Muller Marginalia

The Name Game

Published: Oct 5, 2022  |  

Writer, editor, performer and self-producer

In her article, “What’s in a Name?” Amanda Deibert touches on the inevitable question every affianced woman faces: whether or not to change your name. It’s no secret to those who’ve followed this humble column that I am getting married this fall. Alongside the sundry stresses that come with wedding planning—including flaky guests who don’t RSVP and a dress I now don’t fit into properly because I gained too much muscle (humble brag but seriously, it’s a big problem)—I also got a complimentary identity crisis.

I can’t say that I came down hard on either side of the feminist aisle when it comes to name changes. I never really thought about what I’d do when I was younger, but finding myself a bride in my late thirties makes this a bit more complicated: I’ve spent a lifetime forging an identity and career under this name.

In terms of family templates, my older sister readily swapped out her Muller when she got married, since she was sick of people mispronouncing it. This has the bane of my life, too, and we have John Hughes to thank: essentially, nearly everyone wants to read our surname as “Mule-uhr” because of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (as modeled repeatedly in the film’s iconic Ben Stein moment.) But it’s “Mull-uhr”…like it’s spelled. Like mulling it over. Like mulled wine. Not mule. I’m not a beast of burden.

No one did more of a service for informing the public of how to say my name than the FBI’s Robert Mueller, who pronounces it the same way I do. Thank you for your service, sir. And yes, in spite of the cute logo of this column, legally, I have no umlaut on my u—although the rest of my family in Deutschland is still Müller to the max, and I like to sign my name with it. Upon immigrating to the States, my dad nixed it, assessing—correctly—that no one would be able to handle the German vowel. He got rid of it and people still can’t figure out how to say his surname—the ghost of the umlaut haunts our u. 

Ü correctly pronounced is not the diphthong “yew” Americans say, but a pure vowel lying in the uncharted oral hinterlands, with the mouth in the shape of “e” and the lips pursed forward like a u. Just try to get a lazy-mouthed American to tackle that. Once in high school, my English teacher—who had taken German years before—dedicated a few minutes of class to attempting an authentic pronunciation. Ornery and hormonal 16-year-old Müllerette that I was, I countered, “Say it right, or don’t say it at all!” 

Pet peeve mispronunciations aside, my name is still my name. And a lifetime of cringing when I’m introduced in standup shows or cold-called by telemarketers isn’t enough to induce me to drop it.

As mentioned, there is the more obvious professional factor of being—to be incredibly generous here—a semi-public figure. As an actor, I’m a card-carrying union member under Nikki Muller. My YouTubes of yore are under Nikki Muller. My anemic but nevertheless verified IG handle (and checkless Twitter handle) are @NikkiMuller. And lest we forget, I offer weekly articles of Marginalia nature under Nikki Muller. 

There’s also a little bit of a Highlander situation, which anyone who Googles my name will quickly discover. There is a doppelgänger Nikki Muller in Singapore who is also a public figure, who is roughly my same age, who is a professional host and sometimes actor who undoubtedly hates that I got to social media first, because I am often getting messages meant for her. Bizarrely, when I was visiting NYC from LA over a decade ago, I actually met a mutual friend of hers at a New Year’s Eve party. She, however, pronounces our last name the wrong way, contributing to the scourge of “Mule-uhrs.” Which makes us sworn enemies. Kinda.

(To be honest, it’s a very eerie feeling knowing there’s another person out there with your name vying to become the number one most Nikki-est of Mullers on the globe. But there’s space for two—I mean, if Michael B. Jordan could make his own version of a name as an actor in the shadow of literally the greatest basketball legend of all time, then there’s room for two Z-list Nikkis.)

So we’ve established Nikki Muller will be my name until you pry it out of my cold dead unionized hands. But like Amanda wrote—there’s always the option of keeping your name as a professional and changing your private one. And there’s definitely something to be said for having a family unit that’s unified in identity. I remember when my mom changed her name back to her maiden name after my parents divorced. As a kid, I felt like we were no longer related. And while of course there’s plenty of people who have different last names in their families, for me, personally, I would like to have some element of unity that can tie me, my husband, and our possible progeny together. 

I also think, however, that it’s complete and utter bullshit that it’s assumed the woman has to be the one to change by default. RUDE. What I find even more outrageous is how many people follow the tradition that, if a woman keeps her name, the kids take the father’s last name. Sorry, but if I birth a human and rip my genitals apart in the process, you’d best believe I’m taking full credit for it. 

So after much ruminating—and debating hyphens and asking absolutely everyone’s opinion—I am indeed taking my husband’s name, but not losing my own. I’ll be Nikki Rosario Muller. (Muller-Rosario has too many R’s in a row.) I also kind of like it since I’ve never had a middle name, and now I get to have two last names. 

Names are weird. We are given them as babies, and they come to signify all of what we are, based on…what? The fact that our parents listened to a song called “Patricia” in the 1950s? Or liked the name Dylan because of 90210? Or read Twilight? (God: forget the question of deciding a name change—how in the hell does anyone name a baby to begin with?)

But whatever arbitrary reason might lie behind the names we are given, like Amanda says, they are ours and ours alone. So whatever you do with your name, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, and that you feel happy about it. Because it will always be your name—regardless of whether or not people know how to say it right.

Filed under:

Tags mentioned: