Why I Changed My Name at 25-Years-Old and How Does It Feel
Are you what you're named? Or are you named for who you are?
Imagine for a minute. Yesterday, you were still responding to the name “Karen,” and suddenly today you are Allie. It is official; it is on your workstation, on your passport, on your bank account—just “Allie” everywhere.
It sounds trivial, but let me assure you this: it can easily be one of the MOST surreal things that ever happens to you.
So what exactly made me change my name at 25-years-old?
For a start, I had never liked my original name, which I shall not reveal for sake of privacy (but honestly, it is more of saving myself from further embarrassment on the internet). But one thing for sure, it is not Karen, which might actually have been better than my original name, since it at least serves the most basic function of a name—being pronounceable and “callable.”
At my birth, my mum got a little too over-creative with my first name, giving me a made-up name that turned out to be huge challenge to roll off smoothly from any first-timers’ tongue. Growing up, I dreaded all kinds of first day introduction. It was still not too bad if I get to introduce myself first, but if the teachers chose to go down the name list one by one, I came to understand that it was me that they were calling by their abrupt, hesitant, and trying pause, even before they muttered some ridiculous jumble of sounds that vaguely resembled my first name.
As for my last name, though it is pronounceable, I just could not associate myself with it since I was young. My father has never been a big part of my life and to bring myself to answer to his family name always required a conscious effort.
I lived with this uncomfortable name situation for 25 years, pulling through all the identity crises and inconvenience that it had brought upon me. One day, while renewing my passport at the authority, I casually asked the officer about the procedure required of one if they wish to legally change their name. It turned out, it really does not require much to do that—a deed poll by the lawyer is all that it necessitated.
Ever since then, I could not let that thought go. I questioned the purpose of names, I questioned to what extent this name that I could not associate with had become my identity, I questioned how other people would feel if I were to announce a name change, etc. Until four days later, I walked into a lawyer’s office and five administrative minutes later, I had officially changed my name.
So new name is in place, now what?
The first time I saw my new name in print, in that official authoritative font on my passport, that alarmed voice immediately rang up in my head, “Did I just change my name on a whim?!” Initially, seeing and hearing people calling me by the new name made me feel almost like I had stepped into a new role or some sort of invented persona. But it did get easier with time, and soon enough, the reverse started to happen—you felt odd when you chanced upon a dated piece of document with your old name or running into old friends and heard them call you by your old name.
It was frankly a weird period of my life. A name is such a central piece to one’s identity that when stripped out of it, one has to be very clear of what else makes them them on top of an arbitrary name that is given to them either at birth, or in my case, on a whim by myself.
In hindsight, I could not be happier that I finally had the courage to decide on the name change after 25 years. Though it comes with some initial inconvenience, it strengthens my identity of who I see myself as and that alone is a priceless outcome.