What if I told you my name but it wasn't technically my name?
July 8, 2010 10:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm 23. In a few months I will be moving to a different state to start a new chapter of my life. I would like a clean break with my past. Would it be socially acceptable to rename myself (first and last) and to introduce myself to people using my new name without any caveat or footnote? My legal name will not change. Would you feel betrayed or deceived if you were my acquaintance/friend/lover and eventually found out my name was actually something completely different? Let's assume marriage is out of the question and that I am not doing this to hide any youthful indiscretions. Is it ill advised to compartmentalize one's life in such a way?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (87 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
yeah of course! go for it. I am guessing your parents don't have a google alert for your name. So go right ahead. I suggest Percy or Dr. Drake but really it's up to you.
posted by parmanparman at 10:05 PM on July 8, 2010

Nup, do it!
posted by Wantok at 10:10 PM on July 8, 2010

If I was your lover and I found out you had a different name on your driver's license than the one I knew you by, then yeah I'd be freaked out. Not that there's anything wrong with having a new name and making a new start, but doing it only partway and assuming people wouldn't figure it out or trip over your old name seems like the wrong way to go about it. If I were hiring you and your paperwork said one thing and you said "Call me Other Name" I'd want to know what was going on. There are good and bad reasons to change one's name, but without any other explanation, I'd think it was somewhat shifty. If it wasn't shifty, I'd assume you'd change it legally.

So again, I have no issue with the name change. I have several friends who have done this at some stage of your life, but I've always known both the name I called them by and their other name, it was never a secret or in any way something hidden. Acting like "Hey it's no big deal I have a legal name and then the Other Name that I want everyone to call me but I don't want to talk about it, at all" seems like it would be complicated and require explanations more than you seem to think it would.
posted by jessamyn at 10:12 PM on July 8, 2010 [25 favorites]

i went to a new school in the 11th grade and i took my username here as my name. for 4 or 5 years i introduced myself as nadawi. sometimes people would ask if it was really my name, sometimes i'd indulge the question, sometimes not. i don't think a single person every felt betrayed when they found out i had a real name.

i didn't mean to at the time, but i realized that i actually changed my name every few years from 12 to 22 - i went from a shortened form of my name, to the long form, to nadawi, and then to another shortened form interchanged with the actual name. so now, i know how people know me, and how long they've known me based upon what name they call me. i've found the compartmentalization of it very nice but if i ever went to therapy, i actually think a doctor would disagree (mine is all mixed up in issues of disassociation), but it worked for me.
posted by nadawi at 10:13 PM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Nothin wrong with it, but be aware that changing yourself is a lot harder than changing your name, and one does not necessarily follow from the other. You can change without changing your name - you get to decide what it means to you, just like any other name.

Either way, I would either do it by deed poll, or have a quick explanation at the ready.
posted by smoke at 10:18 PM on July 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

I agree with Jessamyn. Name changes are fun & fine, but it would be weird if I found out someone I knew was secretly going by a completely different first and last name from their legal name. Why not change it legally? Or keep your current name and go by a different first name? It's changing both names that strikes me as off.
posted by studioaudience at 10:22 PM on July 8, 2010

If I met a guy and started dating him and then a few months down the line happened to see him pull out a credit card with a different name on it and then found out that he had been lying about his real, legal name the whole time I would freak the f#*$ out. Seriously. I would assume you had a wife somewhere, were a criminal, god knows what. Even if you somehow convinced me that none of these things were true I would be highly distrustful or at the very least think you were pretty weird and bolt for the hills.

If I found out a friend did this, I would be weirded out and a bit suspicious, but less concerned you were a serial killer.

I'm actually really surprised so many people are cool about this. Maybe I'm just the uptight lawyer, I don't know, but I think this is crazy. It's one thing if you change your name legally or maybe if you go by a different first name only (I know plenty of people who have a nickname that in no way relates to their legal first name for various reasons), but keep your last name, but simply going by a different alias just screams "running from the law" to me.

Of course maybe I'm just a suspicious person in general.
posted by whoaali at 10:25 PM on July 8, 2010 [50 favorites]

Its fishy. You don't say exactly why, but you must be hiding something. If you are going to do that then why not go all the way and change your name legally? It just doesn't make sense to me. Yes, I would be freaked out if I was a friend/lover or acquaintance and learned you were lying about your name. The way you want to do it, is a lie. Depending on how and where you use your fake name, it might be illegal.
posted by nogero at 10:26 PM on July 8, 2010

As long as you don't deceive anyone maliciously, I don't think there's a problem. I've had different names at different times... it just seemed right at the time, since I was embarking on different parts of my life. I always made it clear - I introduced myself with "call me 'whoeveriamnow'", and let people know what was going on if they asked.

It gets interesting when people from more than one era are in the same room, referring to me by different names - everyone thinks there is someone in the room they haven't met, but they can't figure out who it is.
posted by foobario at 10:27 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think the only time I've heard about people going by a different first name and last name than their legal one is in those con/fraud stories that occasionally come to life, such as this.

I assume that there are other people who are going by a different first and last names, but that I just don't hear about them because there is nothing newsworthy about their lives.

If I learned that a friend of mine was using different names than his/her real ones, I would probably be confused or suspicious. I'm not even sure how I would react if I found out someone I had been dating had given me a made-up first and last name that wasn't his real one.
posted by andoatnp at 10:29 PM on July 8, 2010

[long story redacted]

Look, imagine you met someone who had a tattoo. You liked them, and the tattoo really didn't have anything to do with it one way or the other. For months, you'd seen the tattoo, integrated it into your view of that person, and yet you couldn't shake the suspicion that something was up -- because that person would never go swimming with you, or let you touch the tattoo.

Then, you found out it was a fake tattoo, and they'd been reapplying it on a daily basis. Would you think that was strange? Maybe. Pointless? Probably. Lame? You bet.

If you want to be trusted and respected, either change your name legally or don't change it at all.
posted by davejay at 10:39 PM on July 8, 2010 [16 favorites]

I would definitely think something was off or shady if I found out someone had different first AND last names from what they commonly introduced themselves as. Changing one or the other, especially the first, isn't that odd, but unless you're hiding something, it seems really weird to have a completely different name, yet one that you don't legally change.
posted by wending my way at 10:40 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just give yourself a new nickname. Irish? You're now Mickey or Seamus. Congratulations! Nordic? Hi, Sven! Or maybe Thor! Got a cool middle name? Go by that.

You're going to want to keep the real last name though unless you go and legally change it. The ladies, and I didn't need to read it in this thread, will freak out if you have too different a "real" name. Does it truly matter, though? People go by first names - "Hi, Sven!" "How's it going, Sven?", "Well, what do you think, Sven?" If you must, you could always be Sven-from-work, Sven-from-the-bar, or Sven, the-guy-with-that-tattoo.
posted by codswallop at 10:41 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, I come from the Burning Man culture, where almost everyone has a second invented name to go alongside their legal name. When I first moved to Los Angeles, the Burner crowd was the first group that I socialized with, so they automatically got to know me by my invented name. At the same time, I've developed parallel friendships with people in my life away from the Burner crowd. Each crowd knows me by an entirely different name, and the streams have crossed only occasionally.

In either case, when those worlds do mix, the reaction has been "Oh, okay, I guess his real name is Myke" or "Oh, I see, he has this thing called a Burner name and they call him Dodge." Every boyfriend I've had has eventually learned that I'm Myke with these people and Dodge with those people and when they meet new people in my life they just sorta stand back and see which name comes attached to my face. Nobody is freaked out because there is clearly a context for this other name and a set of protocols and ceremonies involved in having it.

When I meet all-new people in a neutral environment, I just tend to suss out the situation as far as which name I'm going to give them. It's pretty much a 50/50 chance that they'll hear either one of my names in the future, and it takes about 30 seconds to explain, so I don't care if they find out about the name they don't know.

Now, of course, Burning Man is a very specific thing and it is part of a definable tradition/culture to be given a second name. In your situation, I would find an opportunity to explain the name situation to people EARLY as they start to become significant in your life. I don't think it would behoove you to pretend that you're not Drivers License/Tax Return Person altogether. It takes no time to establish that "Hey, my real name is X but I prefer to be called Y," and people do that all the time, so there's nothing strange about it if you don't give them reason to find it strange (e.g., making it some big secret).
posted by mykescipark at 10:43 PM on July 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

It may have changed in this post-9/11 world, and IANAL so I may be full of crap, but in most parts of the country, if you introduce yourself with some name and use it consistently and generally go by some new name, that new name is your legal name. As long as you're not doing it to defraud people the law doesn't particularly care what your name is. To be honest I don't see why anyone else should care, either— your new name is no more or less made-up than the one your parents gave you.

It can cause problems down the line, though, because bureaucracy does care; you can get into a situation where your current name isn't acceptable (because there's no paper trail linking your birth record to it) and your birth name isn't acceptable (because nobody knows you as it, it's not the name on your driver's license, etc). Then you're probably unable to interact with that bureaucracy until you generate an appropriate paper trail.
posted by hattifattener at 10:46 PM on July 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

Hey, even shorter version: what would you think of a person who lied to you the first moment they met you, about something that's pointless to lie about? Yeah, you see what I'm saying.
posted by davejay at 10:48 PM on July 8, 2010 [13 favorites]

Then you're probably unable to interact with that bureaucracy until you generate an appropriate paper trail.

Incidentally, this sounds like bullshit, but it isn't. My legal name was David, but even from early childhood I preferred Dave. I put Dave on everything from school and job applications to mail I sent, and my legal name only showed up on my Social Security card and my driver's license. But, because I am stupid, I used Dave on my passport, and it was a stupid hassle every time I flew internationally because Dave and David didn't match across IDs, even though my long and painfully ethnic last name was a perfect match. I have since legally changed my first name to Dave, and I can only imagine the headache if I'd made that same stupid mistake with an altered last name -- because I only got hassled coming back into the country, never leaving.
posted by davejay at 10:52 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's weird and certainly abnormal to pick a random last name and not adopt it legally. Do you plan to hold a job when you move? Will you ask all your references to call you by a new, made up name, when potential employers call them? Will you be known under a different name professionally than socially?

I have, for the past six years, used a first name that differs from my legal U.S. name by a single letter (the transliteration of my Bulgarian name turns it into one that is distinctly masculine here, and I am a woman), and even that is causing a world of problems.

If I found out that one of my friends is using a completely different name from their real one, for totally arbitrary reasons, I'd be freaked out and probably end up questioning everything else about them.
posted by halogen at 10:56 PM on July 8, 2010

I think this is one of those things that works in subcultures and microcultures, like Myke says about burners. Unix nerds, comics and RPG people, and older-school VFX geeks have a lot of that, in my experience hanging around technical universities, RPG and anime clubs, and VFX facilities for the last 17 years.

Mr. F never calls me anything except my login name. My in-laws call me by my login name or the affectionate short form. People forget and make checks out to me that way. A friend of mine legally changed his name to "MegaZone," full stop, no last name, in homage to his favorite anime series. One of my old coworkers habitually blacks out everything but his nickname on his work badges; it took me two months to figure out his other, non-preferred name and I've never heard anyone actually call him that. We had a guy at my office who just went by "Agent X-Ray."

That being said, the amount of disclosure varies. I don't care as much as I used to if someone connects my login name to my real name; it's easy to do, and, well, whatever. I prefer to be called by my login name, but I don't make a thing out of it with people I don't know well, or with coworkers. In a lot of the cases I mentioned above with coworkers and pals, no one gives a shit what they're called because they're really just that competent in their specialty and quirks get overlooked as a result.

I do note, though-- crossing the coworker/ friend streams will cause namespace confusion in bystanders. One of the guys mentioned above calls me by my username at work and everywhere else. When he does it in front of coworkers who aren't clued in, they get visibly confused and I have explaining to do. This isn't a thing for me, but if you are really hardcore about keeping your identities separate, don't make friends with your coworkers.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:59 PM on July 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm going to say that you can do it, but it's weird. Why are you doing it? If it's to try and make a clean break with your past, changing your name won't help. You gotta deal with what's yours. It strikes me as a strange, strange thing for a person to do. It's one thing to go to Burning Man and be like MY NAME IS NOW ASTRAL THUNDROUS, it's another to go to the office and be like "My name is, uh, Suzan Crackers".

As a side note, we once had a temp named Ashley who used to spell and INSIST on being addressed as Ashleigh, which led to merciless teasing merrymaking.
posted by GilloD at 11:03 PM on July 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

I would assume you had a wife somewhere, were a criminal, god knows what.

It's the sort of thing perhaps not best done in the context of those Russian spies whose plea deal involved most of them acknowledging that they'd lived under false names.

The problem isn't going to be with your social circle; it's going to be when your social interactions bump into the official interactions where you're going by another name. For instance: a friend goes to meet you at the airport and you're delayed or stuck at a layover, but you're ticketed under Legal Name. S/he makes an inquiry at the desk for New Name. All manner of fun ensues, perhaps involving the TSA and cops.

Where there's just one name different, then it's no big deal; with both, there's a lot more explaining to do.
posted by holgate at 11:04 PM on July 8, 2010

(For what it's worth, everyone in my office knows I'm Dodge too. It's not really all that weird.)
posted by mykescipark at 11:04 PM on July 8, 2010

Upon discovery, it would just draw more attention to your past by using a different name in a culture (ours) that expects you to use either your legal name or a nickname (usually) based off of that name.
posted by autoclavicle at 11:06 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

For a few years, until I legally changed my name, I went by a first name that was not my legal name. I was very upfront about this, however, explaining it to HR departments, bosses, and coworkers when I had to, and explaining it to friends if the occasion arose, etc. It was never an issue and actually people seem to enjoy hearing the admittedly somewhat wacky reason for why I changed my name.

It's not entirely uncommon to have a completely different first name from your legal first name, especially if you're an immigrant (as I am), but it is unusual to have a completely different first and last name.
posted by so much modern time at 11:06 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Work might be tricky. You'll need to use your legal name during the hiring process, and this will probably be the name you're introduced by on your first day of work.
posted by zombiedance at 11:09 PM on July 8, 2010

When I was 21 I shed my original name and started using my middle name. My parents had always ignored my given name and it just felt weird to use that, so I opted for my middle name and now that's what I go by. I still get a little twitchy when I learn that others have secret first names. Even though I also have a secret first name. What can I say? I'm complex.

It is about not liking surprises more than caring what people call themselves or why. I am prone to anxiety and overthinking. I don't do well with a lot of mystery in my life. So they mystery of what led you to change your name would probably drive me batty.

This anxiety sidles right up alongside my other personality quirk: contempt for free spirited people. Politikitty moved to San Francisco last year and met a young woman named "Danger." I was pretty much ok with that fact until I discovered that she wasn't the child of hippies (I don't judge people for things that were done to them. Just for things they do to themselves.) but was instead a free spirit who had at some point decided she should rename herself Danger. And then I decided she was kind of weird and a little bit of a performance artist and a little bit annoying and probably a lot bit desperate for some attention.

I don't like these uncharitable thoughts that I have about free spirited people. I know they are rooted in the fact that I'm a tightly wound priss who is actually deeply jealous of free spirited people. But I can't help but get every color of judgmental when I meet someone like that. It's just my reflexive reaction.

I once dated someone who had legally changed his name. And while I don't want to extrapolate too much from one singular experience - he was a pathological liar (albeit a very nice one) who lived a life so compartmentalized that I'm not sure I ever actually met the real him.

There's just something visceral and personal about your name. I think Jumpa Lahiri did a good job of covering it in her novel "The Namesake" - where poor Gogol Ganguli is saddled with a ridiculous name, and then given a "real name" to which he has no attachment. He struggles to find his identity in between those names for most of his life.

I can very clearly articulate why I no longer use the name I used for the first 21 years of my life: it is homonymous with a racial slur. It isn't a secret. I share my former name with anyone who I get to know personally, but I never invite them to use it. There are and always will be people in my life who can't/won't transition to calling me by my preferred name. So I cant just hope that it goes away and never becomes an issue again. But I can clearly articulate a very plain, straightforward, uncomplicated and pretty universally-acknowledged-as-not-melodramatic reason for my name change.

Anyway. That was just a rambly data point. I have too many thoughts on this subject to be coherent. Sorry.
posted by greekphilosophy at 11:13 PM on July 8, 2010 [15 favorites]

(For what it's worth, everyone in my office knows I'm Dodge too. It's not really all that weird.)

My office namespace problem went away when most of the login-name folks left for other gigs. I think I'm down to one person who alternates between the two. My supervisor actively dislikes the "login name not congruent to real identity" thing in the workplace, and is happy all of those people mostly left, so I try not to pull it out too much at work.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:14 PM on July 8, 2010

Unless you can really compartmentalize your life, it's going to be hard. I figured I'd eschew my given name during college and try going by my more unique middle name. Some people I knew from my hometown also went to the same college, so I couldn't really escape the old name. Some people knew me by one name, some by the other. It was too weird when those people crossed paths. Gave up on the experiment and went back to my given name.
posted by holterbarbour at 11:37 PM on July 8, 2010

Some of the reactions here are laughable.

On a lark, I put down a different name on an employment form almost fifteen years ago. HR never blinked at the difference in my form and my ID. And the IRS didn't seem to mind when my name didn't match my social.

From day one in that new city, I was someone else. It took me almost ten years before I cared enough to change it legally, and all that time not a one of my friends knew my "old" name. Some of them knew that my name wasn't my legal name, but none of them knew the old name and no one gave a flying monkey's behind.

My bosses all respected me, and I continued to get new and better paying jobs over the years without a hitch.

It all depends on the crowd you run with, the people you date, and what kind of a job you do at work. Fortunately I worked in an industry that cared only if you were competent, and my friends were broad-minded. Don't let anyone tell you the only way to earn respect is by baring all of yourself for their delectation.

Note: I notice a trend here...women seem to care more than men, and for some fairly good reasons. Men are after all, more likely to be serial killers or other seriously freaky shit. I'm less cautious than many people, so I'd think "huh" if I saw the aforementioned different name on a license, but I can see why some women might panic.
posted by tejolote at 11:51 PM on July 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

I've known three different people who've done variations on this.

1. Very stoned, very flaky young woman who called herself "Sun Lothlórien" because she thought it was cooler than her actual bog-standard straight-from-Neighbours Australian Anglo name. (actually a variation on a Tolkien theme, but you get the idea). Don't be that girl; she wasn't a free spirit, just a plain dickhead. There's no shame in being called Kylie or Dannii or Charlene.

2. Friend from high school whose mentally ill mother's behaviour ranged from the merely annoying to dangerous and abusive. She changed both her first and last names by deed poll, and was entirely clear with all of us and her work friends that she was changing them to make a psychological break from her mum. Fine. She filled in all the forms, she's clear and upfront about I-used-to-be-X-now-I'm-Y, and we call her by her new name now. No problems.

3. An old workmate of mine who was the sketchy people the other commenters have warned you about. He was in the Navy, was discharged for selling drugs, went to prison, got out, committed some more crimes, went back, and came out finally in his forties pissed off that he couldn't get loans, get hired for lots of jobs, or rent housing in the private market. He was going through this long process of getting small bits of ID—first a video card in a name like his own, then a library card in a different name, then a phone bill in that same name, then a library card in a variation, etcetera, gradually ridding himself of his criminal record, like a cut-price spy whose great enemy was the tax office's database cross-referenced with Centrelink (the main Australian government welfare agency). We never quite knew what to call him, or whether to inform on him for fraud, and it was frankly morally burdensome and more than a bit scary.

Look, the main thing is that you've got to be clear why you're doing it and for who. There are free-spirited people who do it for the sheer liberty, but there's the risk of being taken fors someone who's doing it for far less reputable reasons.

You want to make a clear cut? Donate your clothes to the Salvation Army and your tapes and CDs to your younger mates. Your name's a serious legal identity.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 12:27 AM on July 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

Basically, everthing I sign up to, like a dvd rental membership, requires that I show my drivers licence or passport. Even ordering from Amazon I have to give them the name as it is on my credit card.

Maybe it's different where you live. But I suggest a new nick and leaving your name well alone.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:35 AM on July 9, 2010

Is it ill advised to compartmentalize one's life in such a way?

Ask Don Draper.
posted by inconsequentialist at 12:44 AM on July 9, 2010 [8 favorites]

Change your name legally, unless your parents really really want "the family name to continue", in which case you can simply add a new first name to your other names and use that: [new name] [old name] [old last name]

Being called one thing when there is another thing on your license is a bit strange.
posted by dabitch at 1:17 AM on July 9, 2010

I understand the desire you have but as other posters have pointed out it is not quite as simple as changing your name. That said - I use a slightly different forename at work and like the fact that my personal life and professional life are slightly compartmentalised. As for an entirely different forename and surname - it seems a little extreme. Affect a nickname or a different forename if you wish but wishing to change, lock stock and barrell including your surname seems an unusual step.

If you are moving inter-state then for all intents and purposes you will be tabula rasa . Is not starting afresh without changing your name enough for you? Seems like you are running from (or towards) something but given the only person who is going to be aware it is a different name is you - it seems like it is not going to achieve what you are hoping but only you know your reasoning.
posted by numberstation at 1:33 AM on July 9, 2010

Hm. I wonder if this might be a regional thing. Like mykescipark mentioned, there are many subcultures in and around the West Coast that make it perfectly acceptable to use a name that's not your legal name. I know at least three guys who go by "Hobbit" as one example, and there are people I've known for nearly 20 years under what is clearly a pseudonym, only to have them friend me on Facebook under their legal names, which is actually kind of hilarious. It's never an issue with me, but a lot of these people are performers (or Burners, or Faire workers, or just people who didn't like the name they were born with).

One of my bffs from high school decided at age 17 to use a shortened form of her first name (a name that is rarely shortened) and her mom's maiden name as her new name. Her old name is still on her legal documents, but her new name is what everyone calls her. It took a few years for people like me (who knew her before the transition) to stop switching between the two, but she was patient about it and it's no big deal. She gives interviews to various magazines under her new name. Owns and operates a business under it. People know it's not her legal name. Still not a big deal.

Coincidentally, in high school she saddled me with a nickname that I then used as my first name for the next ten years. As another poster mentioned above, I can usually tell when/where/in what context I have met someone if they call me by this name, as I usually only offer it to people who are friends (rather than, say, coworkers). It's your name, you can do with it what you want.
posted by annathea at 2:23 AM on July 9, 2010

There's nothing wrong with this.

I also want to do something like this and have been contemplating changing my name for many years now. In addition to changing my name, I want to break free of my past by moving far away where nobody knows me, change my appearance (wear a different style of clothes, get colored contacts, lost a tiny bit of weight, etc.), and try to get a good job.

Go through with it and don't feel guilty. A name is a name is a name is a name.
posted by GlassHeart at 2:27 AM on July 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

There's nothing wrong with this.

There are two issues here and people answering this way are only grappling with one of them.

The first issue is; Is there something wrong with changing your name or going by a pseudonym? That's the issue people saying "go for it!" are addressing. And they're correct so far as that goes. There's nothing particularly wrong with changing your name. But the second issue which they are not addressing is whether it is a great idea and whether friends/lovers/etc might be weirded out once they found out.

The answer to that second question is self-evidently yes, people may well get weirded out, including people you very much don't want to weird out. I say self-evident because you've got regular folks in this thread saying they'd be weirded out. QED.

Does that mean you shouldn't change your name in the fashion you're talking about? Not necessarily. It does mean you should be prepared to provoke the reaction you're concerned about and should take that into account if and when you decide to go through with it.
posted by Justinian at 3:18 AM on July 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

A lot of people have addressed the bureaucratic problems associated with changing your name. On a personal level, I've known people who've done this and sometimes it works.

First, I knew a guy with a very vanilla name who changed it to something fabulous and moved to Europe for a new life. I knew him only by that name, and honest-to-god thought he was French (accent and everything!). I ran into some people who knew him before the change. Turns out he was from Peoria or something. I thought it was one thing to change your name (which he had done on the legally sufficient level), but that together with a fake accent amounted to deceit in my book. And in that mixed company, he'd revert back to who he was "before." Psychological problems of all kinds aside, I found that I backed off from a friendship that I felt was not genuine.

Second, I knew a girl who kept her given names on paper but introduced herself as something else. Quite honestly, I thought she was a flake and a fake. She introduced herself to me as Lola; when I tried to intervene on her behalf with her landlord, he had no idea who I was talking about, since she used her legal name on her lease. She'd even asked me to call him without clarifying!! It was embarrassing for me and made me feel weird towards her. Again, I'd understand that she might have had something she was running from, but her flakiness about using different names here and there made me think she just wanted a fun new persona.

So my advice would be to do it and go all the way with it, or to do it only very casually. If I started dating X and found out s/he was Y, I'd DTMFA and not believe a word about "nothing to hide" and "no youthful indiscretion." In fact, I'd be way more likely to jump to the "murder rap" or "Sybil" conclusion and I'd feel deceived. But if X said, "Hi, I'm X but please call me Y," I'd happily call him/her Y forever after and not think twice.
posted by motsque at 3:53 AM on July 9, 2010

Even people who don't consider it a big deal will, if they find out, have at least a second where they instinctively say to themselves, "Hm, I wonder what else I can't trust this person about." Is that worth it?
posted by Jaltcoh at 3:53 AM on July 9, 2010

Make sure that if you do make a name change, you're really feeling it. I've always had a love-hate relationship with my name, and when I got to my very small college where someone decided I needed a nickname based on a mispronunciation of my name, I figured I'd go with it and, for the next four years, I went by that almost exclusively. When I graduated and decided to be more professional by returning to my real name, the holdover use of the nickname by guys I was dating was... weird. It felt like they didn't really know me if they couldn't remember to call me by my real name. I dated someone for three years who could never remember I really wanted to be called something different, and when we broke up I kind of had this feeling of "Well, obviously, he never REALLY loved me if he never called me my real name..." On the other hand, I'm sure he never thought about it at all maliciously and a name was just a name. It's weird psychology, but be aware of it.

On the other side, another friend of mine decided to rebrand herself with a completely made up name, and all of us who've known her "before the change" are having the damndest time calling her by her new name. For one, it's just weird -- it's not like it was a regular name/nickname change, it's completely new -- and two, she did it because she thinks it's more professional, whereas many of us don't think it is at all and it's actually defeating the purpose. I recognize the hypocrisy in not calling someone what they really want to be called while being upset with people who don't do it for me, but I dunno, this name shit is all weird.
posted by olinerd at 4:16 AM on July 9, 2010

Data point: my friend dated a guy with a very "interesting", obviously European name: let's call him Sven. She later discovered his real name is Michael David or something generic like that, and he changed to Sven (which I think was his great-grandfather's name) when he moved away from his hometown because he wanted a clean start and a more interesting name. She thought it was super-lame, she felt lied to, and it made her like him less. I mean changing your name is ok, I guess, but changing it to something unusual just to be cooler is kind of annoying, right? (Also, when the lust wore off, she realized that that guy is super-annoying in general, I guess that bears mentioning since maybe if he was cool the Svenning wouldn't have bothered her as much.)
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:20 AM on July 9, 2010

If someone doesn't seem inclined to tell me their *real* name, after being acquaintances for awhile, I'd find it difficult to trust them, and I doubt I would even put them into the good acquaintance category.

Then again, everyone's situation is different. I'm also assuming we're not talking about internet handles, which I go by during special interest group outings, but my friends in these SIGs know my real name.

posted by TrinsicWS at 4:23 AM on July 9, 2010

I agree with smoke. This sounds like a very grand, symbolic "I'm a new me!!" gesture - and it's easy to make those, then go on being the same old you, and eventually get just as disappointed in the rebranded you. I can understand the impulse to make a big change, and it can be healthy and feel great, but in my experience the people who loudly declare that they are changing right now!! usually don't change much at all.

You're rebranding the company, but the product and the management are still the same. You know?

Also, unless there's some really bad stuff you want to distance yourself from, I think it's a mistake to mentally label your past as somehow not-you. I had an awful time at 23, and I was kind of an asshole. I don't want to be like that again. But seeing where I went wrong helped me. I am a pretty good person at 30 because I remember my mistakes from 23.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:25 AM on July 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

My ex-husband changed his name after we divorced. He was "John Doe IV" when I met and knew him. Then he changed to "Mallard" Doe (father issue? no, duck totem, seriously), Then when I didn't change my/our last name (because I couldn't decide to go back to my original father's name, first husband's name -- and also my son's last name -- or what, hell they're all slave names LOL), he became "Mallard Fields," which made everybody ROFL because he sounds like a tennis pro on a soap opera and not the crunchy contra dancer he really is.

Why? No one really knows. But he managed to do it and create a whole new persona for himself. That only he and his new wife buy, BTW. Also, not sure how far he went legally with all this, but he's known as "Mr. Fields" at work.

(You'll note my amused tone; it's not because he changed his name so much as that he changed it to something so silly and unlikely. I'm using a pseudonym here, but it's a name that's so NOT him to people that have always known him and sounds so fake to people that have just met him that it isn't any sort of improvement. It's just an obvious f-you to his family, his past and to me -- things that don't just disappear because you want them to.)

Just pick a name no one will laugh at, and you're half the way home to your new self and hopefully the new life you hope to have.
posted by kidelo at 4:36 AM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're rebranding the company, but the product and the management are still the same.

I've known at two people who have done this sort of personal rebranding. One of them was just like Metroid Baby describes -- all hat and no cattle. The new name was supposed to symbolize a new "them," but all it really was was a new name. It was always problematic and went along with that person being generally kind of sketchy and drama-y and attention-seeking.

The other person was actually doing it as part of a total break, coincident with coming out sexually and putting a sharp line between an abusive past and the present. For her, the new name really worked -- most people just know her by the new name and have no idea that there was ever a different one; those who know the story understand and support it.

One way to think about this is to imagine one of your lovers writing an AskMe question about "I just found out that my lover has been going under an assumed name, but their ID has a different name. How sketchy is this?" If it's part of a pattern of sketchiness, you'll deserve the inevitable chorus of "DTMFA"s; if there's a coherent story and no pattern of deceptiveness, you would be fine.
posted by Forktine at 4:41 AM on July 9, 2010

Is there a reason you don't want to change your name legally? Since official documentation requires your legal name, chances are someone's going to find out when you apply for a job, register to vote, get your license changed to the new state, etc. It isn't worth the hassle to not do it legally, and doing it legally also gives you the option to not mention to other people that you were born ZYX.

Also... how long have you wanted to change your name? I'm doing the legal name change thing for various reasons, have wanted to since I was 13, but wasn't able to settle on a name until a few months ago (I'm turning 20.) This may not apply to you at 23, but just keep in mind that you're not going to be able to go, "Call me XYZ... actually, no, I like ABC better now..."

As far as other people accepting it goes, it helps if you have a solid reason to change it. I haven't had issues with people thinking it was weird; most react by not taking me seriously until I indicate that yes, I know how difficult/expensive it is to change one's name legally and yes, I've already begun the process. Then they're just like, "Oh well I guess I should call you ZYX then!" and that's the end of it. (Of course this won't work if you don't take my advice above... but if you're worried about how others will perceive you I strongly suggest you do.)
posted by biochemist at 4:58 AM on July 9, 2010

I changed my name in high school, but I didn't make a secret of it. People thought it was weird but apart from that, I had no issues. Why not do it and not hide that you're doing it?
posted by prefpara at 5:08 AM on July 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I know a guy who did this. Other than being totally shocked at graduation to hear his real name, no one really knew or cared. Of course, this was at Hippie College, so having a completely different first/last name legally was pretty benign in terms of "weird shit your friends are doing."

I use my middle name (my mom's maiden name) as my last name and legally have an extra one (my father's last name) tacked on at the end. I've never had a problem with this, except for feeling like I'm getting prescriptions for someone else at the pharmacy. The reason I haven't legally changed it is that while I want to distance myself from the name (and just plain don't like it), I don't feel like I want to alienate my father's family. I suggest that if you do pick a new last name that you choose one from family history - mother's maiden name, grandmother's maiden name, some great aunt's middle name, something along those lines. It'll make it at least a little easier if you ever find yourself in the position where you need to explain your choice to your family.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:11 AM on July 9, 2010

If you were a acquaintance/friend/lover and I found out you had a different first and last name from your legal name (with no plans to legally change it), sadly my reaction would be wariness and weariness: "Aw, this again? I hope Anonymous isn't a total flake."

There are so many little papercuts dealing with someone who has multiple names... You have to put a note for the apartment complex mailman saying, "Will accept mail for Jane Doe or Mara-Lizzabeth Arneholdterz". Casual conversations with old family who refuse to use the new name feel awkward.
posted by Several Unnamed Sources at 5:19 AM on July 9, 2010

I think name changes are fine under many circumstances, though best done legally, but

1. I don't think it will accomplish what you're trying to accomplish
2. If you tell people about the name change and the reason for it, you will sound like someone who was trying to run from their past instead of growing with it. Which is pretty much what you're doing.

We do build a reputation under our names, and that's a precious thing. Purposely turning your back on it (without a good reason and with intent to separate off one part of your life from the other) does signal sketchiness.

It also signals... I want to say some nexus of neediness of superficiality. Whether you're a new person having a new start or not depends on what's going on inside you, not on how other people perceive you or what name they use to call you by.

Don't make your internal processes so much about how other people call/relate to you. If you do want some more material change, consider something less drastic. Maybe consider choosing just a new nickname, or dying your hair (yeah, also 'deceptive' but so normative for women), or a new style, or something.

(I'm not as extreme as greekphilosophy - the attitude that "There's just something visceral and personal about your name" seems to fit more closely (in my cultural/chronological milieu) the male experience of having a name, where from birth you assume it's something from your whole life, than the female one, where you and everyone around you assume that your name is a for now thing until you get married (because obviously we all will marry men, or at least we should, right?). I think that's bullshit but also that it affects a person's experience of their name and that what greekphilosophy is saying is not inherent or universal, but very culturally contingent).
posted by Salamandrous at 5:19 AM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd find it a bit ponderous for someone to be going by a full non-legal name other than their given one (and I acknowledge not being part of cultures where that's normal). If I discovered someone I was close to was doing this, it would make me closely examine everything else they're doing, because my gut response to it would be similar to finding out someone's making a false claim to be Ghanaian royalty just to reimagine themselves. Nicknames are a totally different thing, ditto legal name changes adopted to distance from abusive family, etc. I'd feel deeply irritated and scornful more than betrayed, to be honest, and I'd question the person's judgement.

Thing is, I don't think we get to start over with a new name, and I think it's a bit of a superficial fantasy that places too much emphasis on the name itself. I think it's possible to dedicate yourself to pursuing a new life and I wish you luck with it, but the bits that really count - your character, your choices, your experiences, your engagement with the world - don't compartmentalise or stay behind without you, and for me at least, an important bit of growing up has been owning all of that and realising it really does all make you who you are, for keeps.
posted by carbide at 5:26 AM on July 9, 2010

How would I react if I found out a friend was using a fake name
First name: a bit of an affectation and I'd assume they were a bit of a dramatic personality/someone who wants attention (I'd lump myself in there during the years I insisted on using my online handle IRL)
Last name: Um, what? Assume you were divorced, had daddy/family issues or were a con man
Full name: There's only one explanation. You're from the STEPFATHER (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lo0KvzgsrmU)
posted by Gucky at 5:26 AM on July 9, 2010

It's weird. It will come off as weird. It's your prerogative though.
posted by wrok at 5:38 AM on July 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I changed my first name to a nickname when I moved to the US. My nickname is unusual enough that people usually ask me if it's my real name, and I always told them that it was a nickname because nobody could pronounce my real name (which happens to be the truth), and no, I wouldn't tell them my real name. End of story and I never had any issues at all - but I think it's because I had a 'good reason'/believable story. Last year I legally changed my name to my nickname so now there's no 'yes, you know me as [widdershins] but legally my name is xxx' conversations anymore. Now people just think I had really cool hippie parents.

So another data point towards yes, go, for it - the perfect time to do this is when you move away and starta new life.

However: unless you're prepared to also change your name legally right away, have a good, plausible story ready for when people find out you have a different name. Ultimately it's none of their business, but it definitely makes social interactions and interviewing situations easier to have a non-skeevy explanation.
posted by widdershins at 5:43 AM on July 9, 2010

Back in the hippie sixties a lot of people I knew changed their names. My name is Mary, the most common woman's name in the western world. I never had any great desire to change it to something more exotic, I remember reasoning that having such a common name was almost like having no name, it was generic, and I was exotic enough without an exotic name.

I agree with the people above who have suggested you just adopt a nickname, not try to have a whole new identity.
posted by mareli at 5:55 AM on July 9, 2010

As an actor, I have two names - my artistic name, and my real name. So, there is a group of people who know me as one, and a group who know me as another. And a subgroup who know me as both.

I don't try to hide the fact that my artistic name is different, though it rarely comes up.

I can't possibly think why anyone would be remotely offended if they found out that the name they knew me by wasn't the one that I am legally registered with (although laws in the UK state that anyone can be known by whatever name they choose as well as they're not doing it for illegal purposes)

For those who say it would freak them out, I wonder why? Names are hugely important to our own personal sense of identity and if the OP wants to "reinvent" themselves, then I say go for it if it makes you happy.
posted by pandini at 6:04 AM on July 9, 2010

What are you hiding, or running away from? Yes, really: why the need for a clean break?

I've known a few people who kept parts of their lives in little boxes, and they were either uptight, emotionally immature, very emotionally immature, or just plain creepy.

Part of what makes an adult an adult (you're 23, right?) is accepting who you are, what you've done, and where you've come from.

And while you don't need to intermingle the story arcs of your life, mix your circles of friends, or bring up old stories or misdeeds, your history makes you the person you are.

My 2 cents' worth: denying your past, "starting afresh" or whatever else you want to call it, is ludicrous. You're the sum of your experiences, whether you've learned from them or not.

You didn't just magically pop into the world at 23 years of age; what is the backstory you will be telling to other people? Do you expect other people to trust you, when it seems you can't even trust yourself?

Do whatever you think you need to do, but have a good think about why you're doing it.
posted by flutable at 6:41 AM on July 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

Going by a different given name? No big deal. I've got lots of friends who do that. I have one in particular who I knew by one name—say, Alice—for year before her legal given name came up. I asked her about that, and she said "I've always felt like an Alice, so that's what I go by." Good enough for me. She's since been married, and I think she may have changed her name to Alice legally as part of the process.

Different surname? That would raise my eyebrows.

If you really want to change your name, change it legally so that you don't get those awkward moments when a friend from your new life sees your ID or something.

Also, at the age of 23, I would caution you not to be certain that you'll be able to neatly partition the before-time and after-time for the rest of your life.
posted by adamrice at 6:43 AM on July 9, 2010

Wow, I'm actually a little surprised by many of the responses as I never thought it to be a "big deal". I was born in the early 70s and many, many of my peers have assumed names that either they changed themselves, or their parents chose for them later on in life. Not just nicknames either, but completely alternate names. I'd say about 1/3 of us are products of the Black Power movement in the 60s-70s whose parents felt like we were robbed of our cultural heritage (and last names were taken away in slavery) so it was a form of taking back or re-creating an identity. Another third, chose to change their names as a reflection of their religion (many African-American muslims take on an Islamic name and not always legally), and the last third are writers, musicians and other creative types. No one ever bats an eye when someone's legal name is "found out". Its very much a part of the black culture experience. At least mine. I live in the East coast but was also raised in the West coast.
posted by lunachic at 7:06 AM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I did pretty much what grapefruitmoon did (my mother's last name is my middle name, and I started using "Jane Corcoran Doe" instead of just "Jane Doe." I did it because my dad's last name is weird and no one can pronounce it, while my mom's is solid, Irish, and reassuring, and also because for a while I identified more with my mom's side of the family. Even though it's always been my legal name, deciding to emphasize a different part of it was a big personal change (for me, not so much for my friends). Also, it kind of childishly makes me feel more important and blue-blood to have two last names, so there's that.

I've also known several people who've gone by their middle names (or a variation thereof) rather than their first names. That never struck me as weird. Also, plenty of East Asian people who go by Western names for day-to-day life but keep their Korean/Chinese/whatever names officially. That's also not weird. What makes both cases not weird is that these people don't deny their original names-- they just ask that you call them something else for a specific reason (because they don't like their given names or because their given names are difficult to pronounce). I'd be weirded out if I found out someone changed his name for as abstract a reason as you're proposing here.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:08 AM on July 9, 2010

I had a friend who changed her first name (Tina --> Cat) and went by it for a long time before finally changing it legally last year. I thought her name was Catherine and she just went by Cat for years, but when I found out her real name that didn't seem particularly weird to me. It's the last name change that would give me pause, honestly. It seems weirder to change your last name unless you have a solid reason to do so (dissociating from infamous family or hiding from stalker or something like that). I think if you're going to do it, though, you should go all the way and change it legally. Having the name you're called match the name on your paperwork is essential.
posted by marginaliana at 7:09 AM on July 9, 2010

I have several friends that go by other given names, and no one cares. But, there are two things different about their situations: none of them try to hide that the name they go by is not their legal name, and none of them go by a non-official last name as well. Similarly, I've got friends with legally changed names; the difference is again that none of them actively try to hide the fact that they ever had a different name (and if you're close enough to them to be a friend or lover, you know them well enough to know this.) It's not that any of these people necessarily bring this up when they're meeting new people, but that they're comfortable with it when the topic does come up for some reason. I think that's the case for most of the not-weird examples of renamed people mentioned in this thread - stage names, Burning Man-derived nicknames, nicknames derived from usernames, variations on first names, names legally changed for any reason, etc. I also suspect that changing one's last name (for relatively abstract reasons like yours) is rarer, since last names are more associated with family and official ID, while given names are the names we actually hear day-to-day.

Pandini says "Names are hugely important to our own personal sense of identity," but that's, I think, exactly what is confusing people. Finding out that a friend or lover (in other words, someone you are close to, someone who thinks they know you well) is actively hiding something as fundamental as a name is weird. It puts you in odd territory where you obviously care more than most people - or you wouldn't be hiding the old name - but you don't care quite enough to legally change it. It makes you look uncomfortable with your decision and your present self as well as your past.
posted by ubersturm at 7:14 AM on July 9, 2010

i'm not too weirded out by people who use a different first name than their legal name. it's on par with discovering my coworker fred doe is actually james frederick doe. i know a couple of people who go by 'buddy', which is (shockingly) not their legal first name.

a different first and last name, however, makes me think something hinky is going on. if i'm dating you and i figure out that your legal name isn't the name you've given me, well, then i start assuming you're trying to hide something, like you're a bigamist looking for number three or you're going to try running some kind of "I'M ACTUALLY A SECRET AGENT AND I'M SO SECRET THE GOVERNMENT CAN'T EVEN ADMIT I EXIST" kind of bullshit. i'd generally consider it a strong vote in favor of "something weird is going on" and adjust accordingly.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:17 AM on July 9, 2010

Unless you change your credit cards (or don't use them), it will come out pretty quickly while dating.
posted by smackfu at 7:32 AM on July 9, 2010

I don't see why you think changing your name will give you a clean break from your past. Your past will always be a part of you, no matter what your name is.

Let's assume marriage is out of the question

At your age, I wouldn't necessarily want to assume that.
posted by Koko at 7:32 AM on July 9, 2010

I would think this, and you, were sketchy as hell upon finding out. It's mostly about the last name. The first name wouldn't get much of a reaction.
posted by NortonDC at 7:33 AM on July 9, 2010

It's mostly about the last name. The first name wouldn't get much of a reaction.

Data point: Even before explaining that I'm using my middle name, the fact that my last names don't "match" when someone sees my license or whatever hasn't caused anything more than a "Huh?" I suppose it depends on how you handle it. People will think you have something to hide if you act like you have something to hide. If you act like "Oh yeah, my legal name doesn't match the name I use, it's actually a pretty boring story" no one's going to make a fuss about it.

Honestly, it's yet to happen to me that anyone is anything more than simply *confused* when finding out my legal last name is something different from what they've heard.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:41 AM on July 9, 2010

It depends. Why are you doing it?

Abusive or traumatic past? Go for it. You have my blessing.

Be honest about it, though. It's not the name change that is the problem, it's the lying.

(Odd to see people so convinced that people's names are a super important part of them, especially surnames...I think they protest too much, considering how common it is for women to change their names when they get married)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:45 AM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had a close friend and didn't know for years that she started out life with a different last name. Because she never went back to her birth name when she got divorced.

My sister hates her 1st name, and is migrating to her middle name.

I don't like my real life 1st name. If outs me as Catholic and Midwestern. But it's so hard-wired into my identity that I chose to live with it.

I like my last name. My mother and mother-in-law were really intolerant of it when I didn't change my name at marriage. (My Mom, and many women of her generation, had no middle name. It was considered superfluous, as she would marry, and have a new last name, and her birth name would be used as a middle name.)

My friend, J. Martina Schmoopy, started life as Jill Baker. She likes Martina better as a 1st name, and does not so much like the Jill for whom she was named. She kept her married name post-divorce to have the same last name as her kids.

I met someone who, for elaborate philosophical reasons, changed his name to 1 gender-neutral word. It creates many bureaucratic hassles, which he seems to enjoy battling. Someone else, who, for feminist reasons, legally changed her name to a monarchical version.

Amy Susan Anderson now goes by A. Simpson Anderson, or Simpson, because she's kind of pretentious. She tells everyone Simpson is her middle name.

You will generate some confusion, and record-keeping annoyance. On resumes, under references, you may find it useful to note My LugNuts U. records are under my previous name "P. N. Previous" and will be most easily referenced by my student ID number, which is _____. Notify Lugnutz that you have a new name and ask them to update their records.

Once you are comfortable in your new name-skin, it will be easier to casually say that you used to be "Paula Previous." At some point, someone from your old life will encounter you and call you Paula. Names are intensely personal. Your name generally conveys information about you to others. I believe you will find that your past, your personal history of where you came from, who raised you and how, cannot be so easily abandoned. But I see no harm, fault or dishonesty, in trying.
posted by theora55 at 7:47 AM on July 9, 2010

I was introduced to a guy while in college and he apparently misheard Johnny as Bobby (real names changed to protect the innocent). For four years he called me Bobby. The only person who has ever called me that. But, I got used to hearing it from his voice and I would turn around when in a crowded bar if I heard him call out, "Bobby". Then, with about a month or two left in school I was in a small group chatting with this fellow and another person. The other person's friend walked up and he was introduced to the group. When my name of Johnny was stated, the look on my Bobby caller's face was incredible. He regrouped and asked why I never corrected him and how embarrassed he was. I told him that it didn't matter to me and I had actually gotten used to it and liked it. In fact I insisted that he and he only continue to call me Bobby.

I recently ran into someone who said he had lunch with Larry "Smith" and he said hello. I did not know a Larry Smith, but I politely told him to say hello back. About two hours later, I remembered I had gone to high school with a guy name Michael Smith but that Michael was his middle name. I then remembered his first name was Lawrence. It was not a secret as every teacher called him that the first day when roll was called, but I don't think more than 5 of his school mates would have remembered it. I guess at some point he started using his real first name rather than his middle name. No big deal.

But these are first name changes. If I found out your real family name was different from what you were using and you had not changed it legally, I would be unnerved and require an explanation.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:52 AM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I wanted a clean break too. What's the problem stopping you from changing your legal name?

Shortly after I turned 18, I changed my legal last name. I'm a US citizen, so this could be different for other people, but the process was very simple. In fact, my sister had already done it a couple of years before so I opened the document she used and replaced her name with mine. The document was a one page document in legalese drafted with advice from a lawyer.

I could've changed my first name and middle name at the time if I had wanted to. This cost me $80 + $10 per certified copy at the courthouse of the country where I was living. I then went immediately to the Social Security office and had my new social security card printed. I also changed the name on my bank accounts. I also got a new driver's license printed. The IRS system was automatically updated at the same time as Social Security.

I sent my passport in and it came back with an amendment on page 23. I didn't like this, because I was nervous about explaining it when I traveled abroad- especially to countries where this may not be a common practice. When that passport expired, I applied for a new passport and it came in my new name.

The only hiccup was that the Selective Service Administration got confused and sent me threatening letters about sending the district attorney after me for evading the draft, even though I'd already registered (since it's necessary for the marginal amount of college aid I received). I cleared this up by simply registering again.

I've since lived in France (on a carte de sejour) and Canada (once on a working holiday permit and now as a permanent resident). I've always brought a copy of the name change document and a translation of it when doing official things like applying for visas or immigration. All of my legal paperwork in France and Canada carries the new name.
posted by globotomy at 7:55 AM on July 9, 2010

At first, I thought it was weird. And suspicious, like you had a reason for an alias.

But after reading here, I realized people change their names all the freaking time. The majority of women take new names when they marry. Not all do it officially (or take a couple years to get it done). Or change back after a divorce, and once again not necessarily officially. Or go by different last names so it's the same as their kid. If it comes up and you have a decent backstory (true or not) - not a big deal. But if you get all uptight about it - "yes, my name is officially Jane Doe. But I go by Christine Smith" "Why?" "Because. I don't need a reason", then well.. yeah, I'd at least raise my eyebrows. And start googling your old name, out of morbid curiosity. (well, as long as it wasn't as common as Jane Doe of course. )

First names, however - not an issue. as mentioned - nicknames, middle names, unusual shortenings of names... happens all the time.
posted by cgg at 8:25 AM on July 9, 2010

I dated a musician for several years; I gathered enough information "emotionally" about him that I never felt particularly insecure about his status. After about four months, I realized the name he went by was an extremely anglicized version of his real name. It was simply for the trade he worked, the enunciation of his real name was difficult for people who wanted to stay in touch with him, and the nym he chose stuck really well with people.

He'd never changed any identification to his chosen name, but was completely transparent when I saw his passport with his real name for the first, and asked. His answer was simple, it had started as his work name and just became the easiest way to socialize and reference himself.

Do what you like; if it gets to a point where you're close with someone that might be startled by this information, think of their sensitivities to some extent, I would encourage you to be transparent and straightforward about who you are for the sake of the relationship.

For anyone else, your name is actually your own business. So I say, do what works for you.
posted by uncorq at 8:29 AM on July 9, 2010

There's nothing inherently wrong with changing your first and last name and not doing it legally, but if i was your friend I would think it was weird and pretentious. That's why I'm friends with Tom, Dick, and Harry, and not Rainbow, Antimony, or Sploofa.

Why not just give yourself a new first name or nickname?
posted by WeekendJen at 8:30 AM on July 9, 2010

Yes, in fact when I got married I just never bothered to change my last name legally, because it's a huge pain in the ass to change your SS card, photo ID, etc. You can go by whatever you want in NY state as long as you're not trying to evade the law.

I go by my maiden name, married name, some combination of the above. My facebook is different from the name I often use. No one cares. Really. No one notices or demands an explanation. No one has decided that I'm a serial killer, or that they have to investigate my background.

Then again, this is NYC, and people kinda don't give a shit about a lot of things that aren't important.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:31 AM on July 9, 2010

internet fraud detective squad, station number 9: "Yes, in fact when I got married I just never bothered to change my last name legally, because it's a huge pain in the ass to change your SS card, photo ID, etc. You can go by whatever you want in NY state as long as you're not trying to evade the law.

I go by my maiden name, married name, some combination of the above. My facebook is different from the name I often use. No one cares. Really. No one notices or demands an explanation. No one has decided that I'm a serial killer, or that they have to investigate my background.

Then again, this is NYC, and people kinda don't give a shit about a lot of things that aren't important.

I don't think this has anything to do with NYC. It is because what you are doing is common and accepted. Married woman have all sorts of options with their names and as you point out, it is a PITA to officially execute. So, they use the name they want when it is convenient or appropriate. I know lots of women who use their maiden name at work yet at school they go by their married name because their kids use that last name and it is easier to identify.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:41 AM on July 9, 2010

Let me edit to say that I have gotten negative reactions for it in Minnesota and Pittsburgh, so, OP, cultural differences and where you end up might make a difference about the level of acceptance for it.

Thanks for reminding me about that, JohnnyGunn, I left it out when I was generalizing that "no one" cares.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:44 AM on July 9, 2010

Something that I don't think that anyone has touched on, or at least not at length, is: why are you intent on keeping your original name? Are you thinking about going back to your previous identity if this doesn't work out, or at least keeping it as a sort of fall-back position? I hope that's not the case, because, if so, it means that you're wanting the option of abandoning your new life as you seem to want to do with your old life, and leaving whomever you'd get to know under the new name with no way of finding you (absent some sort of face-recognition program or something that could scan through countless online photos, looking for you under your original name).

I understand the impulse. Sometimes, I've gotten involved in some online dispute, and reached the point that I just wanted to throw my hands up in the air and go, "Why the hell am I angsting over this bullshit? This isn't even me; it has nothing to do with the guy who has to go to work and do his dishes and sundry other meatspace stuff. Screw it, time to walk away from Halloween Jack and come up with some other avatar." (See also: various notorious MeFites who have come back under new usernames.)

But things are different in meatspace, and if I found out that someone that I'd gotten to know had a completely different, still-officially-legal name, at the very least, I'd Google that name (and if I was flush, maybe even pay for some online investigation firm that might dig a little deeper); if I had any kind of business or personal involvement with them, I'd definitely hire an investigator. That's different from someone that permanently adopts a new name and is upfront about it (I've known a couple of people that did just that). Despite the risk involved in getting to know people and starting a new life, you really can't hedge your bets like that.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:58 AM on July 9, 2010

I know tons of people who go by a name other than their legal first name (like almost every Chinese immigrant I have ever met) and no one bats an eye. Going by a different last name seems shiftier to me. If you are named Buckbuck McGee and ask that people call you Scoot instead of Buckbuck then I'd wouldn't think twice (Scoot is way cooler). Everyone knows that it's just what you like to be called and that's just fine. But if you ask your friends to think of you as Scoot Ramakrishnan then it seems like you are trying to hide or change your identity. The only time I use my last name is when I'm trying to identify myself in some sort of legal or quasi-legal way. My friends almost never use it and asking them to refer to me by something other than my legal last name, when my legal last name is something that they'd only ever use when it mattered somehow, just seems wierd.

Obviously everything here is IMHO, YMMV, IANYF, etc.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 9:06 AM on July 9, 2010

My family tends to go by our middle names from birth. Our first name is our family name and our middle name is ours. This has created its own headaches for me when people find out and ask ridiculous questions (What's your real name? Can I call you that? A) My middle name is my real name and B) No, you cannot, otherwise I would have told you so and introduced myself as such). So I definitely get wanting to change your name. Hell, people on the internet know me by a different name and still call me that when they meet me. And I really went through an identity crisis when I got married because my name was legally going to be (if I changed it) First Name I Didn't Go By and Hate + Middle Initial/Middle Name I Asked to Go By + Last Name That Wasn't Mine, and the whole thing seems so foreign to me.

And a lot of people said change it, or reverse my first and middle names, and I have thought about it a lot. But ultimately, I decided it is what it is, and the majority of people call me by what I want to be called.

My brother also has a situation like this because he has family first name plus middle name that's his except he goes by a nickname that is a version of the middle name. Confusing, right? Now add to the fact that he's in the military, so he gets called his first name, which is my dad's first name (which my dad goes by). And my brother just figures he can tell how people know him by what they call him.

My rule of thumb because of my experiences is to call people what they ask to be called, and introduce yourself how you want to be known, but be on the up and up on legal forms. I've always told people what I want to be called, but when I have to sign a legal document, I still use my first initial and then my name, if not sign my full name. Of course, now the battle is to get my family to recognize that I only added my husband's last name, and did not drop mine.

tl;dr Your name is your own, and personal. Pick what you can live with, and sign your legal name when you need to. But if you're going to change your last name, I'd do it legally or not lie about it. First names are easy to say "I prefer being called X" and leave it at that for most people (probably not close friends/lovers who you would feel comfortable talking to in a more in-depth way about it), but changing a last name will raise questions and is probably more trouble than it's worth.
posted by questionsandanchors at 9:08 AM on July 9, 2010

After watching multiple people do variations of this, I think if you are willing to put up with the possible bureaucratic/practical issues and are honest about it, I can't think of any good reason not to do this. You are basically taking on a variation of a nom de plume, and as long as you aren't hiding your real name or your reasons behind the change, I say go for it. There is no reason to legally change your name unless you are sure you want to, and you probably don't want a record of multiple legal name changes in case you are unhappy with your choice. I think a name change can be a powerful tool, so good luck either way.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 9:26 AM on July 9, 2010

I know tons of people who go by first names other than the one they were given. Some are permanent nicknames; many go by their middle names. One of my coworkers despised his first name and fought a minor war with our HR department to make his e-mail address Middlename.Lastname@company.com instead of the standard Firstname.Lastname. One of my friends has an unusual but arguably old-fashioned first name (think "Mildred") and goes by her relatively-exotic middle name at all times. Another friend has a nonstandard gender identity and everyone - employers included - calls her "Mike" instead of "Sarah." I dated a girl who had an extreme and irrational dislike of the first syllable of her first name (Alexandra) and went entirely by "Andra."

What they all did have in common, though, is that at no time did they actively try to hide their real name; in fact, in a lot of contexts they'd address it directly - "Hi, I know it said X on the application, but I go by Y." Also, none of them go by a surname that's different from their legal one.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:46 AM on July 9, 2010

I don't think it's a big deal on paper. Someone WILL eventually find out though and then everyone will know.

You need to ask yourself if you're OK with the possibility of everyone you're going to meet someday thinking that you aren't a trustworthy person and some kind of weirdo or a russian spy.

I say compromise. Keep your last name and just go by a new first name that you like and if it ever comes up just say that's your nickname and the name you go by.
Wouldn't be as big of a deal like taking on a secret identity.
posted by zephyr_words at 9:49 AM on July 9, 2010

I changed my last name when I was about your age. I got a new drivers license and everything. It didn't stick for various reasons, and I went back to my old name. Most people never learned my last name, or learned that I'd changed it, or cared. And now it's a moot point.

Then, about 5 or 6 years ago I effectively changed my first name when I started introducing myself to everyone by my nickname. I have no plans to change my first name legally, but everyone in my life now calls me by my chosen first name (except my parents).

I'm not deceiving anyone: when I date someone new, or get to know a new friend more closely, I eventually tell them that my name is only a nickname and tell them what my "real" name is. My jobs always know my legal name for paperwork purposes.

I've never had anyone complain or seem put out about the fact that I use a different name from my legal one. I guess because I don't treat it as a secret.
posted by serazin at 9:55 AM on July 9, 2010

Change it legally or don't do it at all. Adopting a first-name-only nickname is okay.
posted by spaltavian at 10:48 AM on July 9, 2010

I know someone who is known by a nickname - even on official paperwork, as he put the initial T in front of it, short for nothing but 'The'. It seemed weird at first, and I'm still curious as to why or at least what process made him decide on it, but it seems fine. Another friend is known by his middle name, as his first name is very old-fashioned. Gordon Brown and Paul McCartney have got on just fine doing this.

However. I'm not dating any of these people, and if I was, I think I'd need to know why. A former acquaintance was a very creepy guy, and had changed his name, and that seemed to amplify the creepiness. I guess it depends how much and to what extent you are prepared to explain it. Many authors, artists and particularly actors 'changed' their name to become someone else - Colette and Marilyn Monroe spring to mind.

(It's unusual in the UK for people to be known as J Paul Getty, say, rather than John Getty. Whenever I see US names like that I wonder if they really hate their first name, and if it;s something embarrasing. Similarly, i have a name that's hard to pronounce in several other languages, and could see myself having to 'take on' a name if I lived abroad.)
posted by mippy at 12:18 PM on July 9, 2010

I'm one of these people. My legal first name is not what I go by.

Reasoning: the name I go by was a nickname given to me by my grandmother. It didn't stick, however, until I entered college as an illustration major and shared it with a few people. It slowly picked up steam...and then, I discovered that if you googled my legal name the first result was for an illustrator. But not me! So I started using my nickname on my art as well. I've been using it for about a decade now.

So it breaks down that there are two groups that know me as my legal name: my coworkers at my office job, and friends that knew me before college. Everyone else is introduced to me as my not-real name. If they ask if it's "real"? I tell them, it's no big thing. All my high school friends know about the not-real name, and don't care. Many of my coworkers know I go by another name as well. I certainly PREFER that not-real name.

I never considered that there might be people out there that find my unapologetic use of a fake name to be sketchy or drama-seeking. In my mind, it was this thing that happened and spread, organically. I answer to both names without a thought.

Maybe I have never been treated oddly as I am open with the fact it's not a 'real' name if asked?
posted by Windigo at 1:39 PM on July 9, 2010

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