Pros and cons of dropping my last name?
May 22, 2011 8:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering going by First Middle, and dropping my uncommon three-syllable Irish-ish Last name – a move that is significantly less common than going by Middle Last, or the like. What benefits and downsides might come up?

There are plenty of AskMe threads about name changes, but none about this sort of change. I'm a young man, and will likely be relocating geographically in the near future.

My motivations include a slight distaste for my last name, and a desire to have a crisper and more professionally accessible name.

For what it's worth, my middle name is my mother's maiden name, and my last name is my father's familial name. My biggest concern is that the change would be taken as a rejection of my father's side of the family, which isn't at all what I want. Any tips for dealing with this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you asking what the legal implications of this decision are? If that is what you are asking no one can answer this question for you because you give no indication of the jurisdiction under which you labor.
posted by dfriedman at 8:38 AM on May 22, 2011

I'm sorry, I guess I'm not clear what you're asking. The first paragraph seems to indicate legal questions, while the last paragraph seems to indicate other concerns. Disregard my first comment if that's not what you're asking....
posted by dfriedman at 8:44 AM on May 22, 2011

Depending upon how old you are and how much of a professional name you have built on your current name, the change could cause issues with people finding you on the Internet, etc.

When I married I dropped my ridiculously common (so common you could probably get it on the first three guesses) last name to a ridiculously uncommon last name (so uncommon that I am pretty certain I am the only living person in the US with my first and last name combo). I also did this right when I started practicing law. PIA: changing all of my bar and court admission documents. No PIA: getting it changed at the SS office.

I briefly considered what my parents would think about me dropping the surname that belonged to them. I was not the least bit bothered though because it was such a damn common name that there was no way they could have had any sense of ownership or familial pride in it.

Frankly, this is your decision, but like a tattoo it is mostly permanent. Do you really want to be known by this new name?
posted by Leezie at 8:46 AM on May 22, 2011

A maybe irrelevant example of a downside: at one point while pursuing a radio career, after using "Wendell Wittler" (not my real first name) for giggles, I wanted a more serious monicker and followed some others in the biz by going First-Middle, in my case, "Craig Lee", since Lee was a not uncommon last name. Unfortunately, at the same time another Craig Lee was becoming notable around Southern California. So I have since re-embraced my uncommon last name, which while pronounceable, is so often misspelled.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:59 AM on May 22, 2011

A problem I've had with being known by my second name rather than my first name, is that people make cheques out to me in the name they know me by, and the bank refuses them as it's different from my legal name. I don't know if that's the sort of thing you're thinking of.
posted by Grangousier at 9:06 AM on May 22, 2011

In the US, people are assumed to have three names. You're probably going to run into some cases of forms being 'incomplete' because you didn't fill in a middle name, and some people insisting that they need your full legal name and that means supplying a non-existent middle name, which of course isn't your legal name. I run into a few hassles just because I'm called by my middle name instead of my first, and that isn't all that unusual. I'd imagine having the wrong number of names is worse.

I'd recommend switching your first and last names, making your relatively difficult last name your middle name. That way you can also tell your dad you're not getting rid of it, you're just tired of people mispronouncing it, or misspelling it. (It still might bug him, but not as much.)
posted by nangar at 9:07 AM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think nangar meant that you should switch your middle and last names, so as to rename yourself First Last Middle.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:25 AM on May 22, 2011

Uh ... Yeah. That's what I meant to say.
posted by nangar at 9:28 AM on May 22, 2011

A problem I've had with being known by my second name rather than my first name, is that people make cheques out to me in the name they know me by, and the bank refuses them as it's different from my legal name. I don't know if that's the sort of thing you're thinking of.

At the banks I've used, they give you a form to fill out ("Alias Registration" or something like that), and you attach a letter that says, "Sometimes, people also call me blah blah blah. Sincerely, so and so." And they'll accept checks made out to both names. This is in the USA.
posted by jeb at 9:48 AM on May 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I aslo came here to suggest putting your dad's last name as your middle name. And to suggest that you let your dad & family know what you're doing and expressly state it's not a sign of disrespect.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:55 AM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Explain it to your dad, and maybe also other members of his side of the family, personally. In advance.

I'd also probably stick to things like "more professionally accessible because it's easier to pronounce/spell" than "distaste for your name." I don't know where you live, but generally people don't choose their family name (unlike, at least, choosing to be Pat instead of Patrick), so it might be hard for them to follow.

Also, I'm not really following your explanation of why you want to do this. Consider working on that to yourself before you do this so that you can more adequately explain it to your family.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:02 AM on May 22, 2011

Jon Stewart was born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz (and officially changed his name).
posted by radioamy at 11:36 AM on May 22, 2011

My husband did this exact thing, over 25 years ago. Apart from having no middle name, as nangar mentioned, there weren't many repercussions as he did it just prior to moving to a new country.

One thing: when I married him, I took his new name as my married name. And our children have that name as well. I know for a fact that this is a sore point to his dad. Just something to consider going forward.
posted by anemone at 11:38 AM on May 22, 2011

Swapping your middle and last names sounds like the smoothest move. That way you can go by your first and last names but still have a middle name there as an official/symbolic kind of thing.

Tell everyone you're doing it for professional reasons.
posted by mleigh at 7:20 PM on May 22, 2011

(for the record, the boyfriend and I both happen to lack middle names- it's not really a hassle at all)
posted by charmedimsure at 8:29 PM on May 22, 2011

Chiming in as another person with "only" two names. Not having a middle name used to be more of a hassle (as far as filling out forms) than it is now. Maybe people have wised up that not everyone is named the same way they are.
posted by cardioid at 9:08 PM on May 22, 2011

In terms of explaining it to your dad, I would avoid the 'distaste' angle. Can you go for something that's more about pros than cons? Maybe, that you'd like to carry on your mom's last name too? (especially if you have another sibling with your dad's last name, or if there's no one else in your mom's family carrying on that surname).

Depending on your family, making an argument about how a less ethnic/complicated name would be good for your career might be helpful move, or could maybe make things worse.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:17 AM on May 23, 2011

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