spell my name with an O?

for all my life i've had to correct people on the spelling of my last name. it's pronounced identically to an etymologically unrelated top 1000 surname (spanish, six letters, think alfred), but my name has an A instead of an O. it's not a common surname (iirc there are about 2,000 people with my last name in america, most notably an actor from "the west wing") and people normally assume that my surname is the unrelated spanish one.

for completely unrelated reasons, i am legally changing my first and middle names. it's now occurred to me that i could remove a significant bit of annoyance from my life by changing my last name one letter as well, like the guy from the isaac asimov story. but i'm concerned that changine from Ma**** to Mo****. but this raises two problems of unknown size:

1. i'm worried changing my last name is going to cause problems that changing my first and middle names isn't. since i would be changing both at the same time (this is non-negotiable, i really don't have the time or resources to change my name twice), i imagine there would be additional problems.

2. most people already assume my family members and i are hispanic even though we technically aren't. i have no problems with people assuming otherwise, but for reasons i can't quite articulate i feel a little skeevy adopting a spanish surname.

please help me out here? i'd greatly appreciate it.


October 8, 2015 11:55 AM

The main issue that I'd see with changing your whole name at the same time (as opposed to only your first/middle or last name but not both) is if you're in a situation where the courts may be suspicious that you may be trying to defraud others by changing your entire name (e.g. deep in debt, have a criminal history, etc.) - on the other hand changing one at a time but doing two name changes a short amount of time apart would be just as suspicious. If your background is clean and you've got a legitimate reason (even if it's just personal) for your name change you should be okay.

October 8, 2015 12:43 PM

i don't have a criminal history, if that's the main problem you see.

October 9, 2015 3:54 AM

My inclination would be to keep your surname. Spelling surnames is annoying, but something a huge chunk of us have to do (I never have to in my home country, and have to every day of my life in Spain and it still comes out wrong half the time). If your only reason for changing it is convenience ... I don't know. A surname seems a lot to lose for the sake of convenience.

The fact that it belongs to a culture not your own -- I don't think there's anything wrong with it per sé, but I would feel skeevy too.

To me, the simpler way forward would just be to overstate the MA! when you are telling people your name, to try and avoid their writing it down wrong.

October 9, 2015 4:18 AM

1. I don't really forsee any logistical problems with changing the last name, or changing both at once. When you change your name by court order you have to swear under oath that you're not doing so for any fraudulent purposes. It certainly seems easier to just be changing the name on all your many accounts just once. Once you have the court order, in my experience no one really asks or cares about WHY you are changing your name on the grocery store burrito discount card membership or whatever.

I guess my only concern would be whether your family members might be offended that you are dissociating yourself from the family by changing the spelling. I know surname spellings used to be much more flexible (I have a family tree that goes back pretty far and the surname bops around a fair bit in the first generations), but now they really tend to be pretty locked in. As such, people in your family circle might be very invested in your being a Ma___ rather than Mo___. Moreover, if you have kids or want to have kids someday, that would be something else to consider -- would your decision about the importance of being able to connect to the genealogy of your family matter more in that context?

2. In your shoes, would share your feelings of it feeling vaguely appropriative to switch to a name that doesn't represent your actual ancestry, but I also think I wouldn't judge it as being inappropriate on someone else, either. To me I guess it comes down to how much you are bothered by the inconvenience of having to spell your surname out -- is it enough to outweigh the slightly skeevy feeling? I have a much more unusual surname than you do (shared by about 50 people, worldwide), and I have to spell it out or rely on mnemonics (like you saying "Ma____, ma like mother..."), and it hasn't ever struck me as a particularly big deal. If I changed one letter to a sound-alike, my surname would be two dictionary words put together, and it would be much easier to spell, but it honestly hadn't ever occurred to me to change it. Having an unusual surname has always felt like being a part of an exclusive club, and it's fun to be able to know exactly how I'm related to other bearers of the surname. Occasionally someone knows an ancestor or relative and it's great fun, and I feel connected to the family that shares the surname, so I wouldn't want to cut those ties by simplifying spelling.

October 9, 2015 10:40 AM

I have a super common, super straightforward surname, and I still have to spell it, and people still get it wrong.  Fact is, people can't spell, period.  Ma-, Mo-, people will still misspell it either way, unless you spell it out, and even then people will still get it wrong.  I would say leave well enough alone.

By mk
October 9, 2015 11:47 AM

I agree with those that say to leave it because people are still going to misspell it. Most people spell my last name incorrectly, even adding letters that have no sound in the name. As for having an Hispanic last name when you aren't Hispanic, I don't think that is a big deal at all. You say they are already pronounced the same.

October 9, 2015 1:59 PM

Others have already made several great points.  I’ll chime in with a few more that might be worth considering.

1.       Have you gotten so used to seeing Mo**** that it feels like you, or does it feel like somebody else?  There are a lot of names that I really like that I wouldn’t answer to (or give to my children), because for whatever reason they don’t feel right for me.  When you think about others using the name Mo**** to refer to you, does it make you tense internally because it feels false or does it make you relax and think “aaahhh… finally”?  In short, changing your last name may (or may not—see next question) remove one source of frustration, but it could introduce another one.   A suggestion that comes up a lot on the boards regarding name changes is to try it out in a low stakes environment such as Starbucks and see how it feels.  It’s harder to do with a last name, but still possible.  If you can’t find any strangers to introduce yourself to (or just use your last name at Starbucks), then you could try writing your new name with Mo**** out on a cheap name tag and wearing it to the library or grocery store as if you just left a meeting, or writing it out on an inexpensive belonging like a notebook to mark it as yours. 

2.       How would you feel if, after changing your last name, you still have to spell it out a lot?

3.       Do a lot people that you will continue to interact with (e.g., work colleagues, neighbors) already know you as Ma****?  Keeping your last name unchanged may help others make the transition to your new name.

4.       Others have addressed family considerations.  If you are close to your family and worried about how they would feel, you can bring it up with them beforehand (and potentially get some useful insight on how they deal with the Ma/Mo confusion).  One caveat, if your family is really sensitive or otherwise tough to deal with, then it might be best not to bring up the last name change until you are sure you are going to do it.  If they tend to be understanding and sympathetic, then knowing how they feel about a name change could help you make a decision.

5.       I’ve heard many stories of genealogies (including my own) where the spelling of the last name was changed sometime in the past—often for convenience. Changing your surname doesn’t automatically divorce you or any offspring from your heritage.

6.       Given that you are to the point of considering a change to your last name, you could just decide that Mo**** is an acceptable alternate form of your name (except in cases where spelling really matters like plane tickets).  This is not unlike people that accept various pronunciations of their names as “regional differences.”  You would just be accepting an alternate spelling instead of an alternate pronunciation.  For people that ask, you could say “Ma**** with an A is preferred, but I also accept Mo**** with an O.”  Depending on your temperament, this may be easier said than done.  Of course, this option would reduce the frustration associated with meeting new friends and colleagues, but it doesn’t help when you need somebody on the phone or the other side of a counter to look up an account correctly.  However, in the latter case, you would probably have to spell your name out anyway.

If you decide to keep your current surname and are interested in ways to reduce confusion, you could use a mnemonic like “My name is [first name] Ma****, it’s like [alternate name for a boatyard], but with an `L’ instead of an `R.’”

October 10, 2015 1:36 AM

These are all really great points. I feel like the flexibility of surname spelling was more of a thing in the past, but I certainly like the idea of trying to retain that flexibility in the present day, and trying to present it to family (or future children) that this is just another example of surname spelling being movable by convenience, rather than trying to disconnect from your family heritage.

Also, your mnemonic for the spelling is total genius.

Overall, super post.

I really especially love the suggestion of using the Mo___ spelling going forward and seeing how it feels. If it's relief, then I would tend to agree that it's a good choice to just change the spelling while you're at it!

I want to add that surnames are often used in restaurant reservations and in placing take-out orders or making appointments. The two names are so close that it wouldn't be strange if the pet groomer sees Mo__ on the appointmentbook and then a Mr Ma___ shows up, so you could really just go ahead and try it without any risk of anyone thinking you're weird or an appointment-thief later on when your ID or credit card comes into play. I guarantee they'd think they'd just made an error in writing it down on the phone if they were scrutinizing your credit card or ID later. The only place this wouldn't work is the airport; but I really can't think of any other place that would have that level of nitpicking.

The last thing that occurs to me is that I find the M-o-l transition to be a more awkward one to make in cursive than M-a-l, which I love. This is unlikely to make a difference to many people as very few people enjoy cursive penmanship these days, but I do and wanted to mention that this would be a check mark for keeping the status quo if it were my name.

October 13, 2015 9:03 PM

Wait, the last name is the Russian word for raspberry?  That is awesome!