True Story: I Changed My Name

Have you ever wished you could change your name? It's both easier and harder than you'd think. //

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of my friend who changed her name from Brandy to Alex.

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.
Photo by Victor Lozano on Unsplash

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  1. Two Kayaks

    Kudos to you for taking charge of your life like this! My husband and I wanted to have the same last name before our children were born, but neither one of us wanted to take the other's last name. So, we chose a new last name and legally changed it. We had no backlash from my side of the family (women have been changing their last names for centuries) but my husband suffered a lot of backlash from his family and friends. Quite a double standard.

    • lauren dee

      but your story is amanzing and how does it feel to change your last name ? and how is everybody on his side of family taking it ? is they ok with it now . what last did you guys change it to if thats ok with me asking you ?

    • erica

      OMG can you please write your story about that ? i would love to hear about it . it sounds great . i always wanted to do that if i didnt get my full name legally changed by the time i’m married and i didnt want to take my husband last name then i would have did the same thing we would have just got a new last name together im glad to hear somebody already did this , i was wondering if someone have ever did that . but right now i am 22 years old and i will be 23 in nov. and im trying to get my full name legally changed . ive been wanting my full name changed since i was 12 years old and my parents was not going to let me change it and they would not accept that at all.. and as in today my dad STILL does not approve he already told me that if i get my name changed that he will NEVER call me by my new name NEVER . he said he is just going to call me by my birthday which is my name now. and my mom she is some timing one minute shes ok with it and then the next minute shes like no why would you do that ? and they made front of me couple times because i wanted to get my name changed and told me i was silly and crazy for wanted to do that but my dad he will never approve me getting my name change . if i do get my full name legally change he will be soo fucking pissed at me. but anyways i hope your husband family is ok with it by now

  2. Gigi

    I totally agree about the liberating comment. I changed my name a few years ago and it felt great to be able to define myself instead of trying to fit into a name that didn't feel like me anymore.

    My process was a little trickier (I had to appear in front of a judge, file paperwork several times, submit fingerprints for a background check, etc.), but still totally worth it.

    • lauren dee

      which name did you change ? your first last or middle ? or your full name ? and how long did the process take ? and how long did you have to wait for your court day ? .

  3. Meandering Design

    My mother used to go by Vickie, but now she goes by Victoria (which is her given name) because she felt it suited her since she was getting older. Keep in mind my name is Kandy and I asked her what I was supposed to do when I got older and she had no comment. I kind of like my name because it is original (definitely not the case when I was a kid), except I worry about being an 80 year old named Kandy!

    • Jess

      Maybe you could just tell people that Kandy is short for Kandice, and start going by Kandice when you’re older and you feel like Kandy no longer suits you 🙂

      • Fianou

        Nah… Granny Kandy sounds pretty awesome.

  4. Becky C.

    Great to read about this! I've always been curious about this process! I was given the name 'Rebecca' but hated it, & seems a lot of people irrationally hate it too for whatever reason. Probably because there are no well-known people by the name, only widely disliked ones, eg. Rebecca Brooks, Rebecca Black (though I love her).

    I used to despise it, but people call me Becky now & I feel it's more my own name, since I don't know anyone else with the same name.

    • Fianou

      For some reason I’ve always like Rebekah more than Rebecca. But of course it kinda makes no difference does it?

  5. Sam

    I absolutely love my name. I can go by Sam or Samantha. With Sam I feel sporty, fun, and outgoing…and Samantha is a more pulled together, formal, presentable me. 🙂

  6. Mel

    I've never had a strong connection to my name (Melissa) because my family always called me "Sis", and as I got older, friends and teachers called me "Mel". Even my signature is just "M Last Name". I generally go by "Mel" now, although as I build my writing portfolio, I am using my full name. It has crossed my mind to change it occasionally, but it has family significance, so that's a whole new can of worms.

    • Fianou

      I’ve heard people called melissa adopt Missy as a nickname

  7. Jenna Kahn

    My name is officially Jennifer, but no one calls me that – not even my parents. I've been called Jenna since birth. The only reason I wasn't named Jenna is that my dad thought it was too informal for a birth certificate. I will never be a Jennifer, but I have never considered changing my name. Thanks for the great, thought-provoking post!

  8. The Divine Miss Em

    My family is huge into nicknames. My sister and I are Sarah and Emily. Our parents rarely call us by our given names. We have family nicknames with no relation to our real names. We would joke if our mom called us by our first names rather than our nicknames, we should already have a bus ticket out of the country. The only people who call me by my full given name are my coworkers and my boyfriend.

    In short, our legal names don't much matter. We rarely use them as it is.

  9. Raquel Moss

    Nice story! I also changed my name, in New Zealand it's a pretty straightforward process. Fill in the form, get it signed by a JP, pay the $150.

    Before legally changing it, I went socially by my new name — you'd be surprised at how little you actually need to use your official name! So, if you're unsure, you could try being known as your new name socially for a while before signing the paperwork.

    I changed my middle and surnames, not my first name. I remember hating my middle name as a child because, although hardly anyone ever needed to know my middle name, it was a name linked my biological father and long story short, I wanted nothing to do with him. When I was a teenager I asked my mother how she'd feel if I changed it, and she said that she would be very hurt. So, when I changed my name last year, I didn't tell her about the middle name. She was fully supportive of the surname change (my previous surname was my step-father's name who is now no longer part of my life either. Like I said, long story). I know the middle name change will come up one day, but for now she doesn't need to know. It's my name and I can do what I like with it.

    • Reina

      Hi there, i know this is a long shot as this comment was made years ago, but did you ever get a new passport under your new name and if so did you get a new passport number too?

  10. Valerie Darling

    I changed my last name and my mother was so upset. She cried because she thought I didn't like her and my father's last name. She will still throw digs at me for it, but she's gotten over it, for the most part. I love my name now.

  11. Anonymous

    I loved this interview-so interesting. I used to hate my first name (Alice). I introduced myself as Alison in my early teens because I thought it was more normal/mainstream. Now I love my name…it's a bit old fashioned, a bit quirky, a bit different. My mom named me after Alice in Wonderland because it's her favourite book. I definitely wouldn't change it now.

  12. LanikaVivian

    My name makes me uncomfortable, but not enough to legally change it. I like that my mom is so attached to it, because I love and respect my mom (also, she doesn't like her weird name that her mom gave her, so it's a bit of a bonding point for us) but I don't think it suits me, it seems too unique, if that makes sense. I broke her heart when I was 6 by telling her I wished I were a Michelle. However, having a unique name comes in handy: I never have trouble coming up with usernames, I never had to go by my name + last name initial because there was more than one kid with my name in school, I've never had a boyfriend that had a family member, pet or ex girlfriend with the same name as me.

    Most interestingly though, my name can reveal prejudice. My name is Lanika (pronounced La-nee-ka), and most people assume I must be of some form of African descent. Their reaction upon meeting a seriously pale white girl shows their hand: some people admit it and laugh it off, some people are surprised and then pretend nothing's weird, some people noticeably treat me better once they find out I'm white. So my name can be an interesting social experiment.

  13. Michelle K.

    This is a really interesting story! I've never met anyone who has legally changed their name. I actually really like my first name, Michelle. It's easy, pretty and girly, and it's pretty international (I'm Polish/Canadian living in Switzerland). My last name, however, is a mouthful: Kuliszkiewicz. It's hard to pronounce and complicated to spell. It's annoying, but on the other hand, makes me stand out from the crowd. I constantly have people ask me what the origin of the name is and where I'm from, etc. And even though I've always longed after a short and easy last name, I couldn't imagine changing it. Even when I get married, I thin I'll have a hard time changing my name. It's our family name and we don't have such a large family (my father has 1 sister who doesn't have kids and I have a sister, no brothers) so I feel like the name won't live very long. I'd love to keep it alive for as long as possible 🙂

  14. Anonymous

    I am currently 15 years old and my name is tony. I never liked it because it rhymes with too many other things (and is easy to make fun of) and because its a nickname for Anthony. Ideally I would like to change it to Benjamin and be called Ben but I have been making a list of names I like for about 8 years so there are at lease 5 or 6 other names I would like to change it to.

    I have not yet asked my parents to change it but my passport expires in about 9 months and it would take a minimum of 60 days and $100 (aud) to change it (I have looked into the legal forms) so I figure now would be a good time to change it since I will not need a new one until I am 20 and that and my birth certificate are the only thinks I will need to change.

    I know my mum approves of the name that I want to change it to because it was what she originally wanted my name to be, However I know my dad does not like it witch is why they never called me Ben.

  15. Sara

    I plan to change my name as well because Sara is a really common name(The h doesn’t really make a difference if it’s at the end or not), but my parents don’t want me to change it, and they think it’s a phase that I’m going through, but I’ve been thinking about for several years now, and the name I’m most likely going to change it to is Raven.

    • Anonymous

      Love Raven
      Did you do it?

  16. Nici

    This is awesome! I have been wanting to change my last name as it is a tie to my family which I have never really felt a part of, especially now. My dad’s side has always wanted me to change it to their name but I really don’t want to. My first name, Nicole, is something I have both kind of liked and hated. My Mum wanted to name me Tabitha but somehow came up with Nicole. I more so like the nicknames that go with it (Nici and Coco are the main ones I get called) so I’m keeping my first name, and my middle name is pretty, Elise, and is named after Fur Elise which is cool. I am so excited to change my last name and finally get to be free of the negative feelings and memories I associate with it.

    • Alexandrianna

      Hi Nici So I too am changing my name. have the 1st and middle pretty much figured out but not sure about the last. How did you go about finding a last name. I want something that is positive not with a w and fairly easy to spell .Thanks

  17. Anastasia

    I have legally changed my surname to a different spelling, because I have never felt as a part of a family. The moment I’ve done this I felt like a whole new different person. And even out relationship with family members vastly improved. Maybe because I wasn’t burdened anymore by family past which wasn’t even mine, and I felt more like my own person who only belongs to me.

    Also, my given name is Anastasia and nobody ever really calls me with this name. Everybody always calls me by nicknames. It makes me sick. The only people who call me by my whole name are my mother, sister, my best friends and those whom I forbid to call me anything else. In places where legal name is needed (like introducing yourself to someone) other people might refer to me as Anastasia, but not when hanging out with me or doing something…ever. And I was thinking about either changing my name to a nickname or give myself a nickname for my middle name, so I could ever be called by my name without having to always have this conversation:
    Let’s call the person Jane.
    Jane: “Hi there, I’m Jane.”
    me: “Hi, I’m Anastasia”
    Jane: “A-what? Wow, that’s so regal, like the Russian Princess!
    Parents gave you a really beautiful name!”
    me: “Thank you.”
    Jane: “But how can I call you? Can it be shortened? Is there a nickname?”
    me: “Yes, but please call me by my whole name.”
    (conversation continues for few more minutes)
    Jane: “Bye, Ana.”
    And so on.. it’s almost every time I meet someone.
    The only thing is that I love my name. I don’t have a middle name, but I think that by giving one to myself, possibly a nickname, I could always tell people to call me by my middle name instead which I’ll probably do. I’m looking forward to it! 🙂

  18. K.B.Kegan

    I have been looking for a new first (it’s currently Chloe), middle and last name for about 5 or 6 years now and I think I have finally found the ones that I’m going to go with.
    I mentioned that I wanted to change my name to my parents and best friend a couple of years ago, but nothing since then, so they may think I’ve chosen not to, so I am nervous about bringing it up again.
    Also, I don’t think I’m going to tell my family. I have no problem with my relatives, but at the same time, we’re not really close and I don’t want to deal with all their questions and judgements and comments.
    My parents will, of course, know about it, and I will be fine with them still calling me my given name, but grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, ect. won’t – so they will still call me by my given name, which I’m fine with.
    I am a little concerned that my family will take it as a rejection of them, which is not at all the reason that I’m doing it, so it’s easier if they don’t know. Actually, part of the reason is that my name is SO common – I’ve gone to school with at least 10 others, including one of my close friends and people call us ‘Chloes’ or say “Hey, Chloes” and it drives me crazy). My mum has said that if she had known it was going to be that popular (in fact it was the most popular name the year I was born) then she wouldn’t have chosen it, but my middle name does have slight family significance for her.
    As for my surname… well, like I said before: I’m not close to my family. I’m the odd-one-out – the screw-up, so \_O_/ why not make it into more of a statement?

  19. Maya

    I changed my name as well.. Had a whole lot of backlash from family and relatives. I changed because my last name was tied to my ex-religion and everyone kept associating me with the culture and religion and my role as a woman and how I should act, behave etc cos of my name and my ethnic background and religion. Even to the extent of guys (strangers) messaging me on facebook dictating what I should not wear cos I am of a particular ethnic group and should cover up bla bla bla!!! I got fed up. So I decided to change my name. Legally. And like the author, I created a new identity for myself.

    I love the new name, how important I feel with it (I think I’m the only one in the world with that name). But what irks me is when friends still call me by my old name. How do you get them to accept your new name? It’s been 3yrs now, and since I have a new name, I want people to embrace this new me.

  20. Pamela Hall

    I was given the name Pamela Joy and I have always hated it. I was named after a character from a 1980s soap opera, Dallas. My entire childhood I was called Spam, Spamela, and Spammy. Still to this day as a 30-something-year-old woman, I still encounter grown adults that find it hilarious to call me some variation of canned lunch meat. Additionally, my middle name is almost ironic for me. I have never identified with my name and have come to cringe when I hear it spoken aloud and feel embarrassed or ashamed when I have to present my name in any way, shape, or form in public (forms, doctor offices, resumes, etc.). For a few years now I have been discussing with my husband and sister changing my both my first and middle name. Those closest to me understand and are supportive but others laugh and tell me that I am being ridiculous. I understand that some people in my life (a cousin, aunt, and my husband’s entire family) will outright refuse to use my new chosen name. I am still unsure of how to handle that. I appreciate reading interviews and articles about name changes as they help me know that I am not the only person out there who struggles so much with not identifying with their given name. Congratulations on your new name and life, Alex!

  21. Ruth Ben-Or

    I always wanted a middle name since I started school and realised that almost everybody else did! My parents said they didn’t believe in middle names because they don’t get used, and that they had chosen my name and that of my brother because they were short which seems mean-spirited, it’s not as if the general registry charges by the letter! After using my original 1st name together with my middle names(Ruth Caroline Alexandra) on social media for 4 years, I made it legal at the age of 56 and am looking forward to hearing it read out loud when I marry this year.

  22. Finesse

    Wow Bayleigh, great post!! So positive, love the name. I wish you continued success. I’m also experimenting with the new name ‘Fanesse.’ Family/friends aren’t in favor of it, because of the meaning of Finesse. At the same time, their not risk takers or would do anything out of the ordinary (except facebook dream). I’m 99% in with Fanesse! Your post was motivating. The meaning also means skillful (not trickery). The name itself has nothing to do with the dictionary word lol.

  23. Nate

    I really felt like I was the only person in the world who hated their name that much before reading this article and the comments. I really feel like my name has held me back in life and I can just imagine being able to do whatever I want, do exponentially better socially, and get the kind of career I desire. I have what I always thought is a weird name, can’t come to accept it, and feel slightly ashamed for having it. I don’t think something as silly as a name someone hates should be holding them back though. If someone wants to change their name, get a sex change operation or whatever else makes them feel authentic and complete, who should tell them otherwise? I think my transformation will be massive and it will benefit everyone around me greatly as well

  24. Anonymous

    Hello all! I am glad to find people who I can relate to about this. I have been thinking about a name change for over a year now. I’m 34. My entire name is Yoruba in origin: my first, middle and last name. I appreciate the cultural uniqueness of my name, but I don’t feel that it is practical career wise. Also, there are some Yoruba names that I like so much better than my own. I’m tired of having to remind people how to pronounce my name. My name is constantly forgotten as well. It’s just not easy to remember. Even other Nigerians get my name wrong sometimes. Also, I’ve lived in the United States my whole life, and I plan to live somewhere in the Western hemisphere for the rest of it. If I was living in Nigeria, I wouldn’t mind my name so much, but here, it feels like a hindrance at times. Sometimes I wonder why my father didn’t think of things like career and social mobility when he named me, since he was already in America when I was born. Anyway I spent a lot of time being mad at my dad, but then I realized I could just change it. Finding jobs has always been tough for me, and I do think it’s partially due to my name, because I have the education and experience needed for my field. I feel ready to do this, and filed the paperwork at my local county clerk office last year. I changed my first, middle and last name. However, I’ve been indecisive and changed my name on the paperwork 3 times. I’m going to go ahead and take the plunge because I’ve been delaying for several months. The process is not complete until I go to court. I am not telling my family until the process is done. I don’t want them to try to stop me. But I wonder if my dad would be hurt. I decided to keep my last name similar to my dad’s last name. The 1st last name I picked was totally different. Anyway, I have to remind myself that no one has to walk in my shoes but me.

  25. M

    I changed my name socially more than three years ago (I’m in my early 20s now) and I’m finally going through with the legal change (which is an incredibly expensive and tiresome process in my country, sadly). I was bullied for years and I don’t honestly ever want to see or hear it again. I’m not in touch anymore with most of the people I knew from childhood anyway, and I’m gently trying to get them to use the nickname my parents have always called me by, which I don’t mind. At this point my identity feels very fragmented. I mainly use my chose name, which to me is beautiful but honestly doesn’t fit me much (I chose it when I was a teenager… my tastes in names have shifted since). I use diminutives of that as well, and a lot of unrelated nicknames my parents have made up for me… they know about the change but don’t approve, and neither does my boyfriend, as it’s just so much money. I’m terrified to tell them I’ll be going through with it anyway, even if by working parttime for three months I’ll have earned back the cost of it all. I feel almost sick with fear for telling them. I don’t even identify much with my chosen name and I’ll probably change it to something else informally after I finish my current studies, but I just don’t want to see my legal first name on any document again and have it used to refer to me in any situation and have people assume that ugly name belongs to me…

  26. Claudia

    I’ve always hated my last name. Since I was a kid it was, “wait what is your last name? Duren- Durr-en-berr what? what was it again? can you spell that?” oh for the love of all that is holy, people. Don’t butcher it. Just refer to me as “Claudia”, and no you do not need my last name for your phone contacts. Claudia Harvey. Simple, sweet, SHORT. Goes with the title “Nurse” (I am Pre-Nursing) very well. Signing “Harvey” flows out of my pen. I look in the mirror and see a Harvey. Still incredibly hesitant. But, I’m 23 so if I don’t now, I doubt I ever will.

  27. Hopeful

    I started going by my middle name. My parents were very supportive, my friends teased me but were supportive, and changing credit cards to remove first name was easy. But I can’t figure out what to do in a professional setting. So many customers and coworkers know me by my first name. It seems like a huge mountain to climb to get my new name (middle name) to be accepted at work. How do you even start? Who do you tell first? It seems very overwhelming.

  28. alexis

    i’m so proud! Alexandra has a great ring to it !

  29. Dolores

    I love this story and it’s amazing that so many people do not like their given names either. I think my given name is pretty, but on someone else not on me. I’ve hated my given name since I was five, people just can’t pronounce it. It’s not hard to pronounce, but people don’t pay attention, making me correct them several times. My preferred name is Dolores. I love the meaning behind this name, as I think from sorrow we can find beauty. I know a lot of Harry Potter fans think of Dolores Umbridge, I’m a Potter fan as well, but still think this is such a beautiful name. I’d be honored to have it for the rest of my life. I liked it so much I named one of my characters in my book Dolores (Dolo to her inner circle). I have family that will never approve though. So that’s holding me back. But eventually I hope to just take the plunge and do it. I mean no disrespect to my parents by changing it, and as a good friend of mine once said, I’m the one that has to live with my name.

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