A Rosensweigelheimer By Any Other Name ...
August 31, 2009 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Planning to change my last name, which isn't a common thing for men to do. Not sure what reactions to expect from colleagues and peers. How can I best deal with potential social stigma and explanations of reasoning involved?

Going from a multi-syllable "ethnic" name to a single syllable variation. I've always felt it to be a hindrance and would like to change it for myself and my family for many reasons.

I'm now in my early 30's with a small family, established career, decade old friendships, ... etc. While I realize it should make no difference what others think, I know that I would probably think it was "weird" if another man were to change their last name. I also worry about future job and rental applications making me look sketchy.

I'm hoping someone else has some direct or indirect experience with this and might be able to offer advice on how best to ease the transition. Also any advice on the process itself are welcome. Thanks.

[My offspring isn't in grade school yet. Wife is in school switching careers.]
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I know quite a few people, male and female, who simplified their last names so that they would be easier for English speakers. I don't think anyone will find it odd when you say "I'm changing my name from Waleczynszicewicz to Waltz because I'm so sick of people misspelling and mispronouncing it."

Are your children also changing their last name? Is your wife? If so, I recommend sending out cards with a family photo and a message saying "The Waleczynszicewicz family will now be known as the Waltz family" and maybe something jokey like "Same great family, now easier to spell."
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:18 AM on August 31, 2009 [10 favorites]

Also, this was incredibly common in the US in the 20th century. The conductor Michael Tilson-Thomas, for example, is the grandson of the great Yiddish theater actors Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky. Sometimes only one person in the family changes their name: David Duchovny's father was the journalist Avram Ducovny. Sometimes people change their names back: writer Irving Wallace's two writer children are Amy Wallace and David Wallechinsky.

Then there's Ted Morgan, who changed his name from Sanche de Gramont to reflect his strong self-identification as an American.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:22 AM on August 31, 2009

I changed my last name when I was 12. It was an adoption, but there was an aspect of what you are writing as well (I had a distaste for my last name and kids made fun of it). I had to get a new Social Security card.

It was more than a bit awkward at school, but my mom had me bring in treats for my class and kind of treat it like a birthday, except I was just letting people know I was changing my name.

It's a bit weird 27 years on to even be thinking about it. I've assimilated my current last name into my identity to the extent that I even have trouble remembering how to spell my former last name.

It gets easier with time, since new people will never know you as Waleczynszicewicz, but will only know Waltz (to use Sidhedevil's example).

And ultimately, it's really no one's business. You don't have to explain it to them. And I can't see anyone caring beyond being curious. A simple explanation will work, "We decided bring our family name in line with our cultural beliefs," or you can just say, "We decided to do this as a family for a lot of personal reasons."
posted by cjorgensen at 10:31 AM on August 31, 2009

While most of us can point to examples of this (when you think of it, many actors use simplified versions of their birth names) it isn't super common so expect some to a lot of people to find it strange or confusing. I think the most important thing is to consider that most people aren't being rude or weird, they are just going to be naturally inquisitive about something that is relatively unique. As for practical advice, you might keep in mind that some human resource processes at company may not have any provisions or precedence for handling a male's surname change.
posted by mmascolino at 10:40 AM on August 31, 2009

As for practical advice, you might keep in mind that some human resource processes at company may not have any provisions or precedence for handling a male's surname change.

In the US, the gold standard is for surname change processes to be gender-neutral, to accommodate not only name changes upon marriage but also name changes for religious reasons (e.g., Black Muslims changing their names) and name changes for other reasons including simplicity.

It's possible that the OP's company might not be up to snuff, but if so there are lots of resources out there for them to discover. Everywhere I've worked, the paperwork has said "Current last name"/"Former last names, if any".
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:47 AM on August 31, 2009

A lot of actors do this, although I don't know if it's common to "officially" change to the stage name or just use it professionally.

Jon Stewart (Liebowitz)
James Roday/Rodriguez
Natalie Portman/Hershlag (obviously not a man, but her name change had nothing to do with marriage or adoption)
posted by radioamy at 10:50 AM on August 31, 2009

I changed my last name to my wife's in 1977. My first son was born under the new surname. We divorced several years later, I took my birth surname back. If I had had kids at the time, I would have ensured their original surnames remained, just to avoid confusion and getting crap from other schoolkids, but that's the only caveat. Always be up front about your name(s); make sure your former associates and employers have record of your decision, to avoid possible future resume hiccups. Come up with a one-sentence answer as to why you changed your name and use that same answer all the time when people ask, or even mention, that you changed your name.
posted by nj_subgenius at 11:14 AM on August 31, 2009

I'm not a guy, but I legally changed my first and middle names when I was 20. It's not quite the same thing as changing your last name, but I think it is analagous. The paperwork was easy but there were lots of places I had to change my name (the bank kept both names attached to my account for 2 years, for example). It took about a year for the name change to settle in with everyone, particularly people who knew me my whole life. They'd say, "This is [oldname] -- I mean [newname]", but eventually they didn't need to make the correction. My parents took it in stride.

The vast majority of people had no issues (with the action, or with remembering it). One acquaintance did tell me, "I'm never going to remember that, so I'm not going to try." but that was the extent of any pushback to changing the name they referred to me as every day. I'd say 10% said, "Cool." 60% verified I wasn't joking (or made the obvious "running from the law" joke) and took my practiced jokey/light explanation ("Everyone and their sister is named X, I need to be different! *jazz hands*") as the answer. Another 30% pursued it to my more serious answer (I never felt like an [old name] and I chose a family name that I liked for my new name). Most people will be curious, so it was worth it to prescript my responses for when I was asked. Not answering would have been far more effort.

Oh, yeah. I used to keep a folded up copy of my name-change decree in my wallet, but I haven't needed to produce it on the spot since I was 22. I produced it when I bought a house, got my mortgage refinanced, got a government clearance for a job, and the last time I had to prove I graduated from high school.
posted by julen at 11:31 AM on August 31, 2009

I did this; jettisoned a long painful ethnic last name in favor of a very simple one that my wife had chosen for her stage name when she was an actress (then changed her name to.) This was in Illinois about ten years ago. To date, here's the fallout:

1. My crazy aunt got mad at me for dropping the family name. Mind you, prior to her letter on the subject, i'd met her exactly once. So there ya go.

2. My passport had my old name, and my airline tickets my new name (including my old last name as my middle name), and so the screening woman at one airport gave me some shit before letting me through.

The benefits, by way of contrast:

1. I no longer have to spell my last name on the phone, and it's faster to write. It's also easier to sign. I assume that the time saved in the last ten years about equals the time it took to stand in line and file the paperwork. This is, obviously, speculative (and silly.)

2. Whenever an existing or new female acquaintance found out that I'd changed my name when I got married, I got oohs and aahs and aren't-you-sweets and general approval.

So, there ya go. Nobody else has batted an eye, through living in two states, getting loans and a mortgage, buying several cars, and so on. Didn't seem to have an impact on my credit, either, although at the time I wasn't really paying much attention to it.
posted by davejay at 11:59 AM on August 31, 2009

a friend of mine recently changed his last name and notified his friends/acquaintances by email. he kept it nonchalant and just explained his reasons for doing so (it had a lot to do with family ties). at first, it seemed like a big deal because he was pretty much known as Jack-Lastname. no one called him by just his first name. after the first "hey, did you get Jack's e-mail?" conversation with friends, it hasn't come up much. when we refer to him now, we just refer to him as Jack-NewLastname.
posted by gursky at 12:00 PM on August 31, 2009

Oh, one more (theoretical) benefit: the number of responses I got to my resumes during a job search went up noticeably when I got rid of my ethnic last name. Not proven causation, but something to think about.
posted by davejay at 12:01 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Here's an example for you, also an actor, but this takes simplification to the max.

Siddig El Tahir El Fadil El Siddig Abderrahman Mohammed Ahmed Abdel Karim El Mahdi (Arabic: صدّيق الطاهر الفاضل الصدّيق عبدالرحمن محمد أحمد عبدالكريم المهدي‎; born 21 November 1965) is a Sudanese-born English actor, also known as Siddig El Fadil and Alexander Siddig.

Currently, he uses Alexander Siddig.
posted by cmgonzalez at 12:01 PM on August 31, 2009

I would just say "Yeah, I stopped using the old hard spelling and now I use the American one."

(Or the British one. Or wherever you are.)
posted by rokusan at 12:14 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

The only fallout I think you'll possibly get is that you may experience a little confusion as to why you would want to do such a thing and possibly a little concern that you've got some sort of issue with your heritage. You're doing kind of an old-fashioned thing.

It was not a very long time ago that anyone with an ethnic last name who worked in broadcast journalism, print journalism, entertainment, or the like was absolutely expected to change their name to something non-threateningly "American" (scare quotes because WTF is un-American about having an ethnic last name?) I'm personally pretty thrilled that "foreign-sounding" last names are considered acceptable for mass consumption now. My grandfather changed the family name when my mom was a little girl from a long Polish name to a short, easily pronounceable (and unfortunately easily mis-hearable) name.

I don't think you'll get much gender-based weirdness if you explain that you're making your hard-to-spell last name easier, though.
posted by desuetude at 7:19 PM on August 31, 2009

If Homer Simpson did it, I don't see why you couldn't- Max Power is one of the greatest names EVAR, not that I'm suggesting you change your whole name to Max Power, or maybe I am...

Sorry for the sad, sad aside.
posted by TheBones at 8:49 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

« Older Unhealthily jealous of the attention my girlfriend...   |   What have I spent my life on? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.