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Read This if You Feel Like You Need 'Permission' to Change Your Name Due to Trauma (or Any Other Reason)

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Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional, domestic or childhood abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Recently, I took a leap forward in my mental health recovery that I’ve deliberated over for a long time. It wasn’t easy; in fact, it took me so long because I’ve been frozen by more than just indecision. I’ve been terrified of how people would react, or the potential bullying that would ensue (even if that bullying was behind my back). You see, around the time I decided to go no-contact with my abusive mother, I decided I also wanted to legally change my name.

I’ve never liked my given name. Not only did it never really felt like “me,” but as I got older, it started to be associated with bullying and trauma. In my teens, I started using the shortened form of my birth name, since the bullying made the full version feel juvenile. Yet, my mother still insisted on calling me by the name she gave me. I tried to explain how I didn’t like it, but it didn’t stop her. She only called me by that name I hated, and every time she did, it became another way she stripped away at my autonomy like a sculptor chiseling marble. By the time I realized the severity of her abuse, the name tasted like bile. I’d feel it rise into my throat when I heard it. I’d gag on it when I had to given it to collect medication. Even seeing it became a trigger.

My surname wasn’t much better. Though I’ve written often about the love and grief I have for my father, learning more about him after his death somewhat tainted the name for me. It’s a name I associate with the political climate in Northern Ireland and the way this place never seems more than a stone’s throw away from intercommunity violence. Combine that with the way my childhood bullies twisted it with alliterative cruelty, and the family name I once wanted to continue began to feel like somebody else.

In short, I needed to change. I needed to become me. 

It took a long time and a lot of fear. Only a few people knew I wanted to change my name, and from them, I was almost seeking “permission.” My fiancé was one of those people. She likewise changed her name due to trauma, but I endlessly compared mine to hers, feeling like mine wasn’t “bad enough” to be a valid reason for changing my name. Not that she ever made me feel that way, of course. She is nothing but supportive.

My mentor, likewise, was supportive. They also changed their name, and their reassurance was one of the pushes I needed to finally give it a go. Still, this process took too long, and it was mostly internal. I wished I had somebody who had been through it to hold my hand and reassure me that it was OK to change my name, no matter my reasons. It was OK to find something that felt right to me. 

That’s what I want to do for you.

If you’re considering changing your name due to trauma or any other reason, consider this your permission. Say it with me:

It’s OK to change your name if your given name makes you uncomfortable, unhappy, or upset.

It’s as simple as that. Everybody deserves to love their name, and it’s really not that uncommon to change your name. Growing up, I knew somebody who used his middle name because he didn’t like his first name. I don’t know if he ever legally changed it, but everybody knew him by his middle name alone. And, as my mentor so rightfully put it, people change their names for marriage or divorce all the time. It’s not that much of a leap to change your first name, too.

Maybe you feel guilty about “ending the family line.” I promise you, I can relate. But ultimately, I came to believe this is a fabrication of our patriarchal society. After all, if that’s the case, then wives end their family lines every time they take their husband’s name in marriage. Instead, I’m choosing a new family name — one I’m not directly related to, but which speaks to me and my love of nature.

No matter what, though, I want you to find a name that gives you butterflies when you hear it. Introduce yourself to your reflection in the mirror and see how it feels. Does it make you feel happy? Powerful? Reborn? If so, you might be on to a winner.

The response to my new name has been nothing short of incredible. I’ve been validated and reassured a hundred times over. People have begun using my new name in earnest, and not a single person has (to my face, at least) been mocking, cruel, or even unable to understand my reasoning. To those people: thank you for proving me wrong. I expected cruelty, but your empathy has been astounding.

Having begun this process, I feel like a new person. Sure, I still have depression, anxiety, trauma, and so on. Those things have not left me. But, I feel like this has opened the door for me to begin to heal. That’s a gift everybody deserves to enjoy.

So, it’s my pleasure to introduce myself to you anew. My name is Alexander Winter Lockwood, and changing my name is one of the best things I’ve ever done. Don’t you deserve to feel that way, too?

Getty Images photo via Andrea Lardani / EyeEm

Originally published: August 8, 2022
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