jenn ryan

Things I Didn’t Realize Would Happen When I Legally Changed My Name

I’ve wanted to change my name since I was a kid, as my birth name just never felt right to me. As I grew up, I had friends and teachers call me by a nickname, but my family continued to call me by my birth name.

After 30 years, I got really tired of being called my birth name, so I finally legally changed my name and informed those who still called me by my birth name that it was no longer acceptable and that I preferred to be called a new name.

These are five things I didn’t realize would happen when I did that.

People Just Avoid Using a Name for Me Completely

It was funny, perplexing, interesting, and disheartening to watch my immediate and extended family just avoid using a name for me completely instead of using my new name.

It seemed apparent to many of them that using my birth name was no longer appropriate, yet they seemed to have trouble fully getting on board with my new name.

They began referring to me as “you” or “her” rather than using my new name. Although this has started to change now that it’s been almost a year, there are still people who just avoid my name altogether.

There Were Two Kinds of People

People quickly became divided into two categories when I changed my name.

There were those who tried, and those who didn’t.

It seemed like the people who didn’t try to use my new name or those who, yes, continued to call me by my birth name did not take me seriously. Despite the fact that I specifically asked them to no longer use my birth name, they seemed to think that this was an optional request and continued to call me a name that brought me a lot of anxiety and shame.

My immediate family was mostly good about attempting to use my new name. Of course, they slipped up on occasion, but they were generally pretty good about correcting themselves.

My extended family didn’t seem to try very hard. I admit that they did try—for example, although my grandparents on my mom’s side did not use my new name verbally, they did use it in written correspondence. My 90-year-old grandmother on my dad’s side, however, continued to use my birth name in person and in print, which was frustrating, even if she was 90.

It was frustrating and heartbreaking to feel like I was not taken seriously by people I had trusted with my new name.

Most People Were Oblivious to the “Dead Name” Concept

If you haven’t heard of deadnaming, it’s the act of calling someone their birth name or a former name when they either do not go by that name anymore or asked you not to use that name. Deadnaming has been shown to be harmful and is considered a violent act.

Although I didn’t explicitly change my name for gender reasons, deadnaming applies in my situation because I associate my birth name with a lot of trauma, shame, and anxiety.

People did not seem to understand that using my old name was a transgression that was hurtful to me. For example, even though my mom used my new name, she would always tell me when a friend or family member used my birth name and would say the name in conversation with me. This prompted a conversation during which I explained to her that it was still deadnaming even if she was not directly calling me the name herself.

Accidentally calling someone their former name happens. After all, we are human. It’s ok to correct yourself and, if appropriate, apologize to the person. It’s not ok to ignore their wishes and continue to call them their birth name just because it’s easier for you or you “forgot”.

Some People Corrected Themselves Sarcastically

There were a few times when people would call me my birth name and I would correct them, either by just saying my new name immediately after they said my old one, or by saying, “Please don’t call me that”, or “I need you to use my new name.”

The response I got was a little off-putting at times. Some people corrected themselves by saying my new name in a sarcastic tone or asking me for the millionth time how to pronounce my new name, then neglecting to use it. In addition to being perplexing and hurtful, a sarcastic correction of behavior is rarely warranted.

How Good It Would Feel to Be Called the Name I Wanted

It was scary to change my name and have the courage to tell those closest to me that I no longer wanted to be called by my birth name, but a new name. After all, it took me decades to do it.

And even after being called my new name, I still felt codependent about it—I felt like I was taking up too much space in the world by asking people to change what they called me.

But slowly, I began to realize that I deserved to be called the name I wanted. I deserved to have a name that felt like me, that made me happy rather than sad. I deserved to take up space in the world and to ask others what I wanted and needed from them.

It’s been almost a year, and it’s taken me this long to accept these positive feelings and to feel good when someone calls me my new name, especially when they do it without sarcasm and without me having to correct them.

I really appreciated and loved when someone used my new name in conversation. It was like a warm light glowing inside me that let me know what person saw and heard me—not as my birth name but as this new name, and person.

Using someone’s preferred name—whether or not it is their legal name—is a sign of respect. It tells the person that you see them and that you value them. It shows people that we accept them and their preferences. It tells people that they matter. So when someone has the courage to ask you to call them a new name, please do so—and know how much it will mean to them when you do.

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