Thursday, November 3, 2011
Many – if not everyone – have pondered a new name. More of us than ever employ alternative handles for Twitter and Facebook. But few look into what it takes to go about legally re-naming themselves, and fewer still go do it.
Being born Theodore Orion Lawrence has its advantages, but brevity certainly isn’t one of them. The perfect name, in my mind, should be something short, raw and punchy. With crackling consonants. A sound like tools being put in a rusted bin. Strong vowels evoking blood-soaked beef slapping against butcher house linoleum. Something at home in both high – and low-society. Something that looks as good in movie credits as it would on a rap sheet. Something like Rip, Carl or Rutger.
While it takes me a while to think of a perfect name, I soon learn it can take a lot longer to get it legally assigned. After scouring the Internet for information on how to do it and what rules, if any, were involved in a judge’s approval, I called the court directly.
I learned the process takes at least three months to digest the forms, publish legal notices in the local paper, and complete a hearing with a judge. The clerk I spoke with at Monterey County Superior Court directed me to the book How to Change Your Name in California, which lists several guidelines to bear in mind when changing over to a new name. Three of the most crucial:
You will not be named Britney Spears.
Celebrity names are off limits if a judge thinks you’re doing it for fraudulent purposes, to benefit financially, or if it will cast the famous person in a negative light. Only marriage and divorce that lead to coincidentally identical Michael Bolton or Janet Jackson monikers pass muster. No go for Tony the Tiger or Harry Potter, either: Judges frown on names protected by copyright.
Prince’s new name is confusing enough.
You can’t choose a name that is intentionally baffling. Applications using pictures and numbers instead of normal names are typically rejected outright. Prince got his name switched to a symbol – but in stage name only. ?uestlove’s passport still reads Ahmir Khalib Thompson.
Keep it clean.
Whether for humor or politics, dirty words are out of bounds. One school teacher wanted to change his name to Misteri N****r to “steal the stinging degradation” from the word and was rejected by the court.
With these ground rules in mind, my search for a name begins. Red, Chad, Bud, Chuck… I am at a loss. Everything seems too pedestrian.
I turn to famous name-changers for inspiration. The passion of the guy who named himself Kentuckyfriedcruelty.com is certainly impressive, but a little too political for me. John Wayne worked nicely for the legend once called Marion Robert Morrison, but John is a little bit run-of-the-mill. Spike Lee (once Shelton Jackson Lee) is a little closer to how I’d like things to sound. I’m not sure what Metta WorldPeace (NBA player Ron Artest) quite means. I end up more confused than anything.
Finally, luckily, in a moment of calm, it hits me. Claxton. Strong, sophisticated, exotic but accessible. Now all I need is a harmonious last name.
In my excitement at progress, I rush to fill out the paperwork, at least partially (the last name will present itself eventually, I figure). Everything needed for the process is available online as PDFs. Each of the four forms looks fairly similar – and makes it clear this process is meant primarily for families going through marriage or divorce. The only blank with cause for any thought is on NC-110 which reads: “Reason for name change (explain).”
Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali after conversion to Islam. Norma Jean Mortenson Baker’s name didn’t sound right for a star so she became Marylin Monroe. George Garatt “wanted to be unique” and changed his name to Captain Fantastic Faster Than Superman Spiderman Batman Wolverine Hulk And The Flash Combined (which may not have flown here as well as it did in the U.K.).
I’m not sure if mine is more compelling or not: “Because my editor made me do it.”
My printer hums out two extra copies (one for me and one for my local paper) and it’s time to meet the clerk before I can publish my Order to Show Cause in the local paper for four consecutive weeks and appear before a judge for a final nod. Unfortunately, I am without the $395 fee required by the court clerk to process my request. No legal name change for me. But I am granted the last name I was looking for. Cash. Claxton Cash.