Monday, 12 May 2014

Changing My Name.

I never felt comfortable in my own name. I felt like I was a lodger in someone else's title, like I hadn't filled the boots and I was never going to grow into it. It was just a bad fit, and I needed a better size.

From my earliest memories of school, teachers hesitated when they got to my name on the register, which led to other pupils not speaking to me, and even when they did, they wouldn't call me by my name. It wasn't because they didn't know it, it's because they didn't know how to pronounce it.

I don't entirely blame my parents for giving me an unusual name, you see it all the time with celebrities like Bob Geldof and Gwyneth Paltrow - original children's names were in fashion when I was born. But my parents chose a name an awful lot more unusual than Tiger Lily or Apple, they chose to stray from the English language entirely. My name was Alizée. Some of you are probably thinking to yourselves 'why would you want to change that? It's beautiful/unusual/exotic', which is what I hear from the majority of people. But here's why - unless you speak French, you're probably thinking 'how on earth do I pronounce that?'. Believe me when I say, you're not the only one. My ID doesn't come with a breakdown of syllables to help everyone I come across pronounce it, but for the sake of this post - Ah-lee-zay.

The only teachers at school who ever pronounced my name correctly were French teachers. The rest didn't even try. From Al-ee-see to Ay-lay-zay, through Al-eez to Al-ay-zee, I've heard every variant of that name any human could possibly think of. I spent five years tolerating a teacher calling me Alice despite countless attempts to correct her, simply because she couldn't be bothered to make an effort to say it right, and quite honestly, it drove me into the ground. When someone doesn't know your real name and certainly doesn't want to, it's the biggest hit your confidence can take, especially in those volatile teenage years.

Growing up with an unusual and unpronounceable name, I've come to judge every other parent who gives their children names like mine. If the parents could see the psychological damage that we go through purely because they wanted to be different, they would take their decision back in a heartbeat. If they could listen to the teachers stuttering to pronounce our names and see us having to accept the misspellings as it gets exhausting correcting them, they wouldn't put us through it.

I'm grateful I grew up in the age of social media, with Xanga, MySpace and Tumblr allowing me to try out a new persona for size with zero repercussions. Growing up on the internet gave me a freedom I never felt on the other side of the computer screen, I felt like I could be someone new, away from the confusing name, and at last feel comfortable in who I am. Which is why, of course, you know me as Ali Zombie. This persona is my most comfortable, because the Zombie side of me lives on the internet away from all her social phobias - speaking to strangers, phone conversations, you name it.

With every new person I met and with every new pronunciation of my name, I dreaded the next time it would happen - I even placed bets in my head on the next variation and I always lost. From job interviews to doctors appointments, the stress got worse each and every time, but the most important event in my life so far has appeared on the horizon - my graduation. How would I feel, stood on the sidelines of the cathedral waiting to hear my name called out to collect my certificate, and there's a great silence, followed by a stutter 'Ah... ah... Ahlee... Ahleezee'?

I guess I wouldn't have minded so much if I hadn't had the same situation with my surname as well as my forename. I won't reveal it here for the sake of my family who still use it, but it was just as easy to mispronounce as my first. When it gets to the point that you spell out your name in phonetics before you even bother saying it normally over the phone, it's time to change. I found learning phonetics at a young age invaluable when I would persistently get letters sent to me with misspellings despite spelling it out over the phone to a company.

I knew I had to solve both my name problems as soon as possible, but it's taken me until very recently to do anything about it. Not because I was unsure of what name to use, but out of fear of all the complications changing my name would cause, how many different people I'd have to contact, whether employers and banks would accept my new name.

The process of changing your name is so unnecessarily confusing in the UK that the complications and misunderstandings I've faced on the way have at times put me off going ahead with it. I went straight to a solicitors under the advice of my parents who only spent £5 on theirs, happily thinking I'd be able to change my name there and then, have it witnessed by a solicitor and only part with a measly fiver. Wrong. They quoted me a minimum of £250 for a deed poll, with a maximum of £400 for 'the works', whatever that means. I could've died. Having seen websites that offer free accredited templates of deed polls, I wasn't falling for it - why would I fork out a few hundred clams I just don't have for something I can get for gratis? Don't be fooled just because a solicitor tells you their fee is the price worth paying - it isn't, and it never will be.

So I printed off a copy of this free template and got it signed by two witnesses - I asked a university lecturer to make it look more official than just asking two friends 'oi you, fancy signing my big official document?'. I've drawn up a list of all the organisations I need to send a copy to, or at least present them with the original, and I'm slowly but surely ticking them off and building my identity back up.

Now I've changed my name, I feel comfortable in my real life beyond this laptop. I feel like I can literally hold my head high without having to hide behind spelling out my name over the phone. People don't instantly assume I don't speak English when they read my name any more, I'm not instantly receiving job application rejections due to casual institutional racism. I've become so much more accepting to others with unusual names and do my utmost to make enquiries as to how to pronounce it before I make a fool out of myself, and them, in public. My whole life feels better, I've found a size that fits and I finally feel like 'me'.

So that's the end of that! Apologies that turned into more of a sob story than an explanation of how to change your name, but I felt it was better to back up my reasons than make it look like I made this decision on a whim.

If you need advice and tips for changing your name, this Guardian article has been invaluable to me.

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  1. I feel you - while my name is an usual calendar one (at least in my country) there is a similar one, that differs only in one letter - and half of the teachers called me by the other one, which is like total nonsense (why? the other one is slightly more exotic, mine is more traditional...I don't understand) - some of them calling me by the wrong name for 5 years (and I used to be quite a teachers' pet! -.-so it's not like they hated me)...But I would never gave up correcting them, as I think they only humiliate themselves if they are not able to learn someone's name properly..
    Also I have to always spell my surname, as it sounds kinda german/hungarian/unidentifiable and people don't know how to write it :D So I understand your struggles, and while I would never take such drastic measures (as I am all for uniqueness) I am glad that you feel better and are comfortable with your name now :)

  2. I've grown up havnig to spell out my last name to everyone, I still have to do it every time I call someone or give them my email address. I do like my name, but gosh it's wearing.

  3. Ah, the pressures of a name! Considering that I got teased for being 'Chelsea', an old English - yet, obviously only popular due to football or flower shows - name, I can't imagine what it must have been like to have a jazzy foreign name! I used to always want to change my name, but the whole process just seemed scary! I'm glad you didn't get duped by the lawyers, I can't believe how much they wanted to charge!

  4. I didn't know that was your name! It is really pretty but I understand how frustrated you must have been after years and years. My name is DaniellA but I constantly get DaniellE, even online!

    Danniella x

  5. Alizée is beautiful but I totally understand why it would be difficult for you to live with it. Is it ok to ask what you've changed your name to? I'm hoping it's now officially Ali Zombie!

  6. Congratulations on changing your name! I get frustrated with people misspelling Claire so I can't even imagine what it feels like to have an unusual name! My grandmothers name was Violetta - it's probably not that unusual now but back in the 30s when she was born it was incredibly rare and I know she detested it (her sisters were named Jean and Margaret, which just makes it weirder) and I know she'd have changed it if she could.

  7. all that and you didn't even tell us your new name! Lol!


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