So, most of you have heard something about me changing my name, or at least noticed that my Facebook name has changed. There are a lot of people who I don’t keep in touch with as much as I should, or to whom I haven’t had the chance to explain the reasons I changed my name. So here I go.
Admittedly, changing a first name is an unusual thing to do. We’re used to people changing their last name–usually because of marriage. In fact, in the process of changing my name, I had a couple of people (the telephone operator at CitiCards, for example) refer to me as Mrs. Melnik, assuming that I had gotten married and that what I had changed was my last name to Melnik. Nah.
Alright, so my reasons for changing my name. First, I’ve never liked my name. The tricky thing is that unlike most characteristics, your name is the only one you’re reminded of all the time. People never address me as “hey, Brunette!” or “hey, Russian!” or “hey, Student!” but almost every sentence would begin with “hey, Maria!” So it’s a constant reminder, as people refer to you by this name that just doesn’t fit. Those of you who knew me in middle school knew me as ‘Mar’; on the first day of 6th grade, I decided, hey here’s a chance to try a new name on a group of people who don’t know me! It stuck for three years, but that name wasn’t quite right…it’s usually best when your nickname isn’t a synonym for ‘damage’. Also for years Lina went through a whole variety of nicknames for me–Marmel, Mem (my initials), and lots of other ones that are too silly (albeit adorable) to name. So I guess I’ve been running from my given name for a while.
Luckily, I’ve also had another name I’ve been called my whole life–Masha. In Russian, nicknames often end with “sha”–for example, my dad’s name is Gregory, but most people call him Grisha. And Sasha, my sister’s name, is the nickname for Aleksandra or Alexander (she also made it official a bunch of years ago by making Sasha her legal name). So to Russian people, the two names are equivalent. It’s very lucky that I had a name I like all ready to change my name to, so I didn’t have to pick something random (which could have been cool too, but harder to get used to).
My actual decision to change my name came pretty much out of the blue when I was flying during Spring Break of last year. I was thinking about the fact that I had started working on research and could potentially get published within a couple of years (*fingers crossed*), and once you’ve been published, you pretty much have to stick with the same name, so that all citations can be linked back to the same person (actually, most citations/references just involve a first initial, so it’s not actually a huge problem, but your full name is on the front of the article, so it’s still relevant). Also, once I got my college diploma, that would be the name that I’d be stuck with, since it’d be hard to explain later in a resume why the name on my resume was different than the name on my diploma. Consistency is good when you want people to see you as trustworthy.
So when I got back to school after Spring Break, I asked Dr. Gold if it was a crazy idea to want to be called by a different name, and he totally supported me! The Office of the Registrar told me they could only change my name in the school system if it was changed on my driver’s license or social security card, and that can only be done if my name was changed in the legal system.
The reason I wanted my name changed in the school system is that I didn’t want to–for the rest of my life–have to wait till someone read my name off a roll sheet on the first day of class, the first day of a job, etc, and have to correct them each time by telling them the “nickname” that I prefer. It’s an option a lot of people stick with, but I decided I preferred to go all the way and make sure my preferred name is the one that is on those roll sheets in the first place.
For anyone who is curious about how to change your name (for reasons other than marriage, for which I believe the process is easier), here’s how it works: you make an appointment in the courts where you live. Then you print a legal notice in a major newspaper for four consecutive weeks (one day a week). This is so if you are trying to change your name to escape prosecution or to get away from a debt from someone, people will have the chance to see the legal notice in the newspaper and call the courts to alert them that you are trying to change your name for a nefarious reason. This assumes that the person you harmed happens to read the legal notices section of the newspaper on that particular day…yeah. If no one calls the court to object to you changing your name, you don’t have to go to your appointment, and they send you the judge’s decree in the mail. Once you get that decree, you now have to go to every place that has your name on file, show them the decree, and request your name be changed in their file. For me, that was the DMV, Social Security Office, my university, my dentist, Kaiser Permanente, the library, Kohl’s credit card, CitiCards for my Visa credit card, etc. The process is expensive because the courts charge you for the process, the newspaper charges for printing the legal notice, and some places charge for changing your name in their records (e.g. the DMV charges you $25 for your new driver’s license). Also very time-consuming, with all of the waiting in line and waiting on the phone.
The final (and probably toughest part) is asking people who have known you for many years to start calling you by a new name. It’s tricky for people to remember, and I haven’t been as patient with people as I should be. I’m trying to get better about that. But most people have been really understanding about it, and I really appreciate that.
Some people (mostly family members) have asked me: what if later I regret changing my name? I’ve thought about that, but I’m not worried at all. First of all, it took me about four months to go through the whole process of changing it; I could do it again to change it back. However, I highly doubt I will want to. We can’t second-guess every decision we make by wondering if we’ll regret it. In the same way that I decided to change my name, people decide to go to a particular college, buy a house, marry their significant other, and other life decisions (actually, changing your name is pretty small compared to all of those). You might regret any of those decisions later, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use the information and feelings you have now to make a decision. Otherwise we’d never make any life changes!
It’s amazing because now, most of the people in my life call me Masha, so I’m finally called the name I actually feel fits me! It just feels really right, and now when people refer to me, each time I get this little sense of relief that I finally feel they are calling me by who I really am. It might seem silly, and maybe it *is* silly, but I’m okay with that. I also feel empowered about taking charge of changing something that I was unhappy about, and following it through to its completion. So it’s good all around. I’m really happy with my decision. And I want to thank everyone who’s been supportive of me!
If you’ve gotten all the way through this, you get a gold star. Also, you clearly don’t have enough to do if you have time to read (or skim) this whole thing, so go find your own project and see it through. 🙂
P.S. The first syllable of my name is pronounced just like the “mosh” in mosh pit, in case you are wondering how to pronounce it. =)