Changing Your Name is NOT for the Faint of Heart

A photo of a white woman with brown hair in a wedding dress standing in a room full of pom poms hanging from the ceiling.

A reflection + how to from Modern Rebel CEO, 
Amy Shack Egan

I was sitting at the dinner table - one of those family dinners that you dread in college - a lot of questions about your "future plans" when you hardly have a next 24 hour plan so the future feels like an abstract alien-like universe void of anything rooted in reality.... but alas, there I was sitting at the table. The topic of naming kids came up and one of my family member's blurted out - "Well, for girls, you have to think about the fact that her name has to go with a different last name someday when she gets married." Looking back, I guess this is practical. 80% of married women still change their names to reflect their new partner's name [let's be real, this is VERY gendered and they take their husband's names]. But the comment just set me off! Why do we just set this as an expectation? I blurted out: "Well, I WON'T be taking the last name of my future husband." My conservative, traditional, albeit lovely family was very quiet. Time passed. That boyfriend I thought I might marry and I broke-up. Years went by and then last November, I tied the knot - with a totally kick-ass guy in Brooklyn.

Getting married is met with A LOT of emotion, understandably so. But some of it is just silly. The gushing over becoming "Miss to Mrs" and our culture's seeming obsession with women "changing their identity" - to wifey, to Mrs. So-and So or the older generation's vomit-worthy approach, labeling any cards to you and your spouse as Mr. and Mrs. John Smith. The invisible wipe of your own name - just your marital status [Mrs.] that's supposed to represent a status achieved, unlocked by subtly digging into your dignity. Being identified by your husband's name is polite - it's etiquette! Nothing like formality to make us lose total sight of how fucked up our culture's obsession with a woman's marital status is ....

A few months after the dust of love party dreams settled and we were officially married, I started thinking more about the name change thing. What did I want? I loathed the length of my last name - 11 letters, a pain to spell over the phone, and with my 9 letter middle name - it was all a mouthful. Plus, John and I want kids - maybe even a few of them! I wanted to share a last name with them, too. Every time I read a story about a woman overseas who lost her child in a foreign country and getting them back with different last names, it made me weepy. I don't want it to be that hard to get my child back ... ever. "Just hyphenate!" - said everyone. Hyphenations just felt like putting burden on the kids. Like passing it to the next generation to deal with. What's the solution - a thousand hyphenations till we never have enough boxes on fill-in SAT forms? Already my hyphenation option didn't fit in those boxes... it all felt like a real royal pain in the butt. Then we thought about combining but [Shackelford and Egan] Shegan reminded me too much of that Shakira song "she-wolf' and I just couldn't get passed it. Or, we could go super progressive - he could take my last name! I was into it - until I realized he'd have my brother's name. Confusing and awkward to say the least.

But, hey, I loved the "Shack" part of my name - it was punchy. It reminded me of when I was the 3rd Amy in my 5th grade class so they called me: Amy Shack and I was the star kicker on the kickball team at recess. It just felt like me. So, why not lose the "ford" and add the middle name and go - Amy Shack Egan. Was it irreverent to just make something up - just cause I liked it? Cause it felt like me? Like most major things in my life, I'm the queen of knowing my gut. So, I went with my gut. Sharing the choice with female friends, they were like OH MY GOD I HAVE BEEN TRYING TO FIGURE OUT WHAT TO DO. LET'S TALK!!!! It was like the doors opened and all these women dying to talk about the pressure they felt or the confusion they were sorting out came to the surface and we all got to collectively just breathe life into this discussion. 

As empowering as landing on that decision was, the legality process can only be described as the exact opposite. If anyone ran their business the way the US government runs theirs, they'd have so many 1 star Yelp reviews, they'd never be able to keep their doors open. It's like stepping back into 1980s with slower internet, fax machines that people still use, and a total disregard for a human being's time. It all moves at a snail's pace at the US Court system. At one point, I looked over at a women behind the glass, flossing her teeth near a sea of messy desks that would make Marie Kondo sick, who waived me off to her colleague .... she was obviously busy.

Anyway! If you have landed on changing your name legally after the wedding ceremony or if you're changing any part of your middle name, too, then here's the part with some helpful tips from someone who JUST went through it:

  • Take a half day from work [bring passport, SS card, driver's license] and head into the US Court office at 9am to pick up the documents that you need - don't bother printing and filling out online. I showed up with the paper signed and notarized and they told me "while it's the right paper, it's printed slightly different so the online form won't be approved from the judge" .... yes, this is the form on THEIR website. Makes 0 sense. But logic gets left at home on Livingston St. in Brooklyn .... ! If you are married changing your name - you also need a separate paper your spouse has to sign to approve your name change [backwards, right?]. Once you've got these 2 papers ... head a block away to pay a few bucks for a notary to sign them, and you sign yours and call up your spouse to meet ya there so they can sign their in front of the notary, too. 
  • Once you've got the right papers - go BACK to the courthouse [you can do this same day or different day] with the signed papers, your passport, driver's license and SS card and $65 IN CASH + your spouse's driver's license [note: your spouse doesn't have to come to courthouse - but you'll need their license]
  • Share your papers + ID with them and then they'll book time with judge! Of course, your time is not a priority to these folks - so, make sure to keep in mind this could be same day but it likely won't be! So, be ready to come back the next day for your time with the judge.
  • Show up for your time with the judge [turn off your phone or you will get yelled at ..... take it from the nice but clueless woman sitting next to me that I don't think knew phones could be turned on "silent" .... her phone went off a whopping 4 times] and they'll sign your forms and send you on what I like to call: "The amazing race" portion of this experience - a silly experience of running around downtown Brooklyn going to different newspaper publishers so that they get your new name "published" in these papers [drop off the forms the judge orders] and then you have to come back in a week to pick them up! YUP! YOUR TIME IS NOT A PRIORITY, remember???
  • Oh! And within that week, you've got to go to the post office - did you think any truly miserable experience would be complete without a trip to the USPS. Silly you ! Didn't you know the gates of hell are just one giant USPS line? Truly - I wonder this sometimes ....
  • Once you get to the front of the line [it may take years], you've got to send 3 pieces of mail [don't worry - the court will give you these after you meet with judge] that must be sent certified mail. As the lady at the court explained to me: "This is really a formality." Most of the time, these get sent back - it's just the act of doing it that helps us know you are ready to make the name change." WTF?! Yes, that USPS line is just a test of your own personal grit meter.
  • Once that week has passed and you've gone back to those publishers that the judge ordered and you're back to the courthouse with those certified mail slips and proof of publication, you can FINALLY get these certified copies of your name change! Every copy costs $6 and you must pay in cash and you'll like need at least 4 copies [to then do the fun task of mailing off to passport office, DMV, SS office.... etc.] Oh! Did I mention they only accept cash? Because, of course.
  • But alas, your name change will be official ! So, plan a date night with a glass of something strong and celebrate. Fighting the patriarchy and doing it your way - they don't make it easy. :) 

So, for all of you thinking about this process, unsure of which way to go ... don't let the US government get ya down! All in all, it takes about one week [excluding the passport updates, driver's license update, SS card update ... but you have as much time as you want on those pieces, I'm giving myself the whole year] BUT primarily it takes a positive attitude and a good dose of humor to get through it. On the other side, is a bold, empowering choice that makes you feel more like you - and what's more worthwhile than that? 

I say: you do you.

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