Monday, June 18, 2012

Name Change Day

First (self) portrait of the Rhime family
Friday was name change day!

That morning, Jaymz, Daniel, and I filed into a courtroom with about thirty fellow Portlanders to participate in a name change hearing. It was very exciting and also so commonplace, so normal. It was (in a small way) similar to how I felt when I was in labor with Daniel: people all over the world do this every day, but today is the day I am doing it and just for that reason, it's special.

I got a kick out of being part of the "all rise" as the judge entered, thinking about how I've seen that in shows on TV. I wondered if this is how others feel when they go to the hospital (a place I'm much more familiar with): it's kind of like what you see on TV...but also not really.

We sat there in the court room as the judge went through her first few matters of business: talking with a pair of attorneys, speaking with a man through an interpreter, and talking with a woman about settling a case. The room was quiet and full of anticipation as the majority of those in attendance waited to have our names changed.

Eventually, the judge finished her business and asked, "Is everyone else here for name changes?" We all nodded in agreement, and then she thanked us for our patience and promptly left the courtroom. The court clerk orchestrated the remainder of the proceedings, explaining that the judge would only be present if there were any problems with our name change paperwork. It was so interesting to me that we weren't required to justify changing our names at all. For whatever reason, I guess I was expecting something much more official and foreboding than a simple signature and friendly smile from the court clerk.

The woman sitting next to me was changing her last name (from something fairly common) to Halcyon. The woman sitting in front of us was changing her name from the male name given to her at birth to a name that better suits her gender.

Sitting between these two particular people (and among a fairly large group of others as well) made two things about this process very clear to me:

  1. Name changing is so very common. Things happen: birth, death, marriage, divorce, self-discovery...and names often change along with these various life events. Most people (women, in particular) aren't expected to keep the same name their whole life, so who's to say that others shouldn't change their names with the seasons of their lives, too? Sometimes we get the name wrong (for example, in presuming gender based on external sex organs, about 2% of us may misname our children), or the name simply doesn't fit us forever for one reason or another.
  2. Names are all about identity. This is the big one, and it's something I've been coming back to over and over when it comes to our own choice to blend our surname. Ultimately, our names are how we identify ourselves to others, and they are one of the ways we describe ourselves. Jaymz and I chose to change our family's last name to this blended version because Rhime most accurately describes our identity. Jaymz chose to change the spelling of his first name, too, as it is the name he identifies with (and it's also how he's spelled his name for about half of his life).
I pondered these things while we sat there waiting to be called up. One by one, the people around us were having their names changed and filing out of the courtroom. A mother and her young daughter went up to change the daughter's name. A woman wearing scrubs and a large engagement ring got her paperwork filed. Another person with an interpreter learned what he had to do to come back with the correct paperwork next time.

As the trans woman sitting in front of us walked away from the front of the courtroom with her name change paperwork in hand, I gave her a huge smile. I was imagining how freeing it must feel to be finally rid of a name that didn't fit her at all. I realized that all of us present there were getting to feel that same feeling to some degree: we were choosing to legally name ourselves something that felt more right, and I think there's a lot of value in that!

The court clerk called, "Daniel?" and we stood up along with another man sitting far away from us. The clerk clarified (by mispronouncing "Reiswig") and the three of us took our papers up together. After taking our turn up in front of everyone, we went back downstairs to file the remainder of the paperwork. The notary who greeted us there joked with a serious expression, "So—how did it go?" She laughed and remarked that it always goes fine (the court never says no to name changes) and then she congratulated us on ours.

It felt so great to walk out of the security area into the fresh air outside knowing that we had just completed our legal name blending together. A few blocks away from the courthouse, we stopped for a moment to take the photograph above. Then we went out to breakfast together to celebrate.

We've decided to remember our name change day every year, and we're calling it Unification Day.

(Also, if you get that reference, I like you a little more than I already did. ;)


  1. I love that there was a ceremonial aspect to your name change! I had imagined that it would simply involve mailing papers to an office.

    Also, I should say that I think your new name is lovely.

  2. I love you new name and that you shared you story. How do you families feel about this? I changed my first name and I hyphenate my last names and I've been surprised at the reaction I get from some. Did you write about that already?

    1. Thanks, Paige! As an answer to your question: I haven't written about the family reaction much publicly, but I have been thinking about writing about it since so many people are curious. What kinds of reactions do you get to your name changes?


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