Oh, the importance of one’s name.
I am marking the date of my official, legal name change. This post is directed at the selected few who care about that. I recently spent some time, effort, and about $160 to change my middle name. Just my middle name. Here’s why.
As I was preparing to marry my husband, I pondered the name change question. The trend these days amongst my cis-woman friends marrying men is to take the man’s surname, and then move one’s “maiden name” to one’s middle name. Chris, being the delight he is, told me to do exactly what I wanted in terms of keeping or changing my name.
Most other states in the US allow for more name change/combination options than New York. For example, I could not take both of our surnames as one surname without hyphenating them. For some reason, Hanley-Ashley just didn’t look or sound so great to us – it’s the double “ley” ending, methinks. And both of us would have had to have taken it. New York would have allowed us to create a new surname out of both of our surnames. We tried several options: Hashley, Hanashley, Ansley. Then, for fun, we used an anagram app to see what we could get using all the letters. The best option by far was “Hyenas-Hell-Ya.” Imagine anyone, especially a member of the clergy, with that name?!
Of course, I didn’t HAVE to change my name at all. I’d been Elise Hanley for 32 years, and I was perfectly happy staying with my birth and Equity Card name. I am a Hanley – I really could not be a Hanley. Yet, I liked the name Ashley, and I liked the Biblical notion of acquiring a new name when one is blessed by God to begin a new calling. It finally occurred to me: why not make Ashley my middle name? Chris loved the idea. My middle initial was already A, so I figured it wouldn’t be that complicated a change. After all, New York Law states that “you have the right to adopt any name you wish simply by using that name consistently and without intent to defraud.”
I was not quite correct. For ordination purposes, the Church could not have me as Elise Ashley Hanley unless I changed my name legally. So, I did. I got a small taste of what my trans friends may have gone through, with a whole lot more privilege. I went through the courts to change my name.
So, while I could have moved my maiden name to middle name for free (or for the fee of a marriage license), I had to pay $65 to petition the court to make my husband’s name my middle name. After appearing before the judge, I had to put a legal notice of name change in the Bronx Free Press. That cost us another $95 – good thing we had the money. Overall, it was a fine and smooth process with no implied shame (again, did I mention privilege?) After receiving an affidavit from the newspaper and filing it with the City Clerk today, I am officially and legally Elise Ashley Hanley. So, I am still Elise Hanley, yet also Elise Ashley Hanley. I am also technically Elise Ashley for when people insist on calling us “Mr. and Mrs. Ashley.” The feminist in me is well pleased, while the traditionalist isn’t crying, either.