For most people, a name is permanent. Your parents name you when you’re born and give you a surname, and these names stick with you for the rest of your life.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. If you’ve ever had a nickname, you already know this. After a simple request, you can probably get people in your life to start calling you by something different. And if you want to make an even more pronounced, official change, you can change your name legally with the state.
Why would you do this? What are the most common motivations for seeking a new name? And is this the right move for you?
The Most Common Motivations for Seeking a New Name
These are some of the most common motivations for people seeking a new name.
Marriage.Name changes due to marriage are some of the most common. In Western traditions, the wife typically assumes the surname of her husband. These days, husbands sometimes take the surnames of their wives. And sometimes, both husbands and wives adopt new, hyphenated names that incorporate both of their surnames. People who change their name for marriage may do so to honor tradition, to signify their status as family, or only for personal preference. In any case, changing your name after getting married is relatively easy, since this is widely regarded as normal.
Divorce. On the other side of this journey, many people change their names due to divorce or separation. If you no longer want to be associated with your spouse, or if you want to be more closely connected with your original family, you may want to change your name after separating. Because this is relatively common, it’s also a simple process.
Child name changes. There are many reasons you might want to change your child’s name in response to new life events. If one parent has become estranged, the remaining parent may want to change their child’s last name to reflect the new family dynamics. If a stepparent enters the equation and adopts the child, the family may want the child to have the stepparent’s last name.
General dislike of current name. Some people want to change their name simply because they dislike their existing name. If you’ve always hated your name, and you’ve always liked another name better, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to get your name legally changed. In this category, some people desire a name change so they can take on a name that’s easier to pronounce or more familiar to native residents. Others don’t like that the name is associated with a famous person or a character from pop culture. Still, others simply have aesthetic objections to their name.
Religious motivations. It’s also relatively common for people to change their names for religious reasons. Adopting the name of a religious figure might be a token of reverence or a permanent reminder of religious values. For example, boxer Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., changed his name to Muhammad Ali after converting to Islam, then denouncing his previous “slave name.”
Transgender name changes. Increasingly, transgender people are changing their names to reflect their identities. Sometimes, this is a simple change from a masculine or feminine name form to the opposite – but sometimes, it entails a more “complete” name change.
Political statements. We also sometimes see people change their names for political reasons. For example, Marvin Thomas Richardson of the United States legally changed his name to Pro-Life. Particularly inflammatory name changes are rarely approved by the state, but you may be approved to legally change your name for some types of political reasons.
Should You Change Your Name?
Should you go through the effort of changing your name? It’s not a particularly difficult or expensive process, but it is a significant one and one that deserves to be taken seriously. If you’re thinking of changing your name for a joke, or if you’ve only been thinking about changing your name for the past week, reconsider your motivations. If you’ve been using a different name for many years, or if you’ve always hated your name for as long as you can remember, moving forward with a name change may be the best choice. What’s important is that you think about your motivations clearly and that you feel confident moving forward with this semi-permanent transition.
If you’re ready to move forward with your name change, consult your official government website on the matter. Different governments and different areas handle name changes differently, but you’ll usually need to fill out some paperwork and pay a fee to request a name change. If approved, you’ll be able to seek new identity documents – and start living your life under a new moniker.