Thursday, May 25, 2017

Surnames #3

from here

My new birth certificate arrived today; my surname change is official. The forms I had to submit a couple of weeks ago asked my reason for changing my name, and I’d hurriedly scrawled something about sexism while sitting in Service NSW and waiting for my number to be called; I had no idea if my reason would be deemed acceptable by whoever it is that judges such things, or what would happen if my request was rejected. Sending my birth certificate off to be destroyed felt particularly scary. As usual, though, the time I spent preparing for every possible negative outcome was wasted: this afternoon I saw my new name printed on my new birth certificate, and breathed a sigh of relief.

The day after writing my last post, I started the name-choosing process by searching for the maiden names of women on my mother’s side of my family tree. I ended up at Stevens (although I’m not entirely sure this woman is actually related to me; genealogy research is like a maze for which I had only the first few steps of a map; it’s quite possible I took a wrong turn after my grandmother’s tips ran out. I came to a dead end at Stevens, which I assume means that a) the internet’s records end sometime around the mid-1800s, b) I did something wrong, or c) my great-great-great grandmother was immaculately conceived. I haven’t ruled out any of these possibilities). Choosing a man’s name as a surname seemed antithetical to the point of my project, and I didn’t love the surnames of closer (less great) grandmothers (cool as they were; Moment was one of them), so I gave up on the genealogy idea. The fact that I could find so much information simply by signing up to the one website reassured me that future generations would most likely have zero problems figuring out to whom I was related no matter what name I eventually chose.

Next, I read through lengthy lists of surnames on various sites, many of which turned out to have been compiled for writers wanting names for their characters (Dragonslayer is awesome, but not really what I had in mind). These searches were helpful: from them I added a couple of options to my list, and quickly saw how many surnames have maleness wrapped up in them, including, I was very sad to discover, those beginning with my favourite surname prefix: “Mc” (or “Mac”) apparently means “son.” I unhappily crossed off a few possibilities after finding out that disappointing piece of information. Poring over lists reminded me of the hours spent reading through names in books when thinking of what to call my children; choosing a surname is almost as fun as naming a baby, but I was surprised by the difference: surnames feel as though they have far more history attached to them, and the idea of taking on someone else’s felt strange. 

Having realised this, I briefly tossed up verbs I could use as a surname, à la Cheryl Strayed, but Woke was the least wanky of a very small bunch, and even it was far too wanky. Eventually I read Alan my shortlist of random surname-sounding words I liked the sound of, and together we culled Bell, Rose, Ocean, Black, and Wild (“But you’re not…,” he said, which I’ve just realised may have been an insult). The last word/potential name I read out was Grey, at which Alan perked up. I’ve loved the name for a long time (it’s made the list for both children), and Alan pointed out that it paid tribute to the non-black-and-white ways in which I’d begun to see the world, which instantly decided it for me (along with the fact that it suited both Hazel’s and my names).

We’ve talked with the kids about the name change; Hazel couldn’t care less, whereas Moses seemed unsure at first but accepted the decision after a brief chat on the way to school about the insidious nature of patriarchy. And Alan’s already started trying it out on me: while I was making school lunches last week he came up behind me and slipped his arms around my waist, saying, “Good morning, Ms Grey.” (Motherhood: hearing the sexiest thing ever while spreading Vegemite on sandwiches.) So now the fun starts: letting the rest of the world – particularly those in charge of the many (MANY! [horrified-face emoji]) various accounts I’m linked to – know my new name. On the upside, it’ll be a teeny bit easier to prove who I am now that I’ll need just my birth certificate to present for identification, rather than the birth-and-marriage-certificate combination I’ve had to show/certify to accompany every important form I’ve filled out over the last 9-and-a-half years. (Admittedly this will save minutes rather than hours of my time in future, but I’ll take simplicity wherever I can find it.)

On the even-further-upside, once this giant pile of paperwork has been surmounted, my name will match my beliefs and my identity will be one I’ve chosen for myself, both of which will make whatever administrative challenges I face completely worth it. 

Watch out, world.


Ms Grey


  1. Congratulations!
    Coincidentally, my sister went for 'Bell', as you know, but intriguingly her Instagram tag is agreybell - I've never asked her what the grey is about...

    All the best with the paperwork, and have fun moving forward.

    1. Whoa! That's uncanny!

      (And thank you!)