Is it a good idea to change your surname?

amber asks: I’m thinking about changing my surname to that of my mom’s side of the family, and wondering how my dad would feel about this. I want to change it because my current surname means nothing to me. My dad never spends time with me or ever rings. We have some contact, but last Christmas he made up an excuse so he wouldn’t have to visit (he only lives about an hour away from me). I just don’t understand why he doesn’t like spending time with me. Last time we actually spent time with each other was when I was six and now I’m fourteen. Last time he was down to visit it felt like I was talking to a stranger. It’s like I don’t know who he is. What should I do?

Hi amber –

There are two aspects to your question, and both are… well, huge!

First, you’re wondering about your father, and why he’s been so distant.  Oh my friend, I wish I were psychic and could tell you what’s going on in his mind, but, smart a pup as I am, I simply don’t know.  Maybe he just doesn’t know how to deal with you (perhaps because he feels guilty about not being there for you); maybe he has such problems getting along with your mom that he can’t stand to have anything to do with her, even to the point of avoiding you; and maybe he just has some issues of his own that he wants to protect you from.  The one thing I know is true is that it’s not your fault.  The worst-behaved six-year-old is still adorable to one who gives them a chance (just as the worst-behaved puppy can still be adorable; otherwise I’d have been kicked out of Handsome’s house lots of times!).  The problem is his.  What I don’t know is whether or not he’ll be able to overcome it sometime in the future.

Regardless, of course it hurts that he treats you this way.  It’s not fair, and it’s bound to stick with you for the rest of your life.  I’m so very sorry about it.

So now you’re wondering about changing your name.  It would certainly make sense: you live with your mother, so why not have her name?  It would honor her, and give you a sense of self-definition in your life (instead of always being reminded of your dad’s lack of interest every time you write your name).  I don’t know what the laws are where you live, and how difficult it is to do a legal change like this, but if it’s not too hard, maybe it’s a good idea.

The one argument I can offer against it, though, is that you’re still young, and might change your mind some time in the future.  For example, the famous rock musicians Keith Richards and John Cougar Mellencamp both changed their names early in their careers to not have their dads’ names, but both later changed them back.  I don’t know if they regret their rebellions today, but clearly they later thought better of it.  Also, that was your name as a child.  Do you want to separate yourself from the little girl you were?

It’s easier for us dogs.  If I had a name before Handsome adopted me, I don’t remember it.  So I’ve never suffered from having any name but Shirelle, which has always been a statement of his love for me.

One thought is that you could start referring to yourself with your mother’s family name, while not changing your legal one.  Lots of movie stars have done that for years, keeping their legal name while going around as the other they have.  At least for a while, might that help?

My best advice on this, amber, is for you to talk about it with your mother.  While it might hurt your father’s feelings, I think the more important issue here is how you’d feel about it yourself, now and in the future.  Your mom knows and loves you the best, and probably has the best advice.

But I appreciate your asking me, and hope you’ll write back and let me know what you finally decide!


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