I now understand what that means, because I have one too. I love myself and my dad, in spite of our bipolar disorder.

About a month ago, I started thinking about the name Carrie Gale being attributed to my book, if I’m lucky enough to find a publisher. And then it dawned on me. Carrie Gale was never me. Carrie Cantwell really is my name. That’s who I am. I choose to own it. It’s the name that attaches me to a man who had bipolar disorder, committed suicide, but loved me as best he could. I share a last name with a man who I also share bipolar disorder with, and that’s okay. Cantwell is the name I was given when I was born, and honestly, I’m proud of it. I’m grateful to be Jack Cantwell’s daughter, and I’m proud to be who I am. I’ve learned a lot and grown into who I am because of my experiences, daddy issues and all.

Three weeks ago I called my divorce lawyer and asked about changing my name back to Cantwell. Let me tell you, it’s not cheap. I’m kind of kicking myself because if I’d had more insight in 2014, I would have listened to her and changed it back when I got divorced. But my head was also spinning because well, I was in the middle of a messy, upsetting divorce. So, money be damned, I’m doing it! I’m willing to risk my career for it. That’s how important and symbolic it is to me to accept my dad’s name with open arms. Names are powerful, and I attribute power and strength to what I’ve learned about myself through this process. It’s life-changing to me to do this. Plus, truth be told, I’m not changing my phone number or my email address, so I’m sure I won’t miss out on any work. I’m in the process now (legally) of changing it, and I’ve already adjusted all my online stuff like my portfolio and ​​résumé. This feels right. I want my book to be published under my dad’s name. Because it truly is my real name.

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3 years ago

Hi Carrie, Reading your article I couldn’t help thinking how similar my story is to yours. I also have bipolar and the same with my father. He also has bipolar but has never committed suicide. For a matter of fact, he is still living. But l remember since I was a teenager his threats of suicide. It would scare the hell out of me. Now that I am going through a new fase with my illness I too understand him and I forgive him for all that he put me through. He loved me and I know he still loves… Read more »

Daniel Hawkins
3 years ago

I’m really looking forward to your book. Whilst my dad never suffered from Bipolar, our relationship was very volatile when we were young and his mood swings would constantly turn violent.

I suffer from Bipolar type 2 (4 years since diagnosis and hospitalisation) and I have just had my first child with my beautiful wife.

I am nervous about how it will affect my relationship with my daughter but I am hoping that my therapy will get me through.