Sunday, June 24, 2012

three names

I have had three legal names, and the name I am happiest with, as it turns out, is the one I gave myself. I know it shouldn’t surprise me, but it does, because coincidentally that name was also the one I already had.

The hardest thing about going through the process of changing my name is what a hassle it is, every time. There are questions that I don’t want to answer (questions like: why are you changing your name?). It costs a lot of money, especially the bit where I need to get a new passport issued, and I have to send off to N.S.W. to get my birth certificate reissued again. It’s inconvenient. The transition period especially is a pain, and due to being overseas I’m still in that period, where my chosen name is where I can put it but that other name is all over everything that my passport touches. One of the first things I’m doing when I get back to Australia is changing my passport, again.

But this is the most comfortable I’ve ever been in a name. I didn’t realise how uncomfortable I was with my own name until I changed it and changed it again, and suddenly it fit me. And every moment of annoyance that came before has been totally worth it, because it’s my name and even thinking about my name makes me feel good, even though it’s been my name my whole life and it didn’t fit until I shifted where it sat.

I use my legal name now a lot more than I ever used to. Before this name, I defaulted far more frequently to Steph or Stephie Penguin, and I'd never put my family name on things, not any of the ones that came before, not for privacy reasons, but because it didn't fit. I seriously considered making Penguin my legal name, but whilst that, too, is part of the name that makes my identity, I don't think I could sign it on a credit card with a straight face.

There are discussions that we have, about names, whether we want to or not. After picking this name, I've chosen not to have any of these discussions. But there is a propriety there, from strangers and from not-strangers, a request for information and explanation that I don't want to give, because I picked this name for my own reasons and unlike the previous name change, there were no expectations, there was no assumption that I would do it or not do it. And I don't want to explain it.

I made my Chinese name my family name, and picked myself a brand new middle name. It means I don't share my family name with people who are my family. It means I don’t have a Chinese name anymore, not officially (though my business cards say ‘绿叶’, I kind of borrowed it from my Apore and that’s good enough for me), and sometimes I get people who are like ‘Oh...I thought you’d be Chinese...,’ or ‘...but that’s an individual name, not a family name,’ but it’s exactly right for me. And everyone else can just deal.