How to change the name by which people call me?
September 16, 2009 8:40 PM   Subscribe

I reeally dislike my RealFirstName. I want to start going by a NewName. Unfortunately, I have complicated things by not introducing myself as my NewName at my new "career", office-y job. So everybody just calls me by RealFirstName. So if I want to change this, and eventually go by NewName, what do I do now?

Some more self-indulgent background:

About RealFirstName, many friends describe it as not suiting my personality. I personally hate it. Even though it's short, I am constantly fumbling over the syllables. Like when I go to shake someone's hand and introduce myself, my mouth trips and stumbles of its own accord. It's not like the name is even complicated, but I digress. Suffice to say I'd like to go by another name.

What do I do now?

P.S., I am not set on my new preferred name[s]. As I don't currently have a middle name, my idea is to leave my RealFirstName the same, and "graft" on a new middle name[s], one of which would become my preferred name.

If you want to help me come out with my new preferred/middle name, please give me a shout at
posted by demagogue to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
short answer from someone who uses two different names in two different areas of his life: you're stuck with it for now.

for the most part, people are pretty understanding of people who use more than one name or have changed their name at some point. it's not that hard to explain to new employers if people at an old job know you by a different name (especially if the surname is the same). and it's not particularly awkward when someone from one circle addresses you by the name they know in front of someone from the other circle.

what IS difficult is trying to convince people who already know you by one name to call you by another. and in the workplace, i would go so far as to say it's too much to ask. if your friends are game to switch names then, by all means, have them do so now. but at work, you'll have to wait until you switch jobs again.
posted by 256 at 8:46 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

I reeally dislike my RealFirstName. I want to start going by a NewName..... P.S., I am not set on my new preferred name[s].

First thing first, you have to make the decision on what you want to be called, for real and forever. You can't do anything until you know what you want to be called- it's not like you can say, hey guys, I know my legal name is Bob and I asked you to call me Fred six months ago and now I want to be known as Marshall. People will think you're nuts. You only only get one shot at re-naming yourself among the people you know. Once you have settled on a name you want to go with, I would suggest going through with a legal name change, to set a paper foundation for the name you want to be known as going forward.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:50 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

One suggestion I have is to keep reminding (always politely, of course) those who forget. There was a woman in our office who changed names and didn't do this with a few people who kept using the old name. This led to confusion for me and others, as we often heard her go through entire conversations without correcting these people. So some people reverted back to the old name, causing a bit of a snowball effect.

There'll always be a few people that won't play along for whatever reason. Giving them a pass on it can hinder your cause, so be politely, consistently insistent on the new name.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:01 PM on September 16, 2009

Speaking of confusion, I should clear up some confusing wording in my previous post.

By 'didn't do this' I mean she didn't remind those who kept forgetting of the new name.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 9:03 PM on September 16, 2009

I second the "for real and forever." I once worked with a woman who changed her name three times in about four years and got very huffy if you missed a version and called her by her "old" new name. At first people were supportive, but when she changed it for the third time, one of her co-workers blurtedwhat became a catch phrase around the office: "Why doesn't she get it over with and just change her name to Sybil?"
posted by words1 at 9:13 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

I would see if you could get someone to start calling you a nickname. I went to university in a foreign country with a fellow Canadian who has a French name (let's say it Jean-Pierre). All the other Canadians started calling him JP, and it caught on and soon he was JP to everyone.
posted by JoannaC at 9:14 PM on September 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

You may have noticed that women change their names all the time - their last names, but their names nonetheless - and people manage to adapt. Just quietly let them know.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:32 PM on September 16, 2009

I once worked with a woman who changed her first name, for the sole reason that she didn't like RealFirstName and really wanted to be called NewName. After the initial (rather mild, mostly curious) reaction, people got used to it.

It helped that she wasn't shy about correcting people who called her by her former first name. Our office manager also sent around a simple email, the same format used to announce other name changes.
posted by Majorita at 9:43 PM on September 16, 2009

When I was 20, I legally changed my first and middle names. I hated them, I never felt like a [old name], and I wanted a different name. I decided on my new name, and then thought about it for another year before I let myself go through with it. After that year, when I was sure I wanted to do this and I liked my new name and that it would stick, I told the people around me what I wanted to do, and what my new first name would be. Only one person told me that they would never be able to do remember, so they weren't going to try. Everyone else was supportive.

I legally changed it (easy, but lots of paperwork and having to change it everywhere) 3 months later, and almost everyone tried to remember the new name as soon as I asked them to. When they didn't, they usually self-corrected. If not, I'd softly correct them. I gave people a pass when talking about their memories of a youthful me ("So I said to [oldname]..." or "When [oldname] was 3..."), because that's who I was then, but everyone, including my grandmother and parents soon settled into the new name with ease.

It will help if you have a practiced explanation (or 2 - I had one that was light and amusing and throwaway, and one that was a little more serious, if they probed) because people will want to know why.

In your case, adding a middle name and asking that people call you that is a good compromise, but you need to be sure you have picked the name that will stick. The second time you go back to change your first name in many states requires a hearing before a judge (not just paperwork) who will ask you what's up, and that will be entered into the public record.
posted by julen at 10:38 PM on September 16, 2009

I'm a guy and I went through a name change when I got married (my surname was Cruickshank but now it's Holloway). The marriage helped pave the way because society recognises that event as a significant one, and so if people forgot I'd correct them and be sure to associate it with the event.

I once read a study about perceptions and how people more readily accept mental changes with physical changes (Eg. if a person changes their ways they should dress differently because it will help others reassess them). You'd only get a few chances at that before people would get annoyed with it, but I think you could perhaps generalise it to any obvious change in your life (marriage, significant birthday, death, birth, etc.).

You sound undecided about your new name. Figure out what you like in the design of a name. For me it was a balance of uniqueness and ease of spelling, and Holloway was the one that everyone could spell. I prototyped several names by testing them on drunk people; getting them to spell it back to me, and Holloway passed with flying colours.
posted by holloway at 10:56 PM on September 16, 2009

How about a NewName jar that works like a swear jar. Anyone who uses your RealFirstName puts a quarter in the jar. Then you buy beer.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:27 PM on September 16, 2009

I'll say this: if someone told me they didn't like their name and they were going to change it but they hadn't settled on a permanent new name but they wanted me to call them such and such right now... well I'll do my best to call you whatever you want me to call you but in my mind I will be thinking "wow, get a grip you crazy dork." I think you should decide on a new name and legally change it and go through all the hoops and hassles of getting new library cards etc. if it actually means that much to you. This would also create a natural transition point, you know, tell everyone "I've never been happy with my name and I've decided to legally change it. I realize it may cause some confusion but it's a decision I thought hard about and it is important to me. Thanks in advance for helping with this adjustment." Then you change your outgoing message, your email, you gently correct people when they forget (preferably without exactly correcting them, as in *ring ring* "Hi, is this Prunella?" "Hi Bill, yes, this is Jane." People will get over it.
posted by nanojath at 11:34 PM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I once worked with someone who changed his first name. He changed it before I was hired, but other workers told me about stumbling over his old name a couple of times, then using the new one exclusively. Of course, since I had only known him by his new moniker, I never thought of him as having the old one. That seems to me to be a reason to change your name even though everyone knows you by your old name now. As time goes on, more and more people will never have known you by that old name.
posted by telstar at 11:39 PM on September 16, 2009

Yeah, settle on a name first. HR people don't mind the hassle of updating your name once in the system, but having inconsitencies will drive them and everyone else nuts.

I changed my middle name, and then started using it as my common name. My last holdout, nine years later, is my sister, and thus by proxy, my brother-in-law.

I did the change in my early twenties, so I now explain middleName is my adult name, while my firstName was my childhood name. Most people seem to understand that pretty well.
posted by Monday at 12:24 AM on September 17, 2009

I have at least two friends who did this and I also have an alternative name that I tried out. I also have some alter egos for my art but that's a whole other thing.

Friend #1 really hated his RealFirstName, took a really long time to choose a new one and then moved somewhere else and introduced himself as NewName. He then moved back to his hometown and had everyone call him NewName. I didn't live there at the time, so it took me a little longer, and I'm not sure how he handled the inevitable questions. For a couple of years I would mentally think his RealFirstName as I was verbalizing his NewName. He eventually did it legally as there was issues with passports and whatnot. Now everyone knows him by NewName and he has changed enough over the years to seem like a "NewName".

Friend #2 had pretty much the same experience without moving away. I think it took her a little longer as she did business under one name and socially under another. She eventually made the full on switch (not sure if it's legally changed) and nobody ever says her OldName.

However, for both these folks when people are talking about them in the past (when the person went by RealFirstName), it seems we all use the RealFirstName unintentially.

I had an issue as there was the time I tried out a NewName and was indroduced to people I don't see very often, and so they will still call me that when I run into them. Sometimes I don't correct them as I like having this other identity out there :)

Nthing thinking reeeeeally hard about what name you want, as it will get confusing and annoying with more changed UNLESS it's a nickname. You can have as many of these as you want. For your work situation I would go for a NickName for now, while you think about a NewName that you can use. If you have any buddies at work talk to them about it in private and have them just start calling you something nicknamey and try and get it to catch on. Or, when they start calling you NickName say "Hey! I like that, you should call me that all the time!".
posted by smartypantz at 1:08 AM on September 17, 2009

First thing first, you have to make the decision on what you want to be called, for real and forever. You can't do anything until you know what you want to be called- it's not like you can say, hey guys, I know my legal name is Bob and I asked you to call me Fred six months ago and now I want to be known as Marshall. People will think you're nuts.

Yes, absolutely PLEASE settle on your new name first. In all its permutations (middle names, initials, surnames, etc). Or else complications will ensue.

At my old job they often had summer interns, and I would be the default summer interns' assistant. And one summer, one guy was there who was also over the summer deciding he wanted to change his surname -- his parents were divorcing, and he wanted to start using his mothers' surname in some fashion -- except, he was having trouble making up his mind what he was changing it to. And he ended up telling everyone something different.

So his name in the company directory was FirstName MiddleName FatherName.
He signed up for his paychecks as FirstName MotherName FatherName.
He signed up for his benefits as FirstName MiddleName MotherName.
He signed up for his travel account as FirstName MiddleName MotherName FatherName.
He signed up for his credit card as FirstName MiddleName ConfirmationName MotherName.
And then by the time he finally met me and started working, he'd finally settled on FirstName MiddleName MotherName.

I spent the entire summer tracking down errant paperwork and correcting "missing" travel records because "We don't have a John Jacob Jingleheimerschmidt in our system, but we DO have this exact travel reservation you're looking for under the name 'John Jingleheimerschmidt Quincy,' could that be the same guy?" or "Oh, right, we did cut John Jacob Jinglehemierschmidt's paycheck, but it got made out to John Jacob Quincy, and the mailroom couldn't find where he was so they just returned it to us today." (It was REALLY good he was only there for the summer because I was about ready to kill him by the time we left.)

Yeah -- decide what your name is going to be for once and for all forever BEFORE you start telling people what it is.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:33 AM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Run the names by a few trusted, smart friends. I know a person who made a name change that was really pretentious, and people noticed. Does it make weird initials?

One strategy is to mention "My friends call me Newname" and begin signing email that way. My boss signs email with his full 1st name, William, but mildly prefers to be called Bill in person. However, about half the office now calls him William, based on his signature.
posted by theora55 at 7:44 AM on September 17, 2009

This is going to take a LOT of reminding and correction. I prefer to be called Jennifer, and always introduce myself and sign my emails as such, but about 50% of the people I meet call me Jen, sometimes within 5 minutes of introducing myself. After repeated reminders, I can get this number down to 25%, but some people are really stubborn about avoiding those last two syllables.
posted by desjardins at 8:21 AM on September 17, 2009

I think one thing that could help would be having a few allies in the transition. Tell some close work friends, who will then speak of you using the new name and help correct people.

When I was separated but not yet divorced (and therefore hadn't yet legally returned to my maiden name), I started by checking with my boss and letting her know of my intentions. She could also back me up on that. Then I changed my e-mail signature from Madamina Married to Madamina Maiden Married for about two or three months, while using Madamina Married in conversation. I knew it wouldn't be immediate. Then I changed the sig to Madamina Maiden a few months before I actually changed it. For you, this approach could work if you use Old (New) Last, followed by New (Old) Last or just starting with the second step.

This example is overkill, but I know that people going through a gender transition must live publicly in the new gender for a specified period of time before they can have surgery. So think about it in that way, in the sense that people have known you in one way and will have difficulty changing their knowledge. By thinking about the process for a long time before acting and treating it carefully you'll have people respect you more, not think you're weird.
posted by Madamina at 8:24 AM on September 17, 2009

This would, of course, be easier at a new job, but I doubt you have the luxury of just switching jobs, so it'll be a bit tougher.

Anyway, when you finalize the name, and know what you're gonna go as, run it by your friends first. Get them calling you that, and that way you'll know that you're comfortable being called that.

Once that's done, explain to coworkers, "You know, I go by [LegalFirstName] mostly because I applied with that name and to fill out the HR forms. My friends all call me [NewMiddleName], and I think I'd be more comfortable if you all did so too."

It definitely won't work for everyone. I am a Stephen that goes as Steve, and I had a boss who called me "Stephen" no matter how many times I answered the phone or signed emails as "Steve." Then again, she used the greeting "Hello" in e-mails, so she might just be a bit too formal and stilted in general.
posted by explosion at 8:59 AM on September 17, 2009

This happens all the time when people change their gender, so I'm sure HR will be amenable once you settle on a new name.

One useful side effect of changing: You could use your old name when signing up for throwaway email accounts, online subscriptions, etc., so junk mail is easily identifiable when it arrives.
posted by vickyverky at 11:13 AM on September 17, 2009

You should somehow get your employer to hire somebody with the same first name as your old first name. This way, everyone gets something out of your new name: a less confused workplace.

This happened where I work. A Jonathan effortlessly became Jack -- the name he prefers but didn't adopt at work right away -- when a second Jonathan came aboard.
posted by chrchr at 8:32 PM on September 17, 2009

« Older Shoot for the moon...   |   Help...Falling asleep in class everyday. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.