Our names have the power to shape our identity. If you like your name, or at least feel neutral about it, perhaps you haven’t given it much thought. But people who dislike their names — or feel that the name they were assigned at birth isn’t a good fit for a variety of reasons — recognize that these labels hold weight.
We often hear about people who legally change their last names (after marriage or divorce, for instance), but we hear less about the folks who decide to legally change their first names. We asked people who have gone through the first-name changing process to explain what compelled them to do so. Here’s what they told us.
(Note: Some respondents have chosen to withhold their last names or use their initials for privacy reasons. Interviews have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.)
Because I Found Out My Dad Secretly Named Me After Another Woman He Was In Love With
“When my father told my mother he wanted a divorce, he told her that he had never loved her and had been in love for 20 years with a girl he had met at 17. (She had also married someone else.) To add to his cruelty, he told her that their first child (me) had been named by him after this other woman. I changed my name as fast as I legally could.” ― Brooke C.
Because I Was Sick Of Being Teased About My ‘Hippie’ Name
“I changed my first name when I was over 40 years old. I’d thought about it for a long time, having always disliked my given name. My parents named me in typical hippie fashion, setting me up for a lifetime of ridicule and incessant questioning. Working with the public made it worse since I introduced myself dozens of times a day (one client asked me if my parents didn’t like me).
Having become estranged from my family over a period of many years, I felt I had no obligation to hold onto a name that caused me such grief, and so I made the decision to change it. Most people were supportive, though they knew it would be tough getting used to it. Every so often, someone would say, ‘Oh, but I like (old name).’ I would reply that they could feel free to use it for themselves.
Adopting a new name made me feel liberated. And I get so many compliments on it! When people say, ‘I love that name,’ I like to answer with, ‘Thanks, I picked it myself!’” — Molly Miner
Because I Was Transitioning From Female To Male
“I’m in my final year of high school, and I’ve been out as transgender since I was 13, though I’ve known my whole life. It was really difficult at school having the teacher read out my very female first name because it meant that everyone then knew I was trans, which gave them incredibly personal information that I’d prefer to keep private. And my school email address that was used daily in class was based on a name that I wish I could forget.
Having to explain such a personal struggle to strangers forced me to open up about something I never like to talk about. I chose to keep my initials the same, and I decided to honor my mother by taking her maiden name as my new middle name. I’m glad that I’m offered a new era of privacy and comfortability with this change, and I’m incredibly happy that it’s even possible to do.” — Alexander
Because I Was Getting A Divorce And Changing My Last Name Anyway
“I changed my whole name after getting divorced. I didn’t want to revert back to my maiden name or keep his surname, so I spoke to my mum about it and she told me to choose a new one. While I was looking into it, I found out I could do my first name, so thought, ‘Why not?’
In hindsight, I was mentally not in a good place and probably shouldn’t have changed it all at once. It’s been a pain, as I’m freelance and still work under my old first name (but spelled differently), and I get confused sometimes when I have to introduce myself. My family still refers to me by my old name, as do people in work and most of my friends. New friends I’ve made call me by my new name.” — K.R.
Because My Name Felt Too Childish To Me As An Adult
“My first name at birth was Cathy, a cute nickname of Catherine or Cathleen. As an adult, I felt infantilized by it. I changed it to ‘Catherine,’ a name which carries considerable gravitas, at least to me. Of course, at Walmart and other similar places in the South, my name is still ‘Hon.’ But when doing business with professionals, I am called Ms. Wood or Ms. Catherine. My friends call me Cathy. For people who don’t know me, it’s Catherine. I love the change.” — Catherine Wood
“When people say, ‘I love that name,’ I like to answer with, ‘Thanks, I picked it myself!’”
Because My Given Name Didn’t Totally Suit Me
“Since elementary school, I have been thinking about changing my name (Brandon). In 2016, I finally did. I wanted a name that was more balanced: the same culture and number of characters and syllables, first and last. Now, I like my name phonetically, aesthetically, symbolically and literally.” — Faust Whale
Because My Foreign-Sounding Name Hurt My Job Search
“Changed my name for professional reasons. Believe it or not, foreign-like names are often discriminated by recruiters — even though I’m an American. After I changed it, I noticed that I got more interviews. I did keep my original name as my middle name.” ― M.T.
Because I Felt More Connected To The Nickname My Adoptive Mom Gave Me
“I was born ‘Chelsea.’ When I entered the foster care system, my now-adoptive mother would call me ‘Baby Doll’ and ‘Dolly,’ and it stuck as a cute nickname. When I turned 19, I started a fashion business, which meant my name was publicized frequently. I decided to go by ‘Dolly’ professionally, so my bio-mom (who lived in the area) wouldn’t be able to identify me. As I started to use it, it felt so right and I began to use it in my personal life, too.
Two years ago, I finally formally changed my name to ‘Dolly.’ I was never ‘Chelsea’ and never felt like I identified with my bio-family. Changing my first name allowed me to feel closer to my adoptive family. It was a name my real mother chose for me versus the woman who just birthed me but was never a real mother to me.” — Dolly M.
Because No One Called Me By My Actual First Name Anyway
“I was ‘Mary Alison’ but have always been called ‘Alison.’ When I got married ,I dropped my first name, ‘Mary,’ since I never used it and it was just an annoyance. I put my maiden name as my middle name (no hyphen) and took my husband’s last name.” ― Alison H.
“It was really difficult at school having the teacher read out my very female first name because it meant that everyone then knew I was trans, which gave them incredibly personal information that I’d prefer to keep private.”
Because The Hospital Made A Mistake On My Birth Certificate
“The hospital misspelled the name my mother had given me. This was discovered when I was applying for financial aid for college. Once I had my name legally changed to match what my mother had named me, I received financial aid for my entire college duration.” ― Ann T.
Because I Hated Correcting People When They Called Me By My Real First Name
“I changed from ‘Mary Theresa’ to ‘Teri’ in 1995 for a variety of reasons. I was born on my mom’s 25th birthday, so she and my father named me ‘Mary,’ after my mother. I went by ‘Teri’ to avoid confusion, so ‘Mary’ never felt like my name. When I grew up and married, my husband’s mom’s name was the Romanian version of ‘Mary Theresa,’ so things got even more confusing.
I was a very shy younger woman and despised always needing to correct people, especially after I left my hometown and went on to college, had a career etc. So when I married, it was the perfect opportunity to change my first name to ‘Teri,’ keep my maiden name as my middle, and take my husband’s last name. I haven’t looked back!” ― Teri R.
Because I Had A Fraught Relationship With My Biological Mother
“I had been in foster care. I met my forever family at 15 years old. My biological mother would not relinquish parental rights for adoption, so at 18 years old, I changed my entire name. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The transition was difficult at first — that was 35 years ago. I’ve been ‘Megan’ twice as long as I was that other person. Because of all that, when I got married I kept my maiden name.” — Megan R.