People know me by Jack. But one could say that they’re living a lie. Or maybe I’m living a lie? We both are. A little more than 28 years ago, my parents proudly named me Jezekiel Sonn Bodeta Vitaliz. I’m not kidding. That’s my actual legal name. And yes, I’ve wanted to change it for as long as I can remember. Well guess what? When I got married, that wish finally came true. But first, let me give you a little bit of backstory.
While my name may seem like a lot to handle, it also has a lot of meaning. I’ll break it down for you real quick: Jezekiel Sonn is my first name. Jezekiel is the Greek pronunciation of Ezekiel. It means “God is my strength.” Sonn is a nod to my father, Sonny. Whose real name is actually Adolfo. He’s living a lie too.
Bodeta is my Mom’s maiden name. In Filipino culture, you take on your mother’s maiden name as your middle name. It’s kinda weird, but I suppose it is kind of empowering for women. So that’s cool, I guess.
And of course, Vitaliz. My last and favorite name. Fun fact about it: it’s a custom name. My grandfather changed it when he was younger as a way to reject his father’s troubled legacy and begin something new for himself. I’ve always respected that about him and have always enjoyed my last name. If I were to meet another Vitaliz in the world, I would know with certainty that they were my kin. Smith is a cool name, but I’ll bet that gets super confusing at networking events. #areyoumymother
I know that too much exposition can kill any story, so let’s get down to brass tacks. Poppa got a brand new name! Both Annie and I do, actually. After giving it some thought, we decided that the most equitable decision was to come up with a new name instead of one of us taking on the other's surname. While our main goal was to obviously make this name change a symbol of our unity and to do things our way (blah blah blah), I contemplated using this name change as an opportunity to reconcile everything I dislike about my full name (selfish, I know).
I’ve often wondered if I should just legally change my name to Jack. I struggle a lot with the name Jezekiel, I always have. It’s too long and no one can ever pronounce it right. People rarely mispronounce Ezekiel, but once you put a “J” in front of it, all of sudden no one can crack the code. And even when they figure out the pronunciation, this 4-syllabled beast can give you pretty bad tongue whiplash upon regular use. It’s kind of a mouthful. I mean, even my parents started calling me “Jek” for short because they couldn’t handle it on day-to-day basis. “Jek” very quickly turned into “Jack” as a byproduct of living amongst rural Floridians who didn't really know better. No matter! Jack is a fine name, methinks. I’ve always been proud to go by it.
But here’s the thing: despite my struggles, I don’t have the guts to change my name legally to Jack. The name has too much history. Remember when I said that Jezekiel means “God is my strength”? That’s because in 1988, my Dad had a really tough year. He was struggling with being a pastor, experiencing a lot of personal hardships, and contemplated quitting the ministry. When I was born, he said that he named me Jezekiel because my birth helped him find strength to carry on. And to this day, he’s still going strong. Who cares if I’m not crazy about the name? I’d be a monster if I changed it. Even more so, I love carrying the name (despite never actually using it) as a way to honor my father whom I admire deeply. That’s why I can never legally go by Jack. I wouldn't be able to live with myself. I did however drop my mother's maiden name, that name means less to me and not all things can last forever!
So there you have it. When I got married, my full legal name became Jezekiel Sonn Vitalsey (Vitalsey is a mashup of Vitaliz and Josey). Three names. Easy. Simple. Having four names has been pretty confusing at times. People think I have two middle names--I don’t. I have two first names, one middle name, and a last name. But that’s super hard for Americans to understand. Specifically Americans who work in government agencies that deal with my passport, driver’s license, and the like. Quite often having 4 names can lead to clerical errors that bring too many inconveniences. Sorry, Mom. I love you, but only three names can stick around and I can’t pick the one that’s based on tradition. That just ain’t me.
Now that you have the backstory, let's get down to the real business: how man changes his name.
Legally changing your name is an ordeal. And by that I mean taking on your spouse’s name is easy. Changing it to something completely new (like my grandfather) is super difficult. I tried googling it. The instructions online are vague, the government websites are a nightmare, and nothing tells you how much time it’s going to take or how much everything is going to cost. Well guess what? I know everything now. And let me tell you, if you thought the DMV was your personal hell...just you wait. The Superior Court Clerk now may be the reigning King of the Inefficient Castle.
Like I said, the legal name change websites weren't helpful regarding process and cost. What I did gather was that I could probably just call the Superior Court Clerk and inquire about what to do. So that’s what I did. When I called, they told me that I needed to come down to the court (30 minutes away in Hillsborough, NC) to pick up a “Name Change Packet” that will give me all of the instructions for a legal name change. The cost of this packet is $3. Really? Also, why can’t I just do this online? Whatever.
The court opened at 8:30am so I showed up right as they opened. I paid my $3 and got a Name Change Packet, which is really just an 8-page packet of paper. I could honestly photocopy it and sell it outside of the courthouse continuously for $2, but I’m not petty. As I looked through it, this is what the court needed from me:
So what have we learned today? a) men changing their name is both super cool and super stressful; b) allow yourself at least 3-6 weeks to get your name change processed; c) the total cost is about $247 plus a lot of time off your life on account of frustration. It’s also worth noting that the $247 doesn’t account for change in driver’s license, passport, credit cards, and everything else with your old name on it.
But knowing that you’re doing something super loving, gender equitable, and pretentiously post modern: priceless.
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it plenty more times-- Annie and I are committed to doing it our way. And now we have a legal name to show for it! May it be a symbol of our love, values, and hard-earned time and money. More than anything else, we know that this name change will embolden us to create a proud legacy for our future family. Just like my grandfather, we hope to start something new and leave behind memories of a life well spent. I’m so happy to do so in the name of love with the woman that I love the most.
If you're about to get married and feel a bit weird about the traditional name-change conventions, know that there are other options. Don't get stuck with a name just because your parents did. Do it your way. Have a name that you and your spouse can be proud of. And when you do, tell us all about it.
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Annie & Jack
Love. Marriage. Teamwork. Art. Offsetting the patriarchal footprint. These are some of the things we're thinking about.