What to do with Gwen...

I need a bit of advice. I posted here earlier asking for advice about what name to choose. I ended up choosing "Gwen" which I love. My close friends call me Gwen now and I love it and it feels really good to have chosen my name. The problem is this: My family hates my new name and hates the idea of me legally changing it.

I am an adult as I am in my early twenties. But it's difficult to legally change your name when your Mother guilt trips you about it and says "I don't know who you are anymore! If you do this then I won't call you by your old name, or new name- I won't call you anything." and when your siblings call you and quote scripture at you saying "honor your parents!"

My question is: what am I supposed to do here?



By EVie
May 10, 2014 11:25 AM

I think unfortunately, this situation is crossing over the line from "naming advice" to "dealing with difficult family members advice," and without knowing your family better, it's hard to say what the best tactics are. Do you think that this is just bluster, and they'll get over it with time? Or is your mom the type to harbor a long-term grudge? (I have family members like this--one of my aunts hasn't spoken to another aunt in twelve years). Is it possible to compromise by only legally changing your middle name to Gwen, then just telling people that you go by your middle name? Or even just adding Gwen as a middle name?

Ultimately, it's your name and you have the right to do what you like with it. But whatever you choose will have repercussions for your relationship with your family, so you need to weigh that versus the name change and decide which is more important to you. Without knowing more about your family, your relationship with them, and your feelings about your former name, we can't tell you what to choose.

May 10, 2014 10:04 PM

That's really rough.  I'm sorry your family is acting like this.You absolutely have the right to change your name to whatever the heck you want, and your family doesn't have the right to veto that decision or to pressure you about it. 

The way I see it, you might want to spend some time thinking about a few things. 

1. if you legally change your name, will your family carry through on their threats? If they do, what will you do?  How will you take care of yourself around that?*

2. if you legally change your name, is not telling them a possibility?  Could you let them think whatever they want, and everyone else could call you by your legal name?  How likely would they be to find out if you did this?  How are they likely to react?  If they are likely to react unpleasantly, how will you take care of yourself around that? 

3. In general, it sounds a little bit to me like your family has some boundary issues; they think they get to control more about your life than they have any right to, and that it's OK to browbeat you about your decisions.  There's some good info out there about setting and maintaining boundaries with people who have bad ones -- I usually recommend looking through some of the archives of Captain Awkward, though be warned there can be some triggery material in the advice requests there. 


* I don't say "defend yourself' because I don't think this is a decision that needs a defense other than "It's my name and I wanted to".  I say "take care of yourself" because it's really about what you will do to help yourself emotionally cope with family badness.  Like, "well, Mom is being a bear, but I am having a nice glass of champagne in a warm bubblebath" type of thing. 


May 12, 2014 3:13 AM

This is all excellent advice. I would probably myself consider what Laura raised in just opting not to tell them about the legal name change, but how realistic that is it really depends on how involved they are in the mechanics of your daily life.

I will say that I know many people who have undergone name changes at the same time of life as you (mostly without making them legal, though I don't actually know that for sure, because what someone's legal name is is surprisingly hard to diagnose), where everyone they've met in their adult lives knows them by NewName but their parents and family still call them by BirthName. In the case where it's a childhood friend that we haven't seen often post-name-change, there was definitely a transition period where we used both as a double name when talking about them, but we eventually shifted... but the families were much slower to do so, if at all. 

It's up to you whether you can accept the "everyone else uses Newname, family still uses Birthname" situattion -- people whose name change is motivated by being transgender seem less comfortable with it for obvious reasons that it reminds them of a traumatic situation, but someone changing their name for style could potentially cope if the old name doesn't have a really strong negative association. I also think that a family is being so deliberately negative and dramatic about it would make me less willing to accept this solution than if it were just that the family was clinging onto the Birthname more for sentimental reasons.

It takes a bit of time to make the adjustment when it's someone that you've had a long past with under the old name, and I think it might generally take family a longer time to adjust because they've spent most time with your Birthname and are spending less time with your new name (especially since people spend less time with their parents when they are adults). In the case of a family that's not being deliberately difficult but just having a difficult time making the switch in their heads, I might suggest having them tack on -Gwen to whatever the birthname is as a compromise -- that way newer acquaintances won't be horrifically confused when hanging out around your family, but it gives your parents time to fold Gwen into their identity of you... and with time, perhaps the birthname could be phased out, more gradually.

As for what to do with your legal name - I would think it would be logistically easier and straightforward to have your legal name match what 99.9% of the people you meet know you as, rather than what your immediate family knows you as... but like I said, I also know many people whose Call Name is not their Legal Name (one who actually changed their Legal Name and Call Name both, interestingly) and it doesn't seem to be an insurmountable problem, either. Dentists and doctors usually have a "would like to be known as" spot on forms now, for example, and most teachers ask as well.  It may be that the hassle of correcting people who look at your ID/credit card and use your Birthname is less than the hassle of pushing for a legal name change with your family, at least right now. I might hope that all the drama might blow over with time, though!

May 13, 2014 12:32 AM

I fully agree. My hubby is one of those who when he left for college chose to go by his "call name" full time. A friend in Jr. High gave him the nn, and as things with his family weren't great, he used the name change as an opportunity to redefine himself. 

When we got married, he chose to add the nn as a middle name legally. We had both names on the wedding invitations as either way, half of those invited would have been confused who was getting married if we only had one of the names. 

His immediate family from growing up (his extended family have adjusted, but one of them did something similar, so she's more amiable about it) refuse to call him anything except his legal first name still (25+ years later).


May 12, 2014 5:28 PM

You have gotten some good advice here. I will add that you can't control what your parents and siblings call you; you can only control how you react to them. They must feel on some level that your name change is a rejection of them. All you can do is to explain what led you to this change and to reassure them that you are not wishing to remove yourself from the family. 

My husband changed his name when he was a sophomore in college. He was named for his dad's college roommate, a man my husband despised, but his parents told him that they had considered naming him for his maternal grandfather, a man my husband revered. They had rejected that name (Thomas) because of the alliteration with their surname. My husband said that he never liked the sound of his birth name (Kenneth) and didn't like being associated with his father's college roommate in anyone's mind. So he started going by his grandfather's name. He got the paperwork to change his name but was too lazy to file it. His parents had a hard time adapting to the change even though they had considered naming him Tom to begin with. Even when I met him, some ten years after the switch, his mother mostly called him by his birth name. Now, fifteen years later, she is the last holdout. She sometimes calls him Tom when she's talking to me about him, but mostly calls him Ken to his face. And she always calls him Ken when she's talking about his childhood. My father-in-law always calls him Tom unless he's talking about my husband as a child. My two sisters-in-law are the same. Although my husband occasionally bristles at being called Ken, he largely accepts it and doesn't make an issue of it. Fortunately none of them had a hissy fit about the initial change, though, which is different from your situation.

Good luck!

May 13, 2014 12:30 AM

Thank you all for your advice! I think for now my plan is put Gwen as my middle name and try to make it work that way. I'm going to call myself Gwen to everyone new I meet, but I think it will be easier for my family to call me by the old name.

May 19, 2014 9:41 PM

best of luck, gwen!

May 20, 2014 4:21 PM

Wise choice! :-)

June 14, 2014 10:06 PM

Changing your name should be your choice, not your parents'.   Don't let them influence what you do.  You are old enough now to think for yourself and make your own decisions in life.

But I'm sure you can understand where your mother is coming from and why she's so against you doing this.  I mean, I'd be heartbroken too if my daughter decided she wanted to change the name I spent hours picking out for her.  This is something you can understand, yes?

But if changing your name is something you really want to do and you're positive you won't regret it twenty years from now, I say go for it.  Remember that it's your life to live, not anybody else's.  Your parents can't tell you what to do anymore.