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.
[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 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.’
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.
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