Naming has power. To name a thing is to bring it to life and to give it a shape, whether it is living or inanimate. That is why, when people’s lives change or they grow up and are old enough to have power over their own names, they sometimes change them. There are many reasons to go through a legal name change, most of which fall under a few general categories we’ll consider here.
Why the Change
Some people change their names to indicate a new situation and some do it to bring them closer to their aspirations, because the new appellation better expresses who they want to be and how they want to be seen. Here are a few reasons people go through this:
- A New You: Almost every name change signals a new life ahead. If you don’t like the name your parents gave you or it just doesn’t fit with the image of the life you want to lead, you can legally change your name. People may change their names to more fully occupy a public persona they have adopted or to distance themselves from a past they wish to forget. They may just want what they think is a better name, one that will help then fit in with the society they wish to keep. Whatever the specific reason, generally speaking, name changes are a way to assert power over an important aspect of you that you did not control before.
- Marriage and Divorce: While women traditionally took their husband’s name, marriage has changed a lot in recent years. Now couples, whether opposite or same sex, may choose a name that suits them both or hyphenate to become one, or either spouse can take the name of another. This name change signifies a new or different phase in life. When that phase ends in divorce, as it does for so many, another name change may be appropriate.
- Identity Change: Physical or religious identity changes are likely to lead to a name change. For people undergoing gender transformations, a name change is part of a much bigger project to match physicality and facts with the person’s truest understanding of their own gender identity. But gender identity is just one part of who we are. People may change their names when they adopt a new faith or lose their faith altogether, or if they start to especially identify with a culture that is not technically theirs. Some people change their names for political purposes, using the new name to send a message.
A legal name change is a big deal because it’s the ultimate administrative task. Not only will you have to get your name changed officially, but you will have to address all the other documentation. With passports, licenses, degrees, certifications, identifications, we have no end of paperwork in postmodern life and you will need to ensure that your identity is unified.