3 thoughts on “How many names have you legally had?

  1. I really liked this question, and wanted to break out of Twitter character limits for an answer. It’s quite intriguing to me, especially given the importance of naming in many of our originating cultures. I had an officially bestowed false name given to my by my orphanage that allowed for my export from Lebanon. This was legally changed to my adopted name when I was naturalized at the age of 5. Upon my return to Lebanon, my lawyer started a legal case that would take this false name and would append “currently known as Daniel Drennan” since there is no such thing as legal name change in the country.

    This worked for a time; I was given a courtesy visa for three years. Given the influx of Syrian refugees, the country moved again into ultra-nationalist mode, and started “purging” non-nationals. Given that nationality is currently only through the paternal line (a function of the last time there was an influx of refugees, after 1948), this meant that those with dubious paternal lineage like myself were not allowed to renew their “courtesy” visa. At the same time, I found my story and my family name and village. To be legally known via this name, my father’s family would have to register me officially. This is not likely, since they think I’m back to usurp their inheritance.

    The disturbing thing was my lawyer telling me that if I wanted, I could have existed in Lebanon under my orphanage-bestowed name. This was so repugnant an idea to me that I refused categorically to do so. The idea of it made me physically ill. Now I can only return to the country on a tourist visa as an “American”. Meanwhile, hundreds of Europeans and Americans with no ties to the country are given visas left and right; the privilege of colonizers. I imagine I could change my name legally in the States, but I’m currently living in Canada and so don’t have a state of residence, the level it has to start at. I would like to know the name my mother might have given me at birth.

    So, 2 legal names.

    • I have had 1 legal name. Per my OBC, my surname is “York”. I was obtained in an “extralegal” manner, and fraudulent documents were filed with the State of Indiana that resulted in an amended BC that bears the name I have used for decades.

  2. I wrote on this topic several years ago for an article in Gazillion Voices Magazine and later published it on my blog. I was brought to the orphanage when I was two years old and can only believe that my first family gave me a name when I was born and called me that for my first two years. My nanny at my orphanage gave me the Chinese name I know, and the surname was given to all the children who entered the orphanage that year. When I was adopted, my parents kept my Chinese name from the orphanage as my middle name but gave me a new American first name. I transition between both of these names depending on the setting I’m in.

    “My guess is that I first felt this disconnect from my body and myself when I was still in China. Though I was a talking toddler when I was taken to the orphanage, I shut down and didn’t speak for days. Processing my new name and new home, the Nanjing Social Welfare Institute, it was here that I learned that identity can change, and body and identity are not synonymous. Having had three primary caregivers call me three different names in three places, in two different languages, I sometimes feel as though my one body has carried the lives of three people.”


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