what's in a name

(From the archives with an Africa Where to Stay list)

I have a confession. My name is not really Nicole Mann Novick. At least not legally.

Every time we have attempted an articulate discussion about the weighty subject of my name, no matter how Mike approaches the inevitable, “But why?,” all I can come up with is a somewhat daft, “Because that’s not my name.”  And, once in a while, I throw in a, “How do you just change your name?,” for good measure.

Who the heck is Nicole Novick? – It’s not me.  Nicole Novick has never been asked if her family likes to be referred to as “The Men,” while the asker waits with anticipation to see if that stinger really got her, like no one has ever asked that before.  No one has ever called Nicole Novick, Nicole Wo-Mann, stressing each syllable for what the jokester believes is the necessary punch to really make it a good one.  Nicole Novick was not the precocious eight-year-old on the tennis courts given the nickname Nicole Ineeda Mann by an older, trés cool counselor – an epithet that stuck for all of her camping years.  

Yes, I know, names shouldn’t define us.  But, I feel like the shrink that came up with that was thinking more along the lines of “Fat,” “Lazy” and “Stupid,” not what appears on our birth certificate or social security card. And I don’t give a hoot if I am referred to as “Mike’s wife – Nicole.”  You can just call me, “Mike’s wife” – I’d be proud of that.  I just don’t know who “Mike’s wife, Nicole Novick” is.  I am not concerned about carrying on the family name either.  I have a brother and a cousin that will inevitably produce tortured young women to carry on the tradition of being referred to as “The Mann Eater,” often accompanied by a chorus of “Whoa, here she comes, watch out boys she’ll chew you up.”

Mike doesn’t want to hyphenate Sweetlips and The Bean. I don’t want them to have a hyphenated last name either. Secretly, as a child, I always felt bad for those tykes during standardized tests as they shaded in the bubbles for their double name with a no. 2 pencil. There were never enough bubbles or a place to mark a hyphen. At the time I remember feeling that parents should have thought things like that through and I promised myself I would keep that in mind when I grew up.

Sometimes completely unrelated and benign incidents offer up revelations, ones that couldn’t be found or justified by love or sensibility alone.  I found mine at the dermatologist.  I have a very distinctive mole just at the inner edge of my right eyebrow.  Growing up my mother has always referred to it as a beauty mark, “because you’re beautiful” – you understand.  But, it’s a mole, nonetheless. Because of this mole I have decided not to completely change my name.  Some people reveal that it is my defining characteristic.  While I often forget that it is noticeable, a friend recently admitted that it is the first thing people see.  They stare at it during our entire first encounter and then they move on.  Yet, the mole would be my incriminating feature if I were ever to be put in a lineup of petite blondes. A dermatologist recently told me that she would like to remove the mole.  While it is completely healthy, she felt that my beauty mark is actually quite ugly and (I’m quoting here), “Whenever anyone looks at you they can’t even focus on your face. All they are seeing is that horrible mole.”  I wasn’t offended.

I recently brought up the mole removal to Mike.  All I nonchalantly inquired was, “Should I remove my mole?”

“No!,” he exclaimed, quite passionately for someone that thinks replacing all forms of my present identification is no big deal. “You wouldn’t be you if you remove it. Everyone knows you as having that mole.  You can’t remove it,” Mike pleaded.  And here’s the clincher: He added, “It’s who you are.”

So, let me get this straight – I can’t remove a mole, else lose my identity, but I can change my name?  It just doesn’t make any sense.

As it stands, I am not changing the moniker on my driver’s license or my Loehmann’s membership card. That will remain as Nicole Mann for now. My marriage license reads Nicole Robin Mann Novick, and I will continue use Nicole Mann Novick as my editorial byline and for Garland Collection. If “the kids’” teachers refer to me as Nicole Novick, so be it.  As for Mrs. Novick, I will do my best to remember to respond.  

Clearly, we haven’t sorted out all the details. (I can never remember what name I make dinner reservations or doctor’s appointments under, so I always offer at least three options when I arrive.) But, I love Mike and I wanted a family with him in theory and in name, so it’s a compromise with myself. I have decided that Sweetlips and The Bean will have nothing to do with it – they will be home free with the utterly harmless Novick (although Mike has recently informed me of what little rugrats can do with just the switch of a letter).

I, on the other hand, will have two versatile last names, sometimes using one and when it pleases me using the other, often penning both.  While my incredibly generous and understanding Mike insists that I should do whatever makes me happy, he frequently affirms, “It sounds ridiculous.”  Trust me, I know. But, hey – what’s in a name?

The moral of the story? Traveling with a husband, a dog, two kids and multiple last names continues to be a logistical nightmare and when someone books my flight for family trips under the name Nicole Novick, the only point it proves is that I am not allowed on the plane.


We honeymooned in Africa after the name changing indecision decision and traveled back again with Mike's family. Here are a few of our favorite hotels and lodges in South Africa and Botswana, including Royal Malewane, where I took countless pictures of the decor, down to the bathroom floor tiles, knowing that I would one day want to recreate the look in our bedroom at home.

Photographed from our canvas enclosed suite at Zarafa camp in Botswana

Photographed from our canvas enclosed suite at Zarafa camp in Botswana






Cape Town, South Africa

Charming, welcoming and iconic.

(photo courtesy of Cape Grace)





Kruger National Park, 

South Africa


Expert guides, out of this world game drives, and a luxurious lodge and suites perfect for honeymooners.

(photo taken by NMN)





Selinda Private Concession, Botswana


With only four tented campaign-style suites, this intimate camp amongst big game is reminiscent of Hemingway's journeys to Africa. Stunning in decor and awe-inspiring in setting, it was developed by National Geographic film makers Dereck and Beverly Joubert.