When did you start to dislike your name? When did you start thinking about changing it?
As a kid, I never liked my name. It seemed like my parents trying to be something I was not – rich, dramatic and a bit pretentious. I didn’t really think about it, I just didn’t like it. My sister was born when I was 8, and she was named something that seemed so much better: with the times, a bit funky, gender ambiguous.
I knew a ton of people that had nicknames, and even a few nefarious types that had changed their names to avoid legal issues. That said, I have no idea when it occurred to me to change my name. I just decided it was time to be myself.
What were some of the names you considered? What were you ‘looking for’ in a new name?
I was looking for something that could be gender ambiguous (for safety purposes in the informational age), something that seemed unique, and something that would provide me with options for good nicknames. I don’t really remember what other names I considered – which seems really strange to me now.
How did people react when you told them you were changing your name?
Most people that knew me well didn’t blink. People thought of me as independent, a free-thinker, and unconcerned about the judgment of others, and while I don’t know if any of that is true, those opinions led people to be very understanding. Those folks that I didn’t know very well were surprised and asked a few dumb questions.
Among my favorites: Are you a lesbian? Uh, no. I don’t think having sex and changing ones name are directly tied. Are you avoiding the law? Uh, no. Having a legal name change wouldn’t really help me to avoid the law.
Tell us about the legalities of changing your name. Where do you start?
I had no idea what to do, but knew it was a legal process, so I went to the local law library after deciding that hiring a family law attorney was too expensive. This was before the internet. At the law library, there was a book about how to do simple legal things. I followed the direction and then went down to the county courthouse to turn in the paperwork I had created.
The law clerk stared at me like an idiot and informed me that I needed to put the documents into the correct formatting. I asked her what that meant. With much annoyance, she explained exactly what that meant.
So, I went home, recreated my documents, and went back with a check. After that, they required me to publish it in a local paper, which I did. I was surprised how easy it was, other than annoying the clerk.
How did you feel when you started introducing yourself with your new name?
It was so fun to introduce myself with my new name! I felt like I had taken charge of my own life and truly become independent. Also, it was liberating. People allow themselves to be defined by things beyond their control. Changing my named allowed me to define myself.
Are you open about the fact that you changed your name? How do people who know you by your new name react to that?
When it comes up, I tell people about my name change. I don’t hide it. However, I also don’t publicize it. I work in a conservative field where trust is everything. Typically, I tell people after I know them a little bit and it comes up in conversation.
People don’t really react, and I find it interesting that most of them actually forget. Basically, it isn’t a big deal. Also, when it does come up, I’m shocked how often people tell me they have changed their own names or ask me how they can do it because they have always wanted to.
What advice would you give to others who are interested in changing their name?
My advice to people wanting to change their name would be the following:
-Think about it for a while. You have time. So, do a scientific process. Do research to decide what names you like. Try them out by introducing yourself to strangers with the potential new name and putting your name into restaurant wait lists. Talk to people who you are very close to and engage them in the process. Ask how different names sound.
-Know you can always change it back, change it to something else, allow people who know you to call you by your old name. I have a friend that changed his name and didn’t even tell his parents or siblings. Think about it – how often do your parents ask to see your license? He told them eventually and explained it was just for professional reasons and they didn’t really care.
-If you have something about your name that has always haunted you and you just want to change it, do it. I know people who have always gone by their last names so they changed their first name to a last name at marriage. I know people that just didn’t like a syllable in their name or the spelling, so they changed it. Another girl I knew felt like her name was a nickname for something else, so she changed her name to the longer one and went by that with new people she met.
-After changing your name, make sure you notify Social Security, change your driver’s license, update your credit cards, etc. It takes patience. You can even go back and change your name with educational institutions and get your degrees reprinted if you want to. Most institutions are more used to this than you think. Have extra copies of the notarized order so you can do what you need to do.
-Know that some people will have a hard time with it, and that’s fine. In most cases, it was about memory more than anything. I would reassure people that I was the “weirdo that changed her name” and that they had nothing to worry about. I even told people like my parents and grandparents that they could call me my old name if they wanted – it didn’t bother me. The flexibility made it easier for everyone to handle.
-Know that it will come up and that you need a few stock answers or ways to explain it that you are comfortable with. For example, job search data and credit reports. Just be honest and keep your documents on hand if needed.
-Have fun with it! This is just one adventure in life, and it something you can control. Most things about our lives we can’t do a damn thing about, but this one you can. So, if you feel like being call Towanda Towanda for a day; go for it. Feel like a Brittany Smith? Sounds great. Or, is your name Moonshine Nikita? Fabulous. Or maybe you wish you were a Mary Anderson. Love it. Be yourself – this doesn’t hurt anyone and if it gives you confidence or some peace or whatever, it’s totally worth it.
Thanks so much for sharing, Alex! How do you guys feel about your birth-given name? Would you ever change it? I think Sarah is a bit common for my taste but I love my last name and every Sarah I meet is lovely and hardworking.