The lessons I learned when I decided to change my name

Ever since I was old enough to realize the importance of names, I wanted to change mine. I did not like my birth name and I never felt any connection to it. When I was a toddler, I demanded to be called Fred. When I was 7, I became obsessed with Amanda Bynes, as she was the new It Girl, and I wanted to be called Amanda. In middle school, I went by my first middle name and in high school I went by my second. I went by Emma for a few months, but my evil old boss screaming it at me, followed by some very negative terms, took it out of the running (though it might be back on). And now I’ve narrowed it down to three names, but I’m so far away from my birth name that I no longer get that little jerk inside my mind that makes me respond when someone calls me by it. Even though I haven’t officially selected a new name (you’ll notice that my byline may change from time to time), I wanted to share the things I learned when I turned 18 and decided to change my name.

Everyone will ask you why.

I’ve never been a nosy person and I mostly accept the things people tell me about positive changes they are making to themselves without question, so it never occurred to me that people who found out about my plan to change my name would have such strong opinions. They ask me why I don’t like my name, if my mother is okay with the change, if I’m running from the government…After a while, you have these answers so rehearsed that when you are asked, you spew out (in a slightly annoyed fashion) all of the reasons you would ever want to change your name at lightening speed at the poor curious stranger asking. More strange than the questions though, is that people will judge you for your answer. Sometimes I will jokingly answer, “because I’m sick of all the jokes people make about my name,” and people will look at me like, “Seriously?”

You can’t let people’s emotions influence your decisions.

This is a big decision with no do-overs. I need to make sure that I am 100% happy with this name now and that I will still love it in 20 years. I don’t want to choose a name that will feel dated or to name myself after a celebrity that I won’t be able to stand five years from now. I have tried out a few different names to see what feels comfortable and have asked a couple of the people close to me to call me the different names so I can see if I like the way they sound out loud and if I respond to them. But some people have gotten very angry with me for not “just picking one and being done with it!” I’ll admit that being a source of negative emotions for the people I love freaks me out, and, as a result, I’ve been tempted to speed up the process of choosing a new name. But the truth is, I’m not ready to legally change my name yet, so rushing to make them happy could just end up making me really unhappy.

You learn how to make decisions yourself.

Everyone is going to have an opinion. I love turning to friends and family for help in making a big decision in my life, or even strangers on the Internet, but you learn that some decisions have to be made entirely yourself. One day, I asked my six close friends which two names they preferred and it was perfectly split down the middle with both sides claiming that “[the other name] doesn’t suit you at all.”

You realize that everyone you know might have a totally different idea of who you “really” are. 

I am a very cheerful and lighthearted person — sometimes. Other times, I am very quiet and withdrawn. I love both Disney movies and Katy Towell videos on YouTube. But not all people see both sides of you. I’ve had some family members tell me that I’m a dark, horror loving, creature of the night and other friends laugh out loud at the mere thought that their ball of sunlight friend was anything but just that. So when someone tells you that the name you picked doesn’t suit you at all, you have to take in consideration the person that they think you are.

You have to figure out who you “really” are. 

You have to address every single aspect of your personality. You have to summon each part of your soul and stand before them and make sure the name you choose fits all of them. You learn things about yourself that you never knew existed and you truly become your best friend. I never knew that I stuttered when I get really excited or just how quiet I can really be when completely at ease. I had to admit to my obsessive personality and to my shaky identity (which I have cemented slightly over the past year). I had to think about how much I’ve changed in the past two years and how much I am assuming that I will change in the next 20.

One thing that I really loved about this self reflection is that it helped me establish my sense of self. I realized that no one knows me like me. I realized that I truly do like myself as a person and I learned that, at the end of the day, no one’s opinion about my life and my choices matters but mine. If I think that a name is an awesome name and I really fall in love with it, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of it. This is a decision that I have to make for myself and my heart goes out to anyone else who is making this same decision for themselves.

(Image via Warner Bros.)