I started last year with a promise to myself that I would do more things that scared me, take more risks, and challenge myself more. I've always been a "safe" kind of person, following rules and talking myself out of things that others have no problem doing spontaneously. I didn't follow that promise to the letter, but I did take one major leap that changed my life: I changed my last name.
For as long as I can remember, my last name just felt wrong. It was my father's last name, and our dynamic has always been a struggle. It's something we're working on now, but the older I got, the more resentment I felt for my own name. I remember being 15 and daydreaming about the day I got married and got a new last name (seriously, some of us grow up thinking about our dream wedding, and I was just ready to rebrand). And I wasn't even of the belief that I had to take my future spouse's name—I just saw it as a way out of my budding identity crisis.
It didn't occur to me until last spring—after I made all those promises to myself—that I didn't have to wait until I was married someday to change my name. On a trip back home to Connecticut to see my mom, I had a revelation. I remember turning to her in the car and saying, "I think I want to change my last name." Without hesitation, she agreed that I should do it if it felt right, and asked if I wanted to take her maiden name instead. We laughed for a minute at how weird it sounded with my first name, but in seriousness, I went with my gut reaction:
"I think I need this to be my own name."
The problem with my old last name wasn't that it was my dad's last name, it was that it didn't feel like mine. I felt like as long as I had his name, or if I took my mom's, or even if I took my potential future spouse's, I wouldn't belong to myself. I had moved to the city I always dreamed of living in, had a job in the field I'd always hoped to work in, and had started to own my style and independence, but I didn't feel like I belonged to myself. My name was just the missing piece of the puzzle.
I spent the next few days brainstorming before coming up with the solution that made the most sense. I loved my given middle name, Morgan—so much so that I secretly wished it was my first name growing up—and using that as my last name felt like the right fit. But I didn't want to be without a middle name going forward, so that's where the fun part came in—I got to choose a new one.
I asked for input from my mom and my closest friends, spent a few hours writing and signing my potential new names, and ultimately settled on Quinn. I knew it was the right choice because one of my friends photoshopped it onto the byline of one of my articles. Seeing it in print (even if it was fake) made me emotional, and the decision was made. This finally felt like me.
The day my name change became official, I cried a lot of happy tears in the courthouse, and my best friends texted me to wish me a happy name change day. Every update from then on made the most mundane things—like getting mail and going to the DMV to get a new license—actually exciting experiences. I didn't realize how much power my name held over me until I took it for myself, and I've since become a happier and much more confident person.
The Process of Changing Your Name
Name change laws and fees vary by state (for the record, I live in New York City, so that's where I filed), but here's the process I went through.
First, I filled out an adult name change petition form that I printed out from the New York City Civil Court website. The form requires you to fill out your current name, the name you'd like to change to, and asks you some basic questions about why you're changing your name. When that was filled out, I had it notarized and went to my county's courthouse. I also had to bring a certified copy of my birth certificate, and documents to prove my residency (I had just recently moved to New York, and since my ID was from out of state I needed to prove my residency in the state—I used a recent bank statement with my city address on it).
Once I turned in those documents to the court, I paid a $65 filing fee and waited to be called in to see the judge along with several other people waiting to change their names as well. The judge went through the requests while we waited, then gave us our approved forms. The forms came with a newspaper assignment—in order to make the change official and become a part of public record, it has to be published in a local newspaper (this also comes with a fee). I then faxed the documents to the newspaper the judge had assigned me, and waited for them to let me know when it had been published.
The newspaper sent me an official affidavit of publication, which I turned in to the courthouse a few days later (you have to wait a minimum of 24 hours after publication to turn it in). Upon turning it in, the change was official—all I had to do was purchase a few certified copies of the change—you need these as proof for when you change your name on any official documents—and it was all set.
I went to the social security office and filed for a new social security card with my new name, and when that arrived in the mail about a week or so later, I made a trip to the DMV, got a new license, and updated my voter registration. I went to the bank and updated my accounts and called my credit card company and student loans provider to update my name, and updated everything with my employer and insurance.
All in all, the process was fairly easy, just tedious. It took me about a month from start (filing the petition) to finish (updating my information everywhere).
Some things to note: If you can't afford the filing fee to submit your petition, you may be able to have it waived. And, if your state generally requires you to publish your name change in a newspaper but you're worried about it for safety reasons, it's also possible to have the requirement waived—just call ahead and ask what documents you need to prove your situation.
To find out name change laws in your state, visit US Legal and double check the process on your state's judicial branch website.