You can call me Ray. And you can call me J. And you can call me Ray J...
October 23, 2010 8:31 AM   Subscribe

Can I start going by a different name when there's no need to?

I really don't like my name. I hate when other people call me by it. I hate the way it feels on my tongue to say it myself. The combination of vowels and consonants just sounds terrible to my ears. It's not a very uncommon name (in the USA at least), but I just don't like it. Every time I'm addressed directly, I shudder a little to hear it. But I can't completely change it. I respect the people who gave it to me and who've called me by it for the past few decades too much to break away from it and after all this time dealing with it, it seems too strange to just abandon what's become my identity.

I think most people change their names because of some personal issue that makes them want to separate who they are from their past. But aside from a few minor issues, I have a relatively good relationship with my family, etc.. I'm not rejecting any part of my background. I just really hate the way my name sounds.

Is there any way to strike a balance between accepting what everyone (work, family, friends) knows me as, but not feeling comfortable with that name myself?
posted by anonymous to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's hard to tell if you're asking for permission and encouragement to make the change or resources for therapy... :-\

You state "But I can't completely change it.", when you really meant "I don't WANT to change it for these reasons."

My thought is, unless there's an elderly grandparent or parent that wouldn't understand why you're making the change, go for it... people that love you will support you, those that won't support you probably aren't that important in your life.

Be aware that it will take years for some folks to make the transition....
posted by HuronBob at 8:40 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend goes by his middle name professionally, and with most people he has met after junior high (including me). His family and oldest friends call him by his (foreign) first name. Could you just start going by your middle name? Or initials? Some kind of nickname? Nicknames, remember, don't always have to pair up exactly with the first names. Someone named David could be known as Rusty if he wanted to.
posted by cmgonzalez at 8:44 AM on October 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Maybe abbreviate and/or strategically add a couple extra letters to the original so as to change the pronunciation? Seems like lots of people do this, with all sorts of names simple or complex. Then come up with some sort of clever backstory that explains the alternative version in reference to whatever personal experiences, life issues, or symbolism that matter to you.
posted by 5Q7 at 8:45 AM on October 23, 2010

I changed my name because I didn't like the name I was born with. Yes, my elderly relatives were upset, but they learned to deal. I was looked on as a little eccentric, but also daring for actually DOING something about a name I hated, rather than just complaining about it. You don't have a "duty" to anyone (even elderly relatives) to keep your name if you don't like it.

The idea that you have one name and you are stuck with it throughout life, like it or lump it, is very much cultural. In many other cultures, you can have three or four names throughout your life and no-one bats an eyelash. Many of us have an idea of "the family name" that is rather ridiculous, unless you have a particularly notable name. (Think of all the Smiths and Lopezes and so on out there who are not remotely related.)

If you are in the US, you can change your name to anything that isnot obscene or hateful as long as you are not using the name to commit some sort of fraud, identity theft, or other criminal act. You can change your name to, say, "Angelina Jolie" if you want to, but you can't use that name to impersonate the famous Angelina Jolie to pass yourself off as her.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:51 AM on October 23, 2010

Given that Angelina Jolie's name is also a made-up name, that is even more poignant!
posted by alternateuniverse at 8:58 AM on October 23, 2010

Go for it. The worst that can happen is it doesn't stick, and you are no worse off than you were before. For example, my college roommate's name was chosen by his father, who bailed on him when he was an infant. They never met. After he graduated, he changed his last name to the last name of his maternal grandparents who raised him, and while he was at it, picked a new first name that he liked better than the one he was given. We all though it was a little weird at first, but it was an important thing to him and it made him happy so everybody rolled with it.

I think that if this change is accompanied by a significant life change (move of significant distance, etc.) that makes it easier, but you can still pull it off without "starting over". My best advice would be to address it head-on with the people you really care about in terms of whether or not you would like them to call you by your new name or your old one, and describe the reasoning behind the change to the extent that you are comfortable doing so. And don't take it personally when people slip and call you by your old name out of habit, even after a significant amount of time has passed. Names, whether we realize it or not, are really powerful things.
posted by jtfowl0 at 9:03 AM on October 23, 2010

I have several friends who haven't changed their names officially, but who go by completely different nicknames. In one case I was shocked to see the name on official ID, honestly, as I had no idea and we'd been friends a long time. In at least once case the friend is known by different names to different groups of people (family and old friends still sometimes use the "old" name), and works well. You can do whatever works for you, namewise!
posted by ldthomps at 9:07 AM on October 23, 2010

The earlier you change it, the better. It's less trouble than you think. You have to train your friends and family, and can't get too hung up on their reluctance, but if you are like most people, and you are relatively young, you'll be meeting more people in the future than you did in the past, so get busy.

You can legally change it cheaply and quickly. You can deal with the issue of name change with a lot of different agencies, as in DMV, Social Security Administration, your alma mater. New diplomas are possible, generally converting records is easily done with a copy of a name change and a letter. Really, it's not that big a deal.

I changed all three of mine years ago. The only thing I'd do differently is to do it earlier in life.

Change what you can. Live with the rest.

Get busy!
posted by FauxScot at 9:09 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I started using my middle name when I was 22. In my case, it helped that I was in the process of moving across the country, so I just started using my middle name instead of my first name with people I met. But I also asked my family and old friends to start using my middle name, and almost no one really had a problem with it (even my parents have adapted and only rarely "slip" and use my first name).

A further anecdote: my mom has hated her own first name for her entire life. She recently altered the spelling to something she liked a bit better, but only after spending 60+ years feeling uncomfortable every time she had to tell someone her name.

So yeah. I am firmly on the side of picking a middle name, nickname, or alternate spelling/pronunciation that you prefer. Names are so, so important.
posted by devotion+doubt at 9:27 AM on October 23, 2010

My son's name is similar to David Scott Jones. His father's name is David James Jones. Father goes by David and we always called son Scott. Scott came up with an unusual nickname in high school that everyone used, even teachers. (Scott is kind of an unusual person, so it fit.) When Scott entered the workforce, he was always addressed by his legal first name, even though he had never used that name. So now, with family he's known as Scott, with work friends he's known as David, and all his personal friends call him by his nickname. Sounds confusing to me, but he likes it just fine and says it helps him to figure out how and where he knows a person from.

So basically, my message is that you can be anyone you want to be.
posted by raisingsand at 9:35 AM on October 23, 2010

This kind of thing weighs so heavily on you, but, honestly, other people don't care. Just be gracious in terms of informing people so they can know how to address you, and you'll be pleased how quickly they can adjust. If anything, it makes you interesting that you're doing this, and you'll feel so relieved afterward.
posted by cymru_j at 10:11 AM on October 23, 2010

I have a friend who was given a name but decided she should have been given a different name. So she changed it in late teens, early twentys when its easier to do stuff like that. It took her family a LONG time to catch on, but everyone else adapted pretty quickly.

I also had a friend who one day announced, "My names not really JR. I just pretended that was my name when I was drunk and looking for work in an oilfield in Oklahoma. My name is Ron." and it is still a funny story, but what you want people to call you is your business. Do what you want.
posted by shothotbot at 10:33 AM on October 23, 2010

Someone named David could be known as Rusty if he wanted to.

yes but only if he's a redhead!
posted by patnok at 10:36 AM on October 23, 2010

You can change your name. If you really don't like your name, change it. People will get used to it. There will be a slightly awkward period where you have to correct people, but that will pass.
posted by Decani at 10:41 AM on October 23, 2010

I changed my last name because I hated my previous last name and had no sense of identity built around it. My mother married an upstanding man with a better last name. I had the choice to take his or not when he decided to adopt me (I was 12). I bailed on my last name.

In college I switched over from being a "Chris" to a "Christopher." I was taking a class with 12 students and 9 of us were named some form of Chris, Kris, or Christopher. (There was even a Kris Stouffer.) There were at least 2 CJs. So I said, "You guys all figure out what you want to be called and I'll take what's left." By the end of the semester I was firmly Christopher to all but my family.

20 years on it sounds strange to my ears to hear "Chris" even though that's what I was for half my life.

I say change away!
posted by cjorgensen at 10:41 AM on October 23, 2010

Just do it. I was given the name of an uncle of my mother's who raised her as a child. I always disliked the name because it exposed me to a good deal of mockery--by the time I went out to work I was just about ready to wreak mayhem on anybody who invited me to lead them to the altar. So when I went to a new city to work I started introducing myself by my second given name and have done so ever since. In Australia it isn't necessary to do anything "official" like a deed poll, but I did that a few years later anyway, switching the order of the names and adding a third given name because I liked the idea of having three initials. My mother coped with it OK.
posted by Logophiliac at 11:46 AM on October 23, 2010

posted by mykescipark at 11:47 AM on October 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just do it. Your feelings will only get worse over time and you'll begin to resent yourself for letting people call you a name you don't like.

Start by introducing yourself as your new name to all the new people you meet.

Then ask your closest friends to start calling you your new name.

If someone's stubborn about calling you by your old name, calmly and clearly explain to them that this is very important to you and you need to go by your new name. If they still don't fall in line, explain that you'll have to discontinue the friendship / professional relationship if they don't respect your wishes.

Once you feel the word is out, don't respond to emails or texts that address you by your old name. Delete Facebook posts that address you by your old name. Et cetera.

The above steps should get 98% of the people you interact with calling you by your new name within a year.

Not sure what can be done about Aunt Edna whom you only see every three years at a wedding or a funeral. You can try correcting her but if she doesn't fall in line, you can deal so long as everyone else does, right?
posted by meadowlark lime at 1:02 PM on October 23, 2010


Twenty odd years ago, I met a young woman named Wendy James (not the actual name). She had issues with her name, so she changed it. She became Carol James. But, it turns out, her real issues were with her family, so she changed her last name, too. Now, she was Carol Thomas. Then she got married and took her husband's name. She was now Carol Fredericks. But then there was a bad divorce and Carol Fredericks sort of disappeared. A few years later she called to inform me that she was now Phaedra Simmons.

At some point, I concluded I didn't know a Phaedra Simmons, and haven't seen (nor heard from her) since.
posted by philip-random at 1:20 PM on October 23, 2010

I assume what the poster meant by "I can't completely change it" is that they don't want to change it legally.

Okay, here is what I've observed from people doing first name changes:

(a) it's a lot easier to do when you move or go to a different school or job. It is harder for people to remember you as "Cynthia" rather than "Cindy" when they've known you as "Cindy" for five years, so keep that in mind if you aren't changing your life circumstances along with your name. People will flub. Hell, one of my friends wanted to change his name to something drastically different and I still to this day can't remember it most of the time (probably because it's really dissimilar to his given name) all that well. Neither has anyone else really, so.... eh, he'll answer to anything now. He goes by the old name in some places and the new name in others. You might want to take a laid back attitude towards how adamant you are about a name change with people who have known you a long time.

(b) your relatives will probably keep on calling you by your old name, like it or not. I figured out in first grade I wasn't perky enough to really pull "Jennie" off, but my relatives are going to call me that for life because my mother drilled it in from birth. Oh well. At least I don't hate it.

(c) there may be some confusion going on when your friends and coworkers who know you by Name B meet anyone who knows you by Name A. That may be where you have the most trouble with this.

(d) It'll probably be easier on you name-change-wise if you go by a middle name or your initials or something instead of calling yourself something that has no relation to any given name of yours (see my first example).
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:14 PM on October 23, 2010

A gradual change worked out for me. I was never thrilled with my first name, so I started going by my first and middle name and hyphenated it. I did it once seven years ago and everyone who met me that night never forgot it, and told me how pretty it was (which I never got with my plain jane ol' first name alone). Since my first name is pretty much un-diminutizable, if people want to shorten it or nickname me I go by my first/middle initial or a shortened form of my middle names. Now I'm thinking of dropping my first name entirely, at least professionally.

I think people who change their name entirely are a bit strange...the names we grow up with and identify with are a big part of who we are and who others think we are. What about using you middle name or a variant of your name (laura...laurel, lorelai, lorelai) or taking on the first or middle name of a relative? That might make your change more acceptable or understandable to friends/family.
posted by custard heart at 3:18 PM on October 23, 2010

"I've never liked it" is a perfectly good reason for changing your name. Be prepared to spend a lot of time gently correcting people.

My aunt faced this very same issue. Let's say her given name was Alice Becky Carter. She hated Alice, but it had historical value from a familial standpoint.

Her solution was to change her name to (let's say) Doris Alice Carter. Bump that first name into the middle position, and start going by Doris.

If it's important to you that the first name stay where it is, then change your middle name, and go by that. My mother goes by the equivalent of E. Franny Gump, and asks everyone to call her (let's say) Franny.
posted by ErikaB at 4:03 PM on October 23, 2010

I had the same problem. Growing up, everyone called me by a short form of my first name which I have never been able to stand. I decided to switch to using my full first name about two years into my last job.

I started by introducing myself that way to new clients, and asked co-workers to address and introduce me as such. It took about six months, but the switch is done and it's much better.

My last name was another story. Changing my identity when I've been well known both in my community and professionally for so long by one name would have been a mistake. So for work I've had to keep my last name, but I hyphenate it for everything else.

Eventually I will switch in my married name for my last name and voila! Switch complete.

My best friend also had a similar problem, except she couldn't stand her full first name. So she took on an unusual short form of her first name (Andrea to Ani) and just one day started asking people to address her as such.

Short story: It does take some time, but people adjust and soon you'll have a name you're happy with.
posted by empatterson at 6:35 PM on October 23, 2010

Neither of my grandfathers was actually called by his legal first name. My father's father was Giovanni but always went by John. My mother's father was Robert but everybody called him Jake, even though it wasn't his first OR middle name. Pick what you want to be called and get yourself called that.
posted by graymouser at 9:28 PM on October 23, 2010

empatterson: "Growing up, everyone called me by a short form of my first name which I have never been able to stand."

Likewise. I made the choice when I went to college to introduce myself as my full name, politely state my preference for it, and stop responding to the disliked name, at least from relatively recent acquaintances.

If people said to me, "Hey, (disliked) Name," and I answered "Yes? Though I prefer Fullname," people often forgot, since they'd gotten the attention from me they needed. But a few rounds of them repeating, "Name. Name? Name!" until "Hey, FULLNAME!" prompted my attention made it memorable. (Most of the time I wasn't being deliberately obtuse; my name's short form is so common that I usually don't think it refers to me when I hear it.)

A friend entirely disliked her first name, (altered here to) Jasmine, and so took to calling herself by her initials J E N, Jen, which everyone knows her by. Now married with her husband's surname, she still introduces herself as Jen Smith even though her initials are now J E S.

In an odd bonus, for both of us these selected names serve as useful screens for spam mail and telemarketers, as for instance a caller asking for "Jasmine" is not someone who knows her personally.
posted by nicebookrack at 10:56 PM on October 24, 2010

My great uncle's legal first name was Richard. He didn't like "Rick" and certainly didn't want to be called "Dick". He chose Pat and that's what everyone called him.

I transitioned from Debi to Deborah in my early twenties. It took a bit at work, but it helped that I moved from one office to another. Family-wise my brothers still call me Debi twenty years on, but my mum made the concerted effort to call me Deborah and does so.

Whatever you choose there will be an adjustment period. So, it doesn't matter if you choose a partial change or a total change. Just go for it!
posted by deborah at 3:05 PM on October 27, 2010

« Older Digital files, accessible from anywhere?   |   Pre Approve Auto Loan? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.