My mother kept her maiden name and I didn’t lose my sense of identity



I’ll admit, I have a complicated name. I’m one of those people with two official sets of ID but that’s not the worst of it – my mother you see, kept her maiden name and so I also have a double barrelled surname, but not a hyphenated surname, because my mother argued, even back in the 70’s, that her and my father were two separate people, with two separate names. The government however did not agree, and made my mother make her maiden name one of my middle names.

So for the first few years of my life I was Louise Marguerite Woodruff Sanz. My mother however stood by her maiden name, never becoming a Mrs Sanz and sure as hell never answering it to it. In primary school I remember her refusing to answer my friends when they would refer  to her as Mrs Sanz. As far as she was concerned it wasn’t her name. She preferred everyone to call her by her first name, which believe it or not, even my teachers preferred than having to address her as Ms Woodruff  – her actual legal name. It was that look of discomfort I recall the most. That educated, regular people would prefer to call my mother Mrs Potato than by her maiden name. It was the sort of thing 1970s German dissidents did, not middle class mothers from Brighton.

Contrary to the popular rhetoric I even hear bandied around today, I didn’t grow up as a rudderless child, without a sense of place or identity because my mother didn’t share the same name as my father, I actually did ok, more than ok really. To be honest  I was more affected by the knowledge that when my father immigrated to Australia, he was made to change his name from Miguel to Michael, because Australian’s couldn’t pronounce Miguel. My father was forced to change his name because apparently the Australian tongue struggles with the letter ‘G’. Tell that to all the Gerry’s, Gerald’s and Greg’s you know.

I was always insanely proud that mother had her own name (she was also a vegetarian – I didn’t know Mexican food came with meat options until an ill-fated trip to a Taco Bill in the late 90s). She explained her choice to keep her maiden name as ‘easier’. It was on her driver’s license, all her legal documents, to change it would be too much of a hassle. And then what if my father and her got divorced, more paperwork, but most importantly, it was her name. She’d had it for 25 years when she met my dad and it wasn’t something she was willing to part with it.

As I got older, I got more emboldened to move my mother’s name out of the ‘middle name’ abyss it had been relegated to and put it into everyday life. At 12 I was signing my homework off as Louise Marguerite Dymphna Woodruff Sanz, much to the horror of my teachers, who constantly felt the need to raise this in every parent teacher meeting – again more concerned by the incorporation of my mother’s maiden name, than the latest addition – my Confirmation name – Dymphna, Patron Saint of Incest Victims and the Mentally Ill.

By the time I was a teenager and had started writing soppy teen memoirs for other teenagers to act out on stage, my mothers name was now part of my surname, even though, legally it was still my middle name, that is until the law changed and no longer did it need to be hyphenated.It was free. I was free. My brother and sister never really seemed fussed, they liked being Sanz’s. It didn’t bother them, which only made it cooler, cause it now meant in my family I was the only Woodruff Sanz, that, along with my teen moustache set me apart from everyone else in the world.

Things however got complicated when I was granted a Spanish Passport. My name was changed to Luisa Margarita Sanz Woodruff. You see in Spain, the mother’s maiden name comes after the ‘family’ name. Given I had a Spanish Passport before an Australian one, it was now my only official form of ID, aside from Double Dare Champion Card from 1993 and so when I got my driver’s license I went in with my spanish passport and to this day, 16 years later, that is still the name on my driver’s license.

As I writer nothing gave me a stronger sense of satisfaction than to play with all my names as I signed off a ‘Written by’ credit. There was L W Sanz, L Woodruff Sanz, Louise Brandis, Mrs Jonathan Brandis, Louise W Sanz, LMW Sanz, Louise M Woodruff Sanz, LMD Woodruff Sanz. The possibilities were endless but then I started doing stand-up and introducing Louise Woodruff Sanz proved troublesome.

If I’d thought the pronunciation of ‘G’ was hard for people try W’s and S’s and Z’s. After a while, to make things ‘easier’ I shortened it to Lou Woodruff Sanz. It was still too hard for MC’s who were often distracted by mic stands, warm beer and the glamour of stage life. So I went with Louise Sanz. Nup, still too complicated. And so it was with heavy heart it went to Lou Sanz. Like a vegas headliner and just ambiguous enough so as not to reveal my gender before coming out on stage. It was inevitable then that confusion began. People were now getting frustrated, concerned even betrayed. Was the writer Louise Woodruff Sanz the same as emerging comedian Lou Sanz? Was this a Jeckyll and Hyde kind of thing? Was she transitioning? What the fuck was going on!? Who did she think she was!? And even though I was following a long line of people with stage names, mine was not because I didn’t like my name, it was because I wanted to make things easier on everyone else. After all that struggling I went back to Sanz because it made things ‘easy.’

But of course legally, I’m a Woodruff Sanz, so now I have alias’s. I have files that say ‘Lou Sanz, legally known as Louise Woodruff Sanz, also known as Luisa Sanz Woodruff.’ It can sometimes make getting things like credit a little complicated as nothing sounds dodgier than listing all the names your account could be under. Everyone just wants me to make it easier on them, change my name so that don’t have to press the space-bar more than they’d like .

A friend of mine though pointed out that when I get married, things will get easier, because well, you know, if you decide to have kids it’s important they know what family they belong to. That we all share the same name, so it’s only natural that if I chose to have kids with my partner we’ll have to have the same name.

‘You’re right’ I said, ‘but I worry about all the paperwork my husband will have to go through. He’d be better off keeping his own name. It’s easier.’

‘You’d make him change his name?’ she asked, not amused by my killer come back.

‘If your main concern is my hypothetical families unity and sense of identity, then it shouldn’t matter whose name we use.’

She was stumped…I knew why, when there are articles on the internet titled ‘How to let people know you’re keeping your maiden name’, I often forget how very far we’ve actually come since the days my mother decided to go against convention.

I was making things awkward…and I’m probably always going to. It’s ‘easier’ for me.

How You Made Me A Bad Person

I’m going to write something in a moment and straight up it’s going to come out sounding like I think I’m a better person than you. It’s not the case, trust me, I’m so self-deprecating that I still don’t think I’m ever going to top this one day in 1984 when I received the ‘Best Cursive Writing Award’ in primary school – an award I had to make and give myself, an award deserved nonetheless.

So here it goes:

In recent months my partner and I have given up gluten.

Yep, notice how I used the partner as opposed to boyfriend and yep, we’ve given up gluten, as in, this is not an action I could do on my own, it’s something that can only be done in pairs like playing weekend tennis, shopping at Ikea and watching Mad Men Season 3.

Of course the exile of gluten from my diet is not the only one thing that might be considered ‘wanker-esque’ – I also don’t drink dairy. Yes, I refer to dairy as a drink. I don’t do it, can’t do it, won’t do it. But most café’s accommodate that these days, just as they did yesterday…

‘I’ll start with an English Breakfast tea if I can, with soy milk on the side. Thanks.’

I watched as the waitress walked away, briskly, making sure not to look back as my boyfriend and I hung mid sentence – ‘could we see a men….’

‘You’re cursed’ He said to me, as he pulled out his iPad, so as to enjoy another meal with me.

‘She probably just didn’t hear us because she’s wearing her hair over her ears.’


He checked his Facebook account.

I checked how my life had come to this…

With all faces checked and accounted for he looked up.

‘Maybe we should just get up and grab the menus ourselves.’

‘No, I waitressed for 25 years – ‘

‘ – really, you started waitressing when you were 8?’

‘- yes, JF I did. It was what you did in the 80’s.’

‘- endorsed child labor?’

‘- had a work ethic JF, a work ethic.’

‘And so it’s this work ethic of yours that’s the reason I’m sitting here starving?’

‘Collateral damage.’

And so as is often the case in our relationship, against my wishes JF got up, and like a Dickensian orphan went to find some menus. I wondered if the winter cold my get him and if he’d ever return….

Moments later, he did, just as the waitress placed our drinks down.

Clocking our self-secured menus she asked the question that was on everyone’s lips.

‘Are you here for breakfast? Would you like to see a menu?’

‘Are they different to the ones we have?’ I asked.

‘No’ she replied ‘Would you like me to grab you some?’

My boyfriend sensing I was well on the way to making a new best friend and couldn’t bare the competition for my affection, stepped in.

‘I think we’re ready to order actually.’

Unsettled by the uniqueness of the situation the waitress enquired ‘food?’.

‘Why not?’ I said ‘Let’s shake things up a bit.’

And it was then I noticed I been bough Earl Grey tea, not English Breakfast. Normally when presented with something I had not intended on drinking I would just smile and swallow but having just returned from the US where it’s custom to send back things you didn’t order,  I decided to mention it.

‘I ordered English Breakfast. This is Earl Grey.’

Her silence masked her confusion.


‘I’d like English Breakfast.’

‘That is English Breakfast.’

‘It says Earl Grey on the label.’

‘That’s how they spell English Breakfast sometimes.’

I smiled through my mouth, the way I’d been taught.

‘If you could just take it back and get me the English Breakfast that’d be great.’

‘And if we could order…’

She left before the words could leave my boyfriends mouth.

‘Really? You couldn’t have just drunk the tea?’

‘Milk with Earl Grey? Never, like sure if I had some lemon and honey on offer I could possibly make do, but look that’s not the point. The point is, I ordered English Breakfast. It has the full-bodied flavour I need this morning. I’m not the bad person here.’

She returned, only to inform me that they had no English Breakfast tea but her boss had told her that Earl Grey tea was the same. It was like comparing Britney Spears to Keisha – a waste of my time.

I won’t bore you with the details, but we ordered. Nothing flash. My boyfriend, something with croquettes and bacon, myself,  an omelette and a side of gluten-free toast.

Surprisingly our food arrived with little fuss. I felt we were all turning a corner. Mornings can be hard on anyone and I was in a mood to forgive and forget. That is until –

‘Um, I ordered a side of gluten toast?’

She looked at me, as if unsure of whether we’d met before…perhaps earlier that day…I watched as it all fell into place for her.

‘Yes, and?’


‘Is it on it’s way?’



‘We don’t have any gluten free bread.’

‘Were you going to tell me that?’


‘Ok, glad we cleared that up.’

With her tip clearly in the bag, our waitress wandered off, leaving us to our meals.

‘Is it me?’ I asked JF.

‘I don’t see anyone else here’ he rhetorically replied.

After breakfast we wandered the streets for a cup of English Breakfast tea and some toast with a passion not often seen outside the finale of any season of ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’

Finally we settled on a little café that boasted a menu of quinoa’s and goat’s cheese and on the bottom just under the surcharge disclaimer, there it was, gluten free toast.

We sat down, smiling at the waitress who waved at us as we came in. With pure joy we ordered English Breakfast tea, not the Earl Grey variety, and when all was said and done and they asked me if I’d like to order some food I said ‘yes, I’d like some gluten-free toast with jam thanks.’

I kissed JF lightly on the face mouth, even allowing the waitress to linger a little longer than was appropriate to watch us, but even after our chaste embrace ended she remained.

‘I’m sorry, we don’t sell gluten-free bread.’

‘But it’s on the menu.’

‘Doesn’t mean we have it.’

There was nothing more to say. She was right…just because it was written down on a menu of goods for sale, it didn’t mean they had to have it.  And so I walked away knowing that when this story of one woman’s search for the breakfast she ordered would be passed down through generations, that I was going to come off as the wanker and years from now, they’d still be right.