If you’re a woman and you live in the United States, chances are good you’ve got a story about a name change. You’ve either switched your last name, intentionally decided not to, or will make a choice about this down the road. Even if marriage isn’t your bag, I’ll bet you’ve got an opinion about this issue. In my case, the topic has cropped up throughout my life.
In elementary school my friends and I scrawled imagined names on notebooks, in high school we joked about horrible names we’d inherit one day, and as young women we debated the pros and cons of changing our names after marriage. Not once did I envision the day I’d walk into a courtroom surrounded by my adult girlfriends, on a mission to reclaim my given name after divorce.
Considering Reclaiming Your Name?
If you, too, are contemplating reclaiming your name, then I salute you! Getting divorced is painful enough. I won’t blame you if filling out a billion government forms hasn’t risen to the top of your priority list just yet. I know. It took me three years after divorce to muster the energy to face this process.
By the way, I have no desire to put down my ex or marriage itself. I have genuine respect for both, and I fully intend to give, ahem, one of them a try again someday. And know that I support you wholeheartedly no matter what you choose to do with your own name. It’s a personal decision that only you can make. (Unless you live in a country that has laws about this, thanks to, say, feminist legislation in the ’70’s and ’80s. To that I say, “Wow.”)
For now, though, I’m talking to the would-be name changers out there. If you’ve gotten divorced and want to change your name back, what’s your motivation?
- Might it empower you, after enduring a draining time?
- Have you been using your given name as your middle one, and now you’re tired of explaining which is which?
- Maybe you have cause to keep a healthy disconnection from your ex?
- Or perhaps the change might simply help you feel like yourself again?
No matter your reason, consider me your virtual cheerleader. I just went through this process last month, so here are three tips I have for you.
Ask For Help
I feel a tad sheepish for giving this advice, as I only followed it myself because I had to. I’m one of those can-do types who really, really struggles with needing people. But sometimes life forces us to acknowledge we’re not in this alone, and this was a case in point.
In my state of Minnesota, changing your name (unless done at the time of the marriage or divorce) requires jumping through a series of hoops. Along with getting a background check and paying a fee, an applicant must receive approval from a judge at a court-appointed hearing. This involves bringing two adult witnesses to testify about your identity.
After receiving my court date, I had about month to recruit my witnesses. Trust me when I tell you I tried to dream up ways to do this without “bothering” my loved ones. I dragged my feet for more than a week. My plan of complete independence fell through, though, since the entire point of these witnesses is that they know you well. I finally mustered the courage to send an email to several friends, asking for their help.
I figured I’d play a numbers game and invite a group. The thought was I’d be lucky to scare up two friends who’d be willing and able to drive across town at the appointed time. To my surprise, I received enthusiastic, unwavering support. Within minutes of sending the email I’d gotten not two, not three, but four versions of, “I’m in!” They told me they wouldn’t miss this important event, and asked what they could do to help.
Turn it Into an Event
Even after my friends said they’d come no matter what, I still had a hard time accepting their help. It took me another week or so to decide what to do with this avalanche of support. Should I just choose two of them? If so, which two? Was I sure there wasn’t some other way to get this done, without putting any of them out?
In the end, I took a deep breath, and decided to go all in. I invited to the whole crew. After all, court hearings are open to the public. I knew we’d be respectful of our fellow courtgoers, who’d be facing who-knows-what. There really wasn’t any reason to hold back, other than my own hesitation about meeting this unfamiliar situation so openly.
My friends’ enthusiasm rubbed off on me, and we decided to celebrate with breakfast afterward. The courthouse, located in the county where I reside, is easily 15 minutes east of where the others live. One of my favorite cafes is only three blocks away, so it seemed like a good excuse to introduce them to it.
Be Loving to Yourself
My final advice applies to your name-change process, but it’ll also serve you well every freaking day of your life: Be loving to yourself. Changing your name involves a ridiculous number of steps and several months of sustained effort. Gaining legal approval only gets you halfway there. Next, as I’m facing now, you’ll have to record the change in every place your name appears.
Even if your state, like mine, provides resources for streamlining the process, you’re still the one responsible for executing the details. Get ready to fill out various forms, send them to the appropriate places, and pay the related fees. If you’re anything like me, adding these tasks to an already full plate will make you somewhat grumpy. It’s in these moments when you’ll have to break out the reminder to be loving to yourself. I mean it. Be loving to yourself.
When you get distracted and forget, for three days in a row, to get that passport form in the mail, do not berate yourself. After you walk out the door and realize you’ve misplaced the social-security form (yes, the same form you specifically put by your purse so you wouldn’t forget it), let it go for today.
These are the kinds of things that can make you feel like a failure if you let them. Instead, remember this process is a project. It will take time and that’s okay. Pat yourself on the back for any progress you’ve made this far. Take a deep breath. Know that the forms will still be there tomorrow, and think back to your motivations. Then, grab some girlfriends and go celebrate your newfound inner peace!
As always, feel free to share your own stories in the comments. I’d love to hear from you.