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How To Respond To Someone Who Has Changed Their Name

| Saturday 6th January, 2024

Tomorrow it will be three months since I changed my name, and I’ve now had ninety days of responses to my letting people know of the change.

And from the point of view of the changer I can now tell you what the correct response is to someone who has changed their name.

First, a bit of background…

Whether the name changer is trans and changing the gender of their name, or simply changing to fit better into their own identity, the first thing to recognise is that their name change is important to them, and has very likely not come about as a spontaneous decision. It may look like it to you… “Oh, they’ve suddenly decided they want to be called George”, but there’s a very good chance they’ve been thinking about it for a good while, choosing a name in the first place, mocking up drivers licences or passports to see if the new name might fit, confiding in, and seeking counsel from their closest friends…

Most people who change their name don’t do so for fun. It is for a very meaningful reason, even if you can’t see it (and they may not choose to share their reason, even if you ask… see point #2 below!)

It’s also a big deal emotionally. If you think you have trouble remembering their new name, it’s ten times worse from their point of view. They have just picked up their entire identity and given it a good shake. It’s like a snow-globe. There are little bits flying all over the place from an emotional and existential point of view, and that’s not to mention all the paperwork needed in the countless bureaucracies and corporations where they have a presence.

So with that in mind, and before we go onto the correct response, let’s have a look at the “best of the worst” responses I’ve received.

I’m in the fortunate position of having done enough inner work that I haven’t taken any of these personally, I know it’s all about their stuff, but it still doesn’t help with what is actually a pretty difficult transition emotionally…

  1. “George? Why didn’t you pick a better name?” – Wow. Really? I allowed this one to hit me briefly, maybe for a couple of seconds, before I realised that it’s my name and my choice.
  2. “Why didn’t you like your old name?” – I’ve been asked this many times, mostly by strangers (such as reception desk staff when I change my records with their company). The answer I now give is “It’s a long story.” As I said before, people don’t change their name for fun, and there may be deeply personal reasons why they have chosen the upheaval of a name change. In fact, it’s almost certainly deeply personal, otherwise they wouldn’t put themselves through all the hassle!
  3. “I prefer to call you [Old Name]” – When I finally went through with my name change, I made a pact with myself that I would not get upset with anyone who forgot to use my new name, or, indeed, refused to use my new name. BUT, and it’s a big but… while not getting upset by people who refuse, I will limit my exposure to them (potentially to zero!) It’s good that they express their preferences and boundaries, but it’s also good to have people around you who respect and support your decisions.
  4. “So what do you want me to call you?” – This one is strange, but I guess it’s simply a symptom of massive, spontaneous brain rewiring. “Hi, [Old Name]” they would say… “Oh, I changed my name, it’s George now…”, I say… “So what do you want me to call you?”, they ask. Okay, I get it. But to be fair I just gave you my new name. The response from me, of course, is, “George, please! But don’t worry… I won’t be upset if you forget and use my old name”

Writing this I realise I’ve actually had very few negative responses, for which I am grateful and comforted.

The very best responses I’ve had are accepting, positive, celebratory and uplifting. One person gave me a high-five and said “well done!”, another said that she was inspired because she’d been thinking of changing her own name but lacked the courage. We had a good chat about it all, and I think there’s a good chance she will go ahead. I said to her “If and when I hear you’ve done it, I will be the first to celebrate with you!”

But I’ll now share best response I’ve had, and I’ve had this from multiple people. Maybe it’s an archetypal thing because I’m pretty sure they haven’t been to the same classes to learn how to deal with name changes, and they probably haven’t met many people who have changed their name… but from my point of view, as a name changerand recognising this is only my set of values, desires and boundaries at play—this is the absolute best response to someone who has changed their name:

Offer a handshake and say “Nice to meet you, [New Name]”

This really has a feeling of a new beginning. They accept the new name, and any new identity that may come along with it. They are drawing a line under the ‘old’ you and starting a fresh relationship with the new you. Whenever I’ve received this response, I have truly felt seen and accepted. In fact, each occasion is vividly burnt into my memory.

I realise that if you’re reading this you’ve probably already interacted with someone who has changed their name, but just on the off chance it catches you before you meet them, I hope it has been helpful. Or if you’re just browsing through, maybe this is just a little hack to drop into your toolbox should you ever need it in the future.

What do you think? Have you changed your name, or know someone who has? Any other ‘worst’ responses? Any other positive responses? Please let me know in the comments! And if you’re thinking of changing your name but have questions, hit me up in the comments or by email.


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