Sometimes, parents just don’t get it right, and just because you’re born with it, doesn’t mean you have to stick with it. So, what’s in a name exactly? More than you would think, especially if you take the number of people who change their names in California every year as any indicator. A name is a descriptor that allows people to make assumptions or judgments about individuals. Names are often times first impressions, and the meaning of a name may indicate attributes and qualities about an individual’s personality.
There are many reasons why people choose to change their names. Some of the most common reasons include: disliking their current name, the desire for a less ethnic name, to make it easier on others, the name is too common, changing a child’s surname to the mother’s or father’s, transgender name changes (like Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner), a husband taking his wife’s name upon marriage, and even to make a political statement (think NBA player Ron Artest legally changing his name in September 2011 to Metta World Peace).
In fact, we once represented an elder client whose name was so common, that almost every year he would receive notice from California Department of Child Support Services naming him in a paternity action and insisting that he had fathered a new child in need of support. Because our client chose to keep his name, we had to explain to CDCSS almost yearly that our client, who was over 70 years old and could hardly walk, was not the person they were looking for.
Requesting a name change is a relatively simple process in California. Name changes used to be even easier – where all a person was required to do was pick a new name, begin using it, ask government agencies like the DMV to start using it, and after a few years, the new name would become a person’s official legal name. Unfortunately, due to identity theft, the process now usually requires a court appearance. The name change process varies slightly depending on whether the individual requesting the name change is at least 18 years old or a minor. You can essentially choose any name that you desire, except for: the name of a famous person if the chosen name was made with the intention to financially benefit or cause harm from it, a fictitious name that is protected by copyright, a racial slur, or a fighting word. After the name change decree is issued from the court, the new name can be legally changed on all documents.
Did you know Katy Perry’s birth name is actually Katy Hudson? Or that Natalie Portman’s real name is Natalie Herschlag? Or even that Meg Ryan’s real name is Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra? We don’t know if they have legally changed their names.