Just like the girl in Mamma Mia, I grew up hearing about how I
had three possible Dads. Yep, my Mom got around. So when I was born, I
was given the same last name as my unmarried mother for obvious reasons. To
make matters more complicated, that last name wasn't actually her family (aka
maiden) name. Confused yet?
story goes, my mother had gotten married at sixteen years old and changed her
last name. The guy turned out to be crazy, and ended up becoming extremely
abusive to her. She left him a few years after, and at one point he showed up
and put a gun to her head telling her he would kill her if she didn't go back
to him. My mother says, she told him to go ahead and shoot her-but he didn't.
She never saw him again.
relationship ended in divorce a few years later in the late 60's, but my mother
never changed her last name back to her birth name. When I was born many years
later, I was assigned that last name from her first husband, which was
completely meaningless to me family wise.
up, I would often try to come up with different last names that I liked better.
My diary entries as far back as age seven show me signing my last name in over
eight different variations. It was very, very obvious that from a young age I
was unhappy with my name. Growing up, I hated always having people ask if I was
related to so and so who shared my last name, and always having to say no and
explain my awkward situation.
the time I was a teenager I had decided on a few different "stage
name" options, but had never thought about legally changing my last name.
The process seemed daunting and expensive. So, just like my mother had for so
many years, I lived with this last name which had no connection to me.
did eventually get to meet my real Dad in my early twenties before he passed
away, but I didn't feel the relationship was strong enough to change my last
name to his. And since I am very against the patriarchy of women changing their
last names at marriage, that was never an option for me to look to in the
there I sat, over thirty years old and still pining away with this last name I
my years of searching for a random last name to replace my own, I had never
found anything that fit or felt just right. The day my new name finally came to
me, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was going to change my middle and last
name to become Renée Nicole Gray.
felt more right to me than any of those other last names I had thought of
replacing mine with over the years. Because Gray is my actual blood family. My
grandparents on my Mother's side were Gray's and it was my mothers birth last
name. I had been looking everywhere for something that was right in front of me
all along. I knew that if I ever make a mark on the world it would be most
meaningful to me to have it be with my actual family name. How had it taken me
so long to figure this out?
my old last name was a variation of Nicole, everyone had mistakenly called me
Nicole my entire life. Heck, I even answered to it sometimes. It felt natural
that I would replace my middle name with Nicole since it already felt like my
name, as well as an homage to my old one.
started using my new name on social media and non legal documents for about six
months prior to making the legal change. In an odd way, I felt like
"me" for this first time in my life. I finally felt proud of my last
name because it actually belonged to me. I could finally say,
"MAYBE!" when someone asked if i'm related to a Gray. I was also
happy to find that the email, Twitter, Website, Instagram etc were all
available with my new name. Something I didn't even have with my old one.
after my six month trial, I knew I was ready to make things official.
gathered all of my documents and made my way to Brooklyn court where I
submitted my application to the clerk and paid the fee. Changing your name
in NYC courts is exactly what you would expect. The staff is rude and doesn't
give a crap, so you have to be patient and make sure you have documents you
think you might not need. There were a few things needed like utility bills for
proof of address that they did not list on the website as requirements. I had
brought it all just incase. The clerk actually seemed disappointed and annoyed
he couldn't send me home like he had the four people ahead of me. The big
surprise was, I thought I would be told to come back weeks later, but
apparently in NYC seeing the judge happens immediately. I nervously sat in the
court room for about an hour waiting for my turn. The judge glanced over my
paperwork, signed it and handed it to a clerk for me to sign. I didn't even
have to answer questions. My application was now stamped and approved by the
judge. But of course the process couldn't be just that simple. There were a few
more hoops for me to jump through before I could legally be myself.
next step was going to a clerks office to submit my judge approved papers. The
clerk gave me a list of five places I would need to send certified mail
notifications of my name change to (including my mother, The DMV, Passport and
SS Office). I would also have to pay $35 to publish my name change in the
Brooklyn Eagle newspaper. Once this was all done I would need to come back with
the photocopies as proof. This would make my name change legal.
immediately went to the newspaper office across the street to get the ball
rolling. While waiting, I met a young man who I had just seen at court. He was
overflowing with excitement about his new last name. He told me that his family
was from Egypt, but since 9/11 they had suffered extensive discrimination
because their last name sounds Muslim. He was only 21 but said he had trouble
getting job interviews just because of his name. He told me he was sick of
getting pulled aside every time he flies. When I asked him what his new last
name was going to be, he beamed and said "Lucas. Because I love Star Wars
and it sounds very American." After finishing our paperwork, we wished
each other the best with our fresh starts and went on our way.
a week later, I hurried back to court with proof of all of my missions
completed. A few lines later I was sent to another floor to get my certified
name change papers which I would need to change my Passport and all ID's. I had
survived the many levels of bureaucracy and was finally officially, legally a
part of my own family!
it didn't end there, the next few weeks of more bureaucracy to change things
like my insurance, bank account, Social Security number, license and Passport
were also tedious, but very worth it.
I look back at my 2016, being handed those papers with my new name was by far
the most memorable moment of the year. For the first time in my life, I can say
that my last name matches my blood, and I now write and say it with pride and