When I was 24, about a decade ago, I finally changed my name.
For those of you who have done this, you know that it is not a decision to made lightly. Issues of identity, psychological comfort, aesthetics, politics, and a hundred other variables are wrapped up in how we refer to ourselves. Plus, it’s a logistical nightmare and financial burden to make the change.
It’s little wonder, then, that even people with positively wretched monikers will cling to them and endure a lifetime of snickers and befuddled looks. I knew a guy named Peter Creamer who never considered changing his name, even though one could not have come up with a better gay-porn alias.
So why did I do it?
It wasn’t because of any issue with my first or middle names. Indeed, those remain unaltered from my birth certificate.
No, it was my last name, which for the first two dozen years of my life was a monosyllabic horror so bland that I am convinced it actually made me duller.
But my innate dislike of the name wasn’t enough. As I mentioned in a previous post, my mother raised me, and I never felt connected to my father’s name (but let’s not get too Freudian or whiny here). I adopted her maiden name as my legal signifier as a sign of respect to her.
That remains the primary reason. But there is, of course, a supporting factor. My birth name is Anglo, a brief English-Irish term that simply does not line up with my obviously, shall we say, ethnic appearance.
In truth, I didn’t like the name because it was too white. It didn’t fit me. Perhaps I was being overly political or confrontational or sensitive or aggressive. But I have to admit that I always wanted something that indicated my heritage, or that at least didn’t stand out from everyone else in my family (I’ll post more about the crazy cousins in the future). And I was tired of people finding out my name and saying, “That doesn’t seem right.”
They were correct. It wasn’t right.
So when I moved to New York City, I found a quick and easy way to change my name (everything in NYC involves a middleman who will handle things for a fee).
At my job, when I announced that my name had gone from something Anglo to a moniker with more of a Latino flair, a co-worker asked, “Doesn’t it usually work the other way around?” In other words, it’s more common for a Guillermo to become a William or a Morales to become a Madison and so on. He was right, of course.
But I had already possessed an Anglo name. It was time for something new.