Name change to a chosen last name - anecdotal experiences?
March 15, 2021 2:26 PM   Subscribe

In a couple of weeks I'm planning to take the final step to change to a chosen last name, would welcome any thoughts/experiences you if you or someone you know has done this.

I have recently completed the required steps to change my last name and will be able to take the final legal step soon (a simple stop at a registries office - think the DMV but with short lines).

I took a last name when I got married (now long-divorced) and now that my life has finally settled many years later, am way past ready to have that name be gone. However I have a very unusual first name (maybe 6 or 7 hits on Google that aren't me) and my maiden name was also very uncommon, and many people had difficulty with either or both. I like my first name and have no interest in changing it. The one benefit to my married name was that it has been very easy for people to pronounce.

For a new last name, I've chosen something very pronounceable and common (for North America / Europe). It's also a shortened form of my grandmother's maiden name. It sounds pretty great with my first name. I've already started thinking of myself with this name. I even received a piece of mail with it (as part of the name change process) and it "felt" right.

My only remaining hesitations are:
- It requires a complete change to my birth certificate. I feel like that's... I don't know... kind of denouncing my family's history? Only I don't have any great connection to it. Didn't grow up in the country of origin. And to be fair I haven't even used that last name in a decade. It's just the birth certificate part that's throwing me a bit.
- It feels kind of weird to just, like, pick a new last name. Is this a thing that people do?

I should add that I'm not concerned about anything regarding work or professional life. I plan to say, when asked, that I decided to revert to a family name (which is close enough). I've already inquired with my company's HR and it's no different administratively than someone getting married and taking a spouse's name. LinkedIn will allow both names, and I'd use that feature so that I'd still be findable. The paperwork for all of my accounts/documents will be a pain but I'm prepared for that and it's not a deterrent. My extended family may think it's odd but I have support from my living parent - after some initial surprise they were even brainstorming last names with me.

So my questions before I take the final step: have you or someone you know done this? Did you/they have any concerns or regrets, or just wished they'd done part of it differently, or been very happy with the decision? All anecdotes welcome!
posted by reader to Grab Bag (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have a female friend who had a very challenging last name (10+ letters in Slovak) who married a woman who also had a very challenging last name (10+ letters in Finnish [I think]). As expected, they got the "who is going to take the other's name?" questions. They considered hyphenating, but decided against it as they'd be spelling a 20+ character last name everywhere they went. Instead, they took their favorite bits from both of their last names and combined them into a really interesting name that isn't hard to spell or pronounce but still retains clear traces of their former last names. As far as I know they've received no pushback from their families, and they've been super happy about starting a new legacy with that name.

People changing their name to something that fits themselves better, works better in daily life, or they just like more has probably been around forever - I'm sure there is a greater than zero number of people that regret it, but it's not something I've ever heard of or come across. At worst, you change it back.

Go ahead and get that new name - you have to live with it, you should totally be able to pick it.
posted by _DB_ at 2:49 PM on March 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I know a few people who've done it. Some chose older family names that resonated better for them; some did it to mark their marriage (wanting the same name but not either of their family names); one or two did it in the context of a personal reinvention.

I never heard any complaints. They seem happy and it doesn't come up as a "thing" that needs explanation or handling, particularly.

I'd be weirded out by the birth certificate thing too, though. That seems strange. Did I understand right? Are you saying you've been told you need to go back and change your birth certificate, essentially falsifying the doc to state that your new desired name was the one you were born with?
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:50 PM on March 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Someone I was close to for a long time changed her last name in her early 20s. Her decision to change it was due partly to estrangement from her father and partly due to an affinity for her chosen namesake. Decades later, she still loved her new name and was happy she changed it.
posted by prewar lemonade at 2:55 PM on March 15, 2021

Response by poster: Thank you for the responses so far!

fingersandtoes, the birth certificate thing is odd but I'm in Canada. When you complete a legal name change you surrender your birth certificate and then have to order a new one from your provincial birthplace, which is issued with your new name. This isn't done when someone takes a married name or reverts back to their maiden name, but is done for name changes outside of that process.
posted by reader at 2:57 PM on March 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: A previous employer of mine had a last name that was essentially an insult in English and he changed it to something annoyingly on-point for his chosen field (imagine an astronaut named Billy Moonjump). Occasionally people would ask him if it was his “real” name and he’d get huffy but then tell the whole story including what his original name had been. As an aside, he was a dick. I feel like while he was happy with his decision he also clung to the trauma of his insulting name and didn’t want to move past it.

I know numerous people and am friends with a selection who have changed their names entirely because they are transgender. In some cases they keep their last name and just change the first, but more than a few take the opportunity to change their surnames as well, especially those who have unhealthy relationships with their living families. One guy I know took his great grandmother’s maiden name and his great grandfather’s first name, in part to feel even more connected to his family history, despite changing both names. Nobody I’ve encountered who has changed their name because of trans reasons has regretted it. Etiquette these days is also to treat deadnames as taboo, something you don’t ask about unless you want to be extremely rude. This is stronger with first names, but there with last names to an extent. You might run into people who are reluctant to connect your past history with your current name because they are being polite and will need to communicate that your preferences are different.

I know a couple whose names made a convenient portmanteau. They kept their last names after marriage because feminism but over time things like emails, greeting cards, and even their kids have casually used that portmanteau as a last name to the point where I’ve introduced them with it. I asked the wife if they were going to legally change their names and she said no, but that she also was the one who made the shared email with it and how she is waiting for her kids to be older to ask what their preferences are. I don’t think she has regrets but she does have some professional hiccups when a work friend makes the transition to friend friend or vice versa.

Anyway, name changes happen allllll the time at varying levels of formality. It sounds like you have thought it through and will be pleased. The birth certificate thing is really so bureaucracy can run smoothly and not something that will come up ever. Different places have different ways of legally handling this and you just have to roll with it. If you continue to reference your previous name as a way of connecting with your family or past achievements then people around you will keep that connection as well. If you cut off that name and drop it over time people will too. It’s in your control.
posted by Mizu at 3:01 PM on March 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: When I got married, I changed my last name - but to a name I had been planning to use for a couple of years (not my husband’s) - my mother’s maiden name. I did it to honor her, as a single mother, and her paternal grandmother and three aunts who all had a part raising her, and shared the name. There were no male progeny to carry on this name, so I was happy to confound future genealogists. I felt no other weird feelings, I was estranged from my father my whole life, and didn’t really like his last name (no one could spell or pronounce it).
I did take my husband’s last name as my *middle* name, mostly because I liked the of the two names, and we’re both Irish-American, and this reflected that.
posted by dbmcd at 3:01 PM on March 15, 2021

Best answer: oh, huh. Well, apparently this is how your records office deals with this stuff, and you're not the only one. If birth certificates have a standard process for being retroactively changed by adults, then their purpose is more like "legal name certificates." So hopefully that makes you feel less weirded out by it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:11 PM on March 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I did it over 20 years ago and have had no regrets whatsoever.
posted by purplesludge at 3:15 PM on March 15, 2021

Best answer: It's definitely a thing people do. I know a couple who both chose new names, first and last. They were colorful characters, to be sure. But I also know a very proper professional woman who changed her last name after her divorce to that of her maternal grandmother. I myself have been struggling with this decision so I totally understand your mixed feelings about it, but I really doubt that many people who are willing to take on the administrative hassle of it have any regrets later. Everything I've ever read about it featured people who wrestled with the idea for a long time first, like you. The birth certificate thing is weird! I guess just remind yourself that it's a peculiarity of being Canadian and doesn't have any more existential meaning for you than any other bureaucratic requirement.
posted by HotToddy at 3:21 PM on March 15, 2021

Best answer: If some of your discomfort is about feeling like you're denouncing your family's history by surrendering your old birth certificate, would it help to do something else that affirms your family history? I'm thinking along the lines of compiling a family tree (maybe doing some research to go further back) or doing something with photographs or family heirlooms to give them a place of honor in your house.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:23 PM on March 15, 2021

Best answer: Under the original common law, which still underlies statute law in most ex-British colonies, your legal name is whatever you want to be called. There's an ongoing attempt by the courts and legislatures to change this, but I'd suspect that if it ever reached a sufficiently high court they'd have to rule that your name is strictly your own, and neither you nor it belong to the government.
Your name is absolutely yours, and you're not insulting your ancestors or friends if you decide to change it. In any case, the concept of a fixed last name is very recent, and is to a great extent a convenience for people who keep records. H. V. Morton said, in about 1950, that you could still find people in isolated parts of the British Isles whose entire name was something like, 'John who lives down by the mill.' The only reason to let other people dictate your name is that it's convenient for other people.
I'm in the odd position of not really having a name. For a long time you could be summarily executed for using the clan name my ancestors came with, so they changed it to something less noticeable. My parents neglected to formally get married, so I'm not really entitled to that, either. My mother became flustered at my christening and gave me a name neither she nor my father had agreed on. Nowadays I go by any name I like, and have different ones for different situations. Nobody has ever questioned this, or cared.
When I was ten my mother offered to change it for me (without explaining why), and I've over the years considered various alternatives and never found one I liked.
So go for it. If you have something that you like, I think that's great.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 3:34 PM on March 15, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Here in Michigan, you can choose to change your birth certificate, or not. I didn't change mine when I did my name change, and I've regretted it—that old name sort of hanging around in an annoying way.

I get that it feels weird to you to change the birth certificate, though. When we adopted our children, their birth certificates were modified to show us as the parents. That felt very strange to me—we didn't give birth to these children! They're a document that shows that we are the kids' parents in every way that is meaningful, and in every legal context, but they erase the truth. It felt odd to me, so guess I'm just affirming that, yes, it can feel weird.

I know lots of people who have legally changed their names, and have heard none of them express regret.
posted by Orlop at 3:48 PM on March 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Changing my name was the beginning of my happy life. No regrets, except for not having done it sooner.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 4:00 PM on March 15, 2021

Best answer: Just sharing: I thought about doing something not quite the same, but similar (a surname that is neither mine, nor my husband's). I ended up not doing it for reasons that I don't think are that important but...

When we got married, I did change my last name to my husband's and I was not prepared for how upset this made me. I still don't know why, as I had absolutely no attachment to my family of origin or the surname that came with it, but for some reason suddenly my identity seemed very wrapped up in this name that I didn't even want! The fact that it is such an arduous process (all the paperwork and places you have to go and explaining what's what and also being told how un-feminist I am for doing this...) probably exacerbated my emotions around this, but but boy howdy I was not prepared to have a 2am tear filled conversation with myself about "who am I really?"

Hopefully your mileage varies. I'm happy with my choice now.
posted by sm1tten at 4:27 PM on March 15, 2021

Response by poster: Wow, thank you everyone!

You've each pretty well nailed a lot of what I've been thinking about and I really appreciate the words of encouragement. I like the refocus on the birth certificate part as being a bureaucratic requirement and less (as I've been thinking of it), an active rejection of my given last name, which isn't where I'm coming from on a decision (my married name though is associated with a lot of trauma, it can burn for all eternity and I can't wait to be rid of it). I like the idea too of some genealogical effort on my part. While I was doing the initial research I was really taken aback by the requirement, but decided to get the ball rolling and see how I felt as I worked through the process.

The anecdotes around having no regrets are super helpful as well.

Thanks again!!
posted by reader at 4:31 PM on March 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am estranged from my birth relatives, and I changed my name in my 20s to match that of my found family. No regrets.

It has been almost 15 years now, and I think the only awkwardness that has come up is running into people I haven't seen in a long time and having them assume I got married. The only reason this is awkward is that not everyone knows I was raised by wolves, so I kind of had to work out a quick explanation with more or less detail, depending on my relationship with the person.
posted by ktkt at 4:32 PM on March 15, 2021

Best answer: My sister-in-law got a job in a call centre and her managers suggested that she adopt a nom de phone to facilitate distancing from the difficult creatures she had to deal with at work; while also allowing clients to identify her. She opted for Attracta Looney - so Irish. My daughter's out-laws, theatre people, were about to get married and decided neither of them liked the name on their b.certs so changed in tandem to Ms & Mr Wild. And I've always respected a woman I heard about on the wireless in the last century, who changed her name to Veranda Porch - so relaxed.
posted by BobTheScientist at 4:58 PM on March 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I know three last name changers in my life that I can recall directly:
- one who is from a former Soviet bloc country, and changed his last name from a very Russian name to one that was a family name that had been erased by the Soviet alignment
- one who had a difficult Eastern European name, and changed both his first name and last name to more common-in-the-US names; his girlfriend at the time was also changing her name for similar reasons and they changed to the same last name
- one couple who were trying to figure out how to create a less patriarchal single name for their family without the complexity of the hyphen and combined their two names into one; the parents of one member of the couple were not very happy about it, but didn't make a big deal about it in the end, especially after the first grandkid...

So reasonably common for all sorts of reasons, and in all cases, from what I have heard, no regrets!
posted by chiefthe at 5:59 PM on March 15, 2021

Best answer: It feels kind of weird to just, like, pick a new last name. Is this a thing that people do?

My dad did exactly this. He was a Holocaust survivor and didn't want his German surname anymore after the war, so he changed it to a (very approximate) Hebrew equivalent. He definitely never had any regrets. It does mean I'm not related to anyone with the same last name outside of my immediate family, but I enjoy that distinctiveness (it also happens to be a very uncommon name).
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 7:27 PM on March 15, 2021

Best answer: I had a coworker who did this, and one of the things they did was pick new social media accounts, a new email, a new domain name, etc. and sent out the announcement from that last email. It was nice because it really cemented the name choice in my mind (and I had the new last name on hand, in the form of an email address, any time I forgot).
posted by rogerroger at 7:43 PM on March 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've changed my first name in Canada, and just re: the birth certificate, I know that it is obviously non-official once you change your name, but you can order a copy of your birth certificate now. Then when you send them one, you will still have one with your birth name on it. It changes nothing in terms of what's officially filed, of course, but if it would mean something to you to have it, you can have it. And for what it's worth, I'm sure somewhere in the government files there remains a record of your original name, likely even your original birth certificate.

And in terms of your connection to your family, you could, if you chose and you are of course in no way obligated to do this and I'm not even saying you SHOULD do this, but...You can have as many middle names as you want. You might have to start your name-change process over, but you could make your family surname into a second (third, fourth, whatever) middle name. You need never give it when asked for your middle name, you could just have it to know that's it there, if that is something meaningful to you.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:40 PM on March 15, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: As a person who has two birth certificates (original and post adoption), I recommend that you make a nice copy of your original. (Heck, I’d probably lie and say I lost it, especially if it’s pretty or noteworthy in any way (my original is nice the adoptee one is boring).) Make a copy and keep it with your new one. That is a part of your story and you may find yourself on occasion looking at them together and may find your feelings on your name and your journey changes or evolves over time.
posted by amanda at 8:58 PM on March 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: A friend of mine did it when she got married - didn't take her husband's name, but they decided on a third option together. I always thought that was pretty cool. It's more equal when both spouses have to change the name, and with this solution both still have the same last name as their children.
posted by sohalt at 11:39 PM on March 15, 2021

Best answer: I changed my last name in 2011 to something I picked after my divorce. It didn't feel right going back to my maiden name and I wasn't keeping my married name.

I have had zero regrets. In fact, whenever I see it or sign it, it still feels like a little gift I gave myself. It's not a common last name but it's a word everyone will have some familiarity with as a color of the rainbow.

My state doesn't have the birth certificate requirement, but if it did, I'd think of it as just more bureaucracy. How often do you even need to haul out your birth certificate anyway? Chances are after you change your name you won't need it again for another decade or two.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:53 PM on March 16, 2021

Best answer: My ex and I had each kept our last names when we married. Our first child had my last name. Out second child came to us through the foster care system, and had her own last name. By the time we were finalizing the adoption for our second child, we also knew we were separating, but we also knew we would still be a family, even if separate and non-standard.

So, we all changed our last names to a new last name, which washer favorite grandmother's first name and my favorite grandmother's middle name.

I think we're al happy with it, three years on.
posted by Tabitha Someday at 8:08 AM on March 17, 2021

Best answer: A friend of mine did this in the US when he was in college in the late '80s. He researched what was necessary and found that the cheapest and easiest way was to file the paperwork himself and show up in court. The latter was, I assume, to make sure that you are serious and to at least filter out the frivolous. IIRC he got a new birth certificate in short order.
posted by plinth at 12:20 PM on March 17, 2021

Response by poster: Hi everyone, I wanted to come back and comment on what I decided.

It took a bit longer to get one of the final required documents, but last Friday I filed the application and will get a letter confirmation in 3-4 weeks, which was a bit of a surprise but regardless is when I'll be able to start making the change in my day-to-day life.

If only I had a penguin...'s comments were really interesting and made me think. I considered for a day whether I should add my maiden name as a second middle name but ultimately decided against it just as a matter of convenience. I did, however, order a birth certificate for my application so that I didn't have to give up my original, which by some paperwork retention miracle I still have. That was a great piece of advice and I took amanda's comment into consideration for that too.

Lastly I really appreciated fiercecupcake's framing of giving myself a little gift. That's what this feels like, and thank you all for providing input and experiences and anecdotes!
posted by reader at 4:14 PM on April 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

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