Why I’m estranged from my brother

People sometimes ask about my brother: ‘How’s he doing? Have you seen him lately?’

I usually deflect this by saying evasively: ‘He lives in the USA.’

It’s weird, but though I’m very open about most things, I don’t like talking about my brother. I can kind of feel the condemnation and judgement coming off the other person when I admit to being estranged from him: what kind of person doesn’t speak to her sibling?

I’m not the only one who has a difficult relationship with their brother. My wonderful friend Kia is also through with hers, as she explains in this blog.

Unlike Kia’s brother, though, mine isn’t a drug addict. Relations between us are difficult for different reasons.

When my brother was born, three-and-a-half years after me, it soon became clear that we had nothing in common. I was loud, he was quiet; I was messy, he was neat; I was creative, he was academic; I was a rebel, he was obedient; I daydreamed through lessons, he was studious.

Unlike me, he was everything my mum had ever wanted in a child, and she adored him.

I was jealous of him, and would push him over when he was learning to walk. I would suffer my father’s abuse and my classmates’ bullying at school, and take it out on him. We would argue, and I would hit him, pinch him, nick his stuff, pull his hair.

He would scream, and I remember my father holding me down and telling my brother to hit me: ‘Hit her! Be a man!’ And my brother wouldn’t want to do it.

I know that siblings often fight. The difference between us, though, was that we never played – not even when we were both happy, which was a rare occurrence in our dysfunctional household. We weren’t remotely interested in each other or in each other’s thoughts or personality.

Aged ten, I put the distance between us down to him being Capricorn and me being Cancer. Of course we were opposites! Astrology said we should be.

These days, older and wiser, I think perhaps it’s as simple as having different genes for personality – even though the answer to the question of whether there are genes for personality is complex.

Me asleep.jpg

Aged 16, when he was 12, I pulled out my brother’s internet lead because I wanted to phone a boy, and back in 1996 you couldn’t be on the phone and the internet simultaneously.

He drew his fist back and punched me in the face, giving me a huge black eye. When I told my parents, my dad laughed.

After that incident, I stopped talking to my brother, and we never really started talking again. The last time I had any contact with him was after my dad’s funeral in 2016, before he flew back to America.

It was so awkward – we had a hard job making eye contact, and we didn’t hug. We talked about our violent dad, and my brother tried to convince me that my mum wasn’t responsible for not walking away from him: ‘She’s tiny! She’s one of us.’

‘She’s not one of us,’ I said. ‘When he started hitting me, I was three-and-a-half and she was 36. That’s the same age as I am now, and I’d never countenance a man hitting my daughter.’

He said: ‘All I know is, Mum’s been the most supportive person in my life.’

I replied: ‘All I know is, Mum’s been the least supportive person in my life.’

My brother went back to the States soon afterwards.

The thing is, I don’t miss him or think about him at all. You know a conversation with someone to whom you have nothing to say? That’s us. People tell me that I should make an effort with him, but that’s only because they can’t imagine being estranged from their sibling. If they had grown up in my family, they’d understand.

There are seven billion people in the world, so why maintain contact with someone with whom relations will always be strained, just because you share the same DNA?

Me lotus

The pictures are of me.

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The day my mum stole my shoes

When I was 13, I fell in love with a pair of boots. They were just so beautiful and stylish and shapely, in black leather with high stiletto heels. I’ve scoured Google Images and can’t find the exact pair of boots, of course – these were only available in 1994 – but here’s an example of the kind of style I’m talking about.


The boots were £25, and I saw them in Dolcis in St Ann’s Shopping Centre, Harrow. I was especially keen on buying them, because my first ever concert was coming up. I was going to see my favourite band Duran Duran, as my new penpal Anna (a fellow Duranie) had won us tickets in a radio competition by identifying a clip of the track ‘The Reflex’.

It was January 1994, the concert was at Wembley Arena in a week’s time, and I was putting together the perfect outfit. I already had a black and white frilly New Romantic blouse, which in retrospect was hideous, and a black mini skirt and black tights. In my view, all I needed to complete the look were these boots, the pièce de résistance of the ensemble. Despite being a plain child with a face full of hair, I was harbouring a delusion that Simon Le Bon would somehow see me in the crowd, pull me out onto the stage and declare his undying love for me – if only I had the right clothes.

duran81[Duran Duran as New Romantics in 1981.]

So I told my mum about the boots, even though I knew there wasn’t a cat in hell’s chance of her buying them for me. She rarely bought me anything, and I didn’t get pocket money when I was 13, either. The rationale was that my mum would buy me anything I needed, but what she deemed necessary fell within a very narrow bracket. Still, I wanted to tell someone about the boots.

‘I’ve seen these amazing boots!’ I breathed. ‘They’re so beautiful, Mum! So stylish. They’re black leather and are in Dolcis in Harrow. Can we go and see them?’

To my amazement, my mum said yes. We went to Dolcis and, to my relief, the boots were still on display. My mum agreed that they were lovely. As I’d known she would though, she refused to buy them for me. ‘Your feet are still growing, darling,’ she murmured, ‘and your bones are soft. You don’t want to squash your feet into pointed shoes and wear heels yet, otherwise your feet will be misshapen when you grow up.’

I sighed. I very much did want to squash my feet into pointed shoes. I was disappointed, of course, but accepted my mum’s rationale as a reasonable and caring explanation for why I couldn’t have the boots. As a consolation prize, she said I could wear her slouchy flat navy boots to the concert. They were the wrong colour, of course, and weren’t nearly as stylish or shapely, but they were better than nothing.

slouchy[Totally the wrong boots.]

The day of the concert rolled around. I donned my black and white frilly blouse, my black skirt and tights, and the wrong boots, frowning at myself in the mirror. If only I had a fairy godmother who could transform my unattractive footwear into the perfect stylish ankle boots I’d seen.

Then my mum came home – and she was carrying a Dolcis bag! She put it down by the front door while she took off her coat and shoes. I looked in the bag, and saw a shoebox with the name of the boots on and my size, size 3. This couldn’t be happening! Surely my mum hadn’t bought them? I peeked in the box. It contained my boots!

‘MUM, YOU BOUGHT THEM FOR ME!’ I shrieked, launching myself at my bewildered mum and wrapping her in an enormous hug. ‘THANK YOU SO MUCH! I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!’

I couldn’t believe it. I’d always had my mum down as a joyless, neglectful mother who had never paid any attention to me or cared what I wanted or needed – but I had been wrong.  She was the best mother in the world. She truly loved me.

My mother disentangled herself with distaste. She never liked me hugging her. ‘What?!’ she snapped. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘The boots!’ I repeated in ecstasy. ‘You bought the boots for me!’

My mum looked down at the bag. ‘Oh, no darling,’ she said vaguely. ‘These aren’t for you. They’re for me.’

Then I remembered that, being 4’10”, my mum also took a size 3 shoe.

I stared at her. ‘For you?‘ I asked, my excitement ebbing away into an unrecognisable ache in my chest.

‘Yes,’ my mum said, smiling distantly. ‘You couldn’t possibly have thought they were for you. I mean, I already told you they’re bad for your feet. You’re still growing.’

And so, for the next few years, I had to watch my mother walking around in my dream pair of boots.


Why my atheist parents brought me up Christian

I was a mixed-up mixed race kid. My mum was Parsi – a kind of Indian that originates from Iran – although she was born in East Africa and came to Britain when she was 16. My dad was American, but retained his US citizenship and never became British despite living in Britain for the last 45 years of his life.

13.jpg[Me, aged three. There’s a photo of me somewhere aged 14 where I look just the same.]

In terms of religion, my mum was technically Zoroastrian and my dad was a Unitarian Universalist (a wishy-washy, pluralistic kind of Christian) but both were non-practising. And, I later discovered, though they didn’t identify as such, they both held atheist beliefs – which makes sense, as they were highly-educated academics. So why the hell did they send me to church and Sunday school until I was 8?

It all goes back to Auntie Dolly.

I was middle-named after my Asian grandmother, Shirin (there are half a dozen different spellings of Sherine, including Shirin, Shireen, Shereen and Sherin). Anyhow, Nana Shirin had five siblings – two female, two male – with the unusual names of Dolly, Bapsy, Temi and Ferdoon. I think she drew the long straw with Shirin!

[Me and my tiny little Asian Nan, Shirin, in 2009. I hope I look as good as her when I’m old! She’s 94 now and doesn’t look any different.]

Auntie Dolly was a Jehovah’s Witness. She would go door-to-door trying to convert non-believers. Before she died ten years ago, she would call Nan daily to tell her the End Times were coming, and that she had to become a JW if she didn’t want to go to hell. Poor Nan was very gullible, and this frightened her. My mum would then have to go round and de-program Nan, telling her Auntie Dolly was talking nonsense!

Anyhow, my mum was determined that I shouldn’t grow up and become a born-again Christian or Jehovah’s Witness like Auntie D. She always insisted I was ‘C of E’ – which, for years, I thought was one word (‘seervee’). My mum thought that by sending me and my brother to church and Sunday school, she would ‘inoculate’ us against religion, as we’d realise how boring it was. All I can say is, in my case, it worked better than she could have hoped!

But not initially. I grew up believing in God. I got a load of God at school, too – our ‘broadly Christian’ assemblies were full of hymns and prayers – though, ever the joker, I used to bellow the hymns loudly in a very strong Indian accent, making all the other kids laugh. My teacher Miss Buckley would be furious, and snap, ‘Sing in your normal voice!’ And I would say back in my Indian voice, with a head wobble: ‘But I am Indian!’ She was so angry, but couldn’t really send a note home to my Indian mum saying ‘Your daughter is singing in an Indian accent!’

At school, we studied all the world religions in Religious Studies, but never atheism or humanism. Until quite late, I don’t even remember knowing there was a name for people who didn’t believe in God.

Just because I had faith, though, it didn’t mean I wasn’t skeptical. It never seemed fair that my mum was going to hell for being the ‘wrong’ religion – or, if Zoroastrianism were ‘right’, then me and my brother and dad were. At times, that made me feel like rejecting the whole thing.

I also asked my mum, ‘Is there really a God?’ In response, she told me about Pascal’s Wager: that you had nothing to lose by believing in God, but if you didn’t and He existed, you were in trouble.

Even though my faith wavered at times, I ticked ‘C of E’ on the 2001 census. I remember a guy at university saying he was an atheist. I was shocked, and told him ‘You’re a blasphemer!’ To his credit, he was fairly unfazed by my rather melodramatic assertion.


I was also very pro-life – life was sacred, right? I used to say primly, ‘Other women can do what they want, but would never have an abortion.’ Ironically, I knew nothing at all about abortion until I was 24 and was put in the horrendous situation of my boyfriend turning violent while I was pregnant.

When I googled ‘abortion’, I was faced with pages and pages of Catholic propaganda: hugely enlarged pictures of foetuses sucking their thumbs in the womb, and websites that said if I had a termination I would become infertile, get breast cancer and go to hell.

Because of my pro-life principles, I agonised for three weeks about what to do, as the baby inside me grew and grew. In the end, I was too late to take the abortion pills on the NHS, and had to go private to terminate the pregnancy I so desperately wanted to keep. Directly after the abortion, I told my mother I wanted to visit the vicar down the road and ask for his forgiveness.

She scoffed at me: ‘Don’t be so stupid!’

After the abortion, I was too scared to fall asleep in case I died in my sleep and went to hell. I was incredibly depressed and anxious.

Six months later, I started dating a lovely atheist and he told me there was no evidence for God’s existence. I started reading up on science and religion, and eventually concluded he was right. I became really angry about the Catholic propaganda I’d been confronted with at the most vulnerable time of my life.

These days, of course, I’m a resolutely pro-choice atheist – but it’s sad that it took experiencing how pernicious religion could be to change my views.

I don’t blame my mum for sending me to church and Sunday school. She was right that they were very boring – and, of course, I never became a Jehovah’s Witness. But indoctrinating kids with lies is wrong – and in my case, it led to a lot of pain and suffering before I finally emerged an atheist.


This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Sammy and Jelly, Charlie Brooker, Mary and Tim Fowler, Steve Richards, Alan Brookland, Mark Ormandy, Oliver Vass, Keith Bell, John Fleming, Mark Bailey, Rebekah Bennetch, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Aragorn Strider, Lucy Spencer, Dave Nattriss, MusicalComedyGuide.com, Mark White, Dave Cross, Graham Nunn, David Conrad, Rob Turner, Shane Jarvis, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

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Why I legally changed my name five times

I was born with the name Ariane Sherin ________, and spent my first 18 years desperate to get rid of my birth surname. I’m not going to tell you what it was, because there’s zero point in changing your name if you’re only going to tell people the old name, and also because it was embarrassing and you’ll laugh. I got teased the whole way through school, because my surname sounded hilarious with my first name if pronounced a certain way. It was also English, and coupled with the foreign names of Ariane and Sherin (pronounced ‘Shureen’) it sounded really odd.

Baby Garden[Me as Ariane Sherin something-or-other.]

That wasn’t the only reason I wanted to change my surname, though. It was my dad’s name, and he’d been violent and abusive to me throughout my childhood. So by cutting off his name, it felt as though I were shedding my first 18 years and becoming the autonomous, happy, independent girl I had always wanted to be.

I decided to add an ‘e’ onto the end of Sherin because I thought it looked more symmetrical with Ariane that way. It also made it clearer that the name was pronounced ‘Shu-reen‘ rather than Sherrin. The thought of being Ariane Sherine made me feel like a Bond girl, and I dreamed of the day when I could legally change it.

As luck would have it, on my 18th birthday (3rd July 1998) I was temping as a receptionist in a London firm of solicitors called Dibb Lupton Alsop (try saying that quickly when you pick up the phone!). Clients would occasionally come in to sign things, and I would have to phone the solicitor upstairs and ask him to come down and ‘do a swear’.

For most people, these were pre-internet days, so instead of just going online, I’d had to visit a legal stationery shop and procure a blank document called a statutory declaration. I filled it in using a gel pen and took it in with me on my birthday. Then I phoned upstairs and asked the solicitor if he’d come down and ‘do a swear’. He duly came down, and asked, ‘Where’s the client?’

‘I’m the client!’ I replied proudly, and produced my statutory declaration. ‘It’s my 18th birthday and I want to change my name.’

‘Very well,’ he said, looking baffled, and witnessed my signature before stamping the document. In under two minutes, I had divorced my family lineage for good, and could now be Ariane Sherine forever.

That was the idea, anyway – but sometimes life doesn’t work out that way. I did, however, legally remain Ariane Sherine for the next 15 years.

Me and Dad.jpg[Me and Dad in 2009. I was still Ariane Sherine; he was Dr something-or-other.]

Then the Atheist Bus Campaign happened. I got a shit ton of hate mail from loopy religious fanatics, and had a nervous breakdown. After three years of mental illness, I was still too scared to re-emerge in public life, so I thought that changing my name again (my whole name this time) might make me feel safer, as the crazies would be less likely to be able to find me.

‘You’re not to change your name again!’ my mum said sternly. ‘You’ve already changed it once. I’m not letting you change it a second time!’

Bear in mind that I was nearly 33 years old at this point, but my mum always thought she knew best.

‘I want to change it so no one can find me,’ I protested.

‘Then you can change it back to the name you started with,’ she snapped. ‘It’s a perfectly good name!’

Reader, it wasn’t a perfectly good name. There was nothing perfect or good about it.

Finally, as a compromise, I acquiesced and told my mum that I’d change it to two names that were already in our family. The fact that I hated both of these names wasn’t really a consideration – as far as I was concerned, I was still going to be Ariane Sherine professionally and personally, so would only have to give my legal name for official documents.

So I changed my name a second time – this time by deed poll, using an online service. Unfortunately, as I’d been in such a rush and hadn’t given the new name much thought, I didn’t realise that I’d accidentally given myself the most horrendous spoonerism! Everything about my new legal name was embarrassing and wrong.

Then I fell out big time with my mum a couple of years later, and could no longer bear having two family names as my legal name. It felt as though, in being forced by my mum to change my name to something I was unhappy with and remain nominally linked to my family, I’d fallen back into the trap of their coercive control.

So I chose a beautiful name that I loved – which, for the very first time, was a name I had decided upon myself. Even my daughter’s name had been a compromise with her dad. This was different: it was wonderful to feel able to rename myself, and I felt truly empowered. So I changed my name for a third time, by deed poll again.

I didn’t feel as though the new name suited me, because after 35 years of being Ariane Sherine, I couldn’t get my head around being called something entirely different. But that was OK – at least I didn’t feel embarrassed or get awful flashbacks of abuse while giving my legal name to people.

So that was it: my beautiful new name, forever.

It was at this point that I started running into problems. I applied for a new passport in my third new name. It had been perfectly easy getting a passport after the first two name changes, but now the passport authorities were getting suspicious. They sent me a letter with a long list of demands:

  • that I write them a statement explaining why, when and how I’d changed my names
  • that I send them all the original name change documents
  • that I provide an original copy of my birth certificate
  • that I change my name with a massive long list of government organisations, including but not limited to the DVLA (I had never driven), the NHS and the DWP – and that I provide proof that all these organisations had changed my name on their records.

Well! That taught me a lesson. It was a bureaucratic nightmare that took me almost six months and eight correspondence exchanges to fix. It was also a race against time, as I had booked a non-refundable trip to take my daughter to see my friend KJ in the Netherlands that Christmas. If I didn’t have my passport, I wouldn’t be able to go. Thankfully it arrived after five months, just when I’d given up hope of ever leaving the country again!

My next problem occurred a year later. My dad had gotten me an American passport (yup, we say ‘gotten’) just before my 18th birthday, as he thought it was important for me to have one. I’d never been to America as I didn’t like flying, and had sort of forgotten in practice about being American.

Anyhow: I discovered to my horror that America is one of only two nations (the other is Eritrea) that ask you to file a tax return every year, even if you were born abroad and have never even visited the States. It was a terrifying realisation: I’d been meant to file a tax return annually since I was 18, and I hadn’t! 18 whole years later, I was in the shit. Don’t mess with the IRS…

I needed to sort this out, and quickly, before I got into trouble. Unfortunately, my American passport had expired and was still in my very first name. In order to get a first-time social security number and pay my taxes, I had to go down to the US embassy with all my name change documents and explain why I’d changed my name three times.

Fortunately, I got a lovely woman. She examined my name change documents, and said ‘We would never have accepted these.’

I gulped.

Then she said, ‘But as the British government have accepted them, we will in this instance. Are you planning to change your name again?’

‘Oh, no!’ I replied fervently. ‘No no no no no no no. Definitely not.’

She raised an eyebrow, and said in a deadpan drawl, ‘Why stop?!’

Long story short: I got a new US passport, paid an accountant £1,000 to do a tax ‘amnesty’ with the US government, and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

And then I got married in America five months later, and got to visit the beautiful country for the first time.


I wanted more kids with my new husband, but had experienced having a different surname from my daughter since she was born – and it was (and still is) crappy. She is white, I am brown and everyone thinks I’m her au pair, which is compounded by our different surnames. I even need a letter from her dad to take her out of the country, which boils my piss as this just isn’t the case the other way around.

So, with a very heavy heart, I changed my surname for the fourth time – to my husband’s surname, Nunn. I didn’t like the name but I wanted us both to have the same name as our future kids.

Now, there is a certain irony in me being A Nunn. But now we come to another moment of blessed relief – my marriage only lasted a year (and produced no kids). It was so short that, though I signed the deed poll, I never got around to changing the name on my passport. This name change, therefore, was easily reversible, so normally I only have to tell people and organisations I’ve changed my name three times rather than five times.

But I have written this whole story down because (a) it’s hopefully moderately interesting – after all, what kind of weirdo changes their name five times?! and (b) if I run into trouble in the future, I can refer people to it.

As for you? Please call me Ariane Sherine.


This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Peter Weilgony, Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Sammy and Jelly, Charlie Brooker, Mary and Tim Fowler, Steve Richards, Alan Brookland, Mark Ormandy, Oliver Vass, Keith Bell, John Fleming, Mark Bailey, Rebekah Bennetch, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Aragorn Strider, Lucy Spencer, Dave Nattriss, MusicalComedyGuide.com, Mark White, Dave Cross, Graham Nunn, David Conrad, Rob Turner, Shane Jarvis, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

If you enjoyed this blog, please check out my songs at arianexmusic.com and support me on Patreon from just £1 a month, and you’ll get to read a lot more of my writing.