What happens when you tell people you’ve changed you name

With the exception of one person (who happened to be the CEO at my old job, unfortunately), the worst kind of response I’ve gotten from anyone about my name change has been a sort of general incomprehension of why anyone would do that. Some people think it’s a weird thing to do, which it kind of is; it’s certainly not the norm, anyway. So I get it when people respond this way, particularly since it hasn’t stopped them from switching over what they call me.

I did have some interesting responses when I officially changed my name at my retail job though.

I was totally floored by how many people’s initial response was along the lines of “Ok… but can I still call you [birthname] though?” This is actually a question that my partner got a lot when they first changed their name, but it didn’t happen to me in my earlier name change efforts, and I wasn’t expecting it to crop up now either – I had chalked up my partner’s experience to the fact that their chosen name is particularly out-of-the-ordinary, and somewhat whimsical in way that made people feel silly or self-conscious using it. I was surprised when I saw that same self-consciousness repeating itself with many of my current coworkers.

I also realized that in many cases, what people meant with the question isn’t so much “ok, but I don’t actually want to do the work required to call you a different name” so much as it is “ok, but I’m afraid this will be hard and I don’t know if I can do it, but also I want us to be cool.” Most people were satisfied and looked relieved when I made it clear that I didn’t expect them to be 100% perfect right away, and I knew that it would take some time for everyone to adjust to the new name, in a way that made it clear that they really had only meant the latter.

I actually had one coworker who went very brazenly with “So, [someone else] just told me you changed your name. I’m going to keep calling you [birthname] though”. My response was a bemused but equally direct “No, you’re not.” And she immediately switched to standard “ok, but I’m probably going to mess up a lot at first; I hope that’s ok” script and we were fine.

I still found these interactions exhausting, though. The extent to which I am expected to soothe people’s anxieties over my name can be overwhelming at times, and I did lose my ability to compassionately respond to these requests one time, and snapped at the dozenth or so person whose immediate response to my name change was a straight-up “But can I still call you [birthname]?” Though, to be clear, what I mean when I say I snapped is that I said “No. I would prefer if you called me Kasey. I know that it will take a while to get used to that, but I do expect you to try.” I was clearly annoyed, and six or seven other people saw the exchange. I felt a little bad about it; it definitely wasn’t that person’s fault and she didn’t deserve the anger she got. But it did have the impact of making everyone else nearby suddenly start taking their efforts to call me Kasey more seriously, so I can’t say I totally regret it, either.

The other interesting question I had to deal with was the matter of my old nickname, which is derivative of my old given name (and thus, of my current last name) – the people who called my the nickname also wanted to know whether that would still be ok. In general, I had always been fond of the nickname, and it was in keeping with other people’s last-name-based nicknames, so I decided I was actually ok with it.

What I’ve found very interesting as an upshot of this, though, is that those people don’t consistently call me by the old nickname. They sometimes slip up and just call me by my old name, but they’ve also worked on calling me Kasey and – here’s the interesting part – without fail, those same people who nicknamed me in the first place have slowly but surely been very naturally transitioning to just calling me Kase. Which, I love! It makes me happy that my new name is starting to feel natural enough that similarly natural shortening is happening. And I love how clear it is that the anxieties of dealing with my name change haven’t hurt the level of camaraderie or the intimacies that I share with these coworkers.

Now I am just in the weird period of people variously improving and backsliding, but otherwise just generally sincerely working and trying to get my name right, until one day not too long from now I’m sure they’ll all have it down. The best thing of all is this should be just about the last time I will ever have to do this with my name, at least on this scale. I am now Kasey everywhere important, and everything else will just be minor housekeeping :)

5 comments

  1. I feel like someone who responds with a statement that’s directly or indirectly saying “I know this is what you want to be called but I’m going to call you whatever feels more comfortable for me” is saying a lot about themselves, and none of it is particularly flattering. Like, I read that, and I’m just frustrated that someone actually said that. But I love your response, and I’m glad those responses have been outliers and not the norm! :-) Congrats on the name you chose being everywhere that matters, and here’s to hoping you encounter minimum asshattery from people in the future.

  2. When I changed my name at work I told people straight out that I had legally changed my name and that it was the name I now went by and they had to get with the program.
    What I find interesting is that (over the years) several women in my office got married and changed their last name and everyone managed to remember their “new” name and refer to them by it. No one complained about how hard it was, or how weird it was, or if it was OK to call them by their “maiden” name. So it is just plain old transphobia at work here.

  3. I think in my case this is slightly more complicated than that – no one at work knows I’m genderqueer or trans, and the reasons I’ve given them for changing my name are all of the ones that nothing to do with gender, because I just didn’t feel like getting into it; being called by my real name is enough for me for now.

    I also think that a changed last name is somewhat different than a changed first name, in that first names are used way more casually and off-handedly, often without actually thinking about it. When I get called by my birthname at work right now it is pretty much just an unthinking kneejerk thing, and most people are really good about immediately correcting themselves, often while apologizing. I haven’t dealt with any sinister seemig motives, just at worst some people not realizing that it actually matters to me, but I’ve found that easy enough to correct and no one pushes back when I push them on it, so it seems fine from where I’m standing.

  4. I’ve been thinking of changing my name and I just wrote a basic diary entry article on here about it. This is exactly what I feel like I would have to deal with if I went through with it. But they’re not the people who matter. What matters is how you feel. If you’re happier with this new name, power to ya. I’m glad to see more than just myself in this.

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