by Kathleen Hale
1.) Practice saying your new name. Say it aloud to friends, family, and police officers. Ask yourself these questions: Can I pronounce it? Can I spell it? Can I remember it?
2.) If you are changing your name as part of getting married, proceed to step 2b.) If not, skip to step 3.
2b.) Go online and print out an application for your marriage license. On the application, there will be a question asking what you want your new name to be, followed by a large blank space. Whatever you write here will be your new name! Congratulations! Mazel tov!
2c.) The application will most likely have some rules attached stating that you can only change your surname during the marriage process, but apparently this is bullshit. If say, you are going from Kathleen Hale to Kathleen Rich, but want to change your middle name from Erin to Hale (sorry Ireland) you should do it here. Otherwise you will find yourself going through the usual name change channels at the courthouse, which, as you can see by the length of this guide, is a total nightmare. Not to mention: once you have gone through weeks of bureaucratic bullshit, and endured a lot of snark from government employees, you will find yourself face to face with a particularly snarky government employee, who will tell you, "haha, you could have just done this when you got your marriage license—yeah it says not to, but they have to honor whenever you put down" and you will understand in that moment why he is talking to you from behind bullet proof glass. If you were stupid enough to take these bullshit rules at face value, proceed to step 3.
3.) Your only option is to Google "how to change your name in [insert your city, state, country here]." There will be application forms available through a government website. Fill one out. Press print.
4.) The printed application will include a list of things to bring with you to the courthouse in order to change your name. Some of these things are hard to find and scary to lose (birth certificate, etc.) Also, the courthouse might not accept copies, depending on where you live, so put everything in a special folder.
4b) Duct tape shut the folder.
4c.) Wrap it in chains.
4d.) Padlock the chains around your waist.
5.) Proceed to the courthouse.
6.) Take a number.
7.) Wait for the rest of your life.
7b.) You are surrounded by women holding screaming babies. Many are frustrated, pleading with the government employees that their husbands left them and they just want to change their name back to the one before. "It's not like I'm The Talented Mr. Ripley or some shit," one of the women yells. The man who is supposed to be helping her is talking loudly to another employee about Lebron James.
7c.) "This place SUCKS," you mutter.
7d.) "It does," says the woman sitting next to you. The look in her eyes says she has been here a thousand years.
8.) Your number is called. You find yourself face-to-face with the Lebron hater. He says you brought all the wrong forms. "But I brought the ones it said to bring on the application," you say. "We get to ask for whatever forms we want," he screams. He is screaming! You want to scream back but you also want to change your name. "Okay," you say quietly. "So what do I do?" (If you want to change your name because you got divorced, and want your old name back, proceed to 8b. Otherwise, skip to 9.)
8b.) One of the things that you need, if you’re changing your name because of a divorce, is a note from your ex-husband granting permission to change your name! This isn't legally necessary, but the judge is allowed to dismiss your petition on these grounds. A lady standing next to me was apparently turned away because she didn't have a permission slip like this, or a form of her ex husband's ID. "But he won't talk to me," she yells. "I can't find him!" The people who might help her keep talking sports. Your heart aches for her.
8c.) CURSE THE PATRIARCHY!
9.) Exit the courthouse. Go to your bank to get a notarized proof of residency and a cashiers check for $65.
9b.) Look at your watch. Five hours of your life are missing.
10.) Return to the courthouse. Return to the man who hates Lebron and apparently everyone else. "You took too long," he says. "We're about to have our government lunch break." He shakes his head, stamping your forms so slowly that you wonder if he is taking quick naps in between. He passes the forms back to you and sends you downstairs to pay, and then upstairs to see the judge. He makes it sound like the judge is the last step. "But you'll never make it," he says.
11.) Pay a man. This is what your cashier check was for. Race to the elevator, cursing how slow it is. You want to go home!
12.) Run from the elevator to the courtroom just as the court officer is locking the door. "THIS IS OUR LUNCH HOUR," she screams, her face a mix of rage and terror, as if you might steal her lunch hour, as if everyone everywhere is always stealing her hours. She keeps screaming and part of you wants to scream back but you also want to change your name. "Okay," you say, putting up your hands. "When should I come back?"
12b.) ONE AND A HALF HOURS???? OUR TAXES COVER A ONE AND A HALF HOUR LUNCH BREAK???? HOW DO YOU EVEN MAKE A SANDWICH LAST THAT LONG—okay stay calm. These people have hard lives. Eat something. You could probably use a lunch break too.
12c.) Try to make this lunch last 1.5 hours. You can't. It's impossible. Reach for the book you forgot to bring.
12d.) Wonder how people with day jobs run these kinds of errands.
13.) Return to the courthouse 30 minutes early and wait for 60 minutes for the court officer to unlock the door. The lunch break can take up to two hours.
13b.) Sit on the wooden bench, stare at the empty judge's seat, wonder if this is where you live now. Reach for your phone. Maybe there's something fun on Twitter—
13c.) "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?" The court officer asks. "NO PHONES IN THE COURTROOM!"
13d.) Put away your phone. Go to a place in your head. Go to your castle on a cloud.
13e.) "STOP SINGING!" The officer shouts.
13f.) You are singing songs from Les Miserables.
14.) The judge approved your petition!!!!!!!! DAMN THE MAN BUT PRAISE THE EMPIRE!!
15.) Shit. You have to go back to that Lebron guy. You find out his name is Torres. "Hi, Mr. Torres," you say when he calls your number. You hope that being polite and respectful and using his human name will change his tone. "How do you know my name?" He snaps. He doesn't recognize you, but he does make a big performance about how creepy you are to his coworkers.
15b.) Torres stops sneering at you long enough to give you the certified name change thing and a list of local newspapers. He tells you that you have to get the name change published.
16.) Walk to the office of the nearest newspaper. Most neighborhoods have ones you've never heard of. Tell them you need to publish your name change. They will know what this means. They will be nicer than Torres but will charge you another forty dollars, and only accept cash or check.
17.) Wait two weeks for the paper to publish the name change. Receive a clipping from them in the mail.
18.) Grit your teeth and return to the courthouse. Torres will need to file this, the fucker.
18a.) Wait for your number to be called.
18b.) Get yelled at by Torres.
18c.) Find out the paper published the name change under the wrong five digit number.
19.) Return to the newspaper. Scoop handfuls of stale hard candy from the secretary's desk while explaining to her in a choked voice that they made a slight mistake. She will apologize so profusely that you will feel bad about how you're probably giving her dead bitch face. But when her back is turned you will steal more candy.
20.) Wait two more weeks for the paper to reprint the name change with the proper number.
21.) Return to Torres. Wait for him to call your number. Wait for him to stop talking about sports for a few minutes after he has called your number. Give him the published name change. "You have to send a copy of the name change to all these places," he says, pointing to a list of like, eight places, including the US prison system. You're pretty sure you can skip that one but you decide against discussing that with Torres, who seems particularly snippy today. "So…just to confirm," you say, "this isn't over?" He gives you a look that says it will never be over. He sends you to the basement for certified copies, 12 dollars each, and tells you that the name change won't be complete until you bring him certified mail receipts, which also cost extra, for each thing you mail out.
22.) Go to the basement. Meet a depressed-looking elderly man who seems to have been working there since the Great Depression. Hand him your official name change thing. Consult your list of places to mail to (the social security administration, the DMV, etc), and ask for six copies.
22b.) This will take the man 45 minutes to accomplish. Try to be patient with him because he is a million years old. Pay him $72 for the special copies.
23.) Mail off the copies. Tell the employee at the post office you need a certified mail receipt. He has you fill something out and says the receipts will arrive in a few weeks.
24b.) Receive the receipts.
24c.) Cry because this means facing Torres.
24d.) Hang your head.
24e.) Lift dat chin.
25.) Return to the courthouse. Wait for your number to be called.
26.) after yelling at a non-English speaker to "learn the language," and imitating "the Chinglish" for his coworkers, Torres waves you over. You hand him the receipts, hoping to get out of here without speaking. "These aren't the right ones," he says, sliding them back to you. "Looks like you messed up. Go back and get me the right ones."
"But I already got confirmation from the social security administration, and the DMV,” you explain, trying to control your mounting rage, “and the passport agency – can't I just show you those since it's all basically done as far as they are concerned?"
26b.) Torres laughs in your face. He needs the right receipts, he says. You will have to send new certified copies to every place you've already sent them, even though those places have already done your paperwork, simply so that the courthouse can have the receipt they like.
27.) Return to the basement man.
27b.) Pay him $72 again.
28.) Go to the post office. Show them a photo on your phone of the receipt you need. Mail the forms. Again.
29.) Wait a day. Regroup. You have been doing this for two months at this point and you need to meditate or eat some fried food or find a drug dealer with Valium before you can face Torres.
30.) Return to the courthouse, out of your mind on French fries and Valium, with some nice lady telling you nice stuff about chakras through your earbuds. Wait for your number to be called.
31.) It's not Torres!!!!!! It's some lady!!!!! PRAISE BE!
32.) Hand her the receipts.
33.) They have lost your file.
34.) "But it's somewhere," she says, waving her mouse around its pad. She is consulting your digital copy. Thank god they have digital copies, you think, you wouldn't have pegged them for people who do that sort of thing.
35.) She is making a face at her computer screen. "Says here that you were all set with your name change once the judge said so," she says. "So I don't know why you thought you had to do the mailings. That's just for certain folks. WHOA!" She's staring at you. "What's wrong with your face? Are you crying?!"
36.) Slink away to the elevators. Jab the buttons. When it finally arrives, it is empty except for one man.
37.) "Torres," you hiss, joining him inside the elevator.
38.) "How did you know my name?" He says.
39.) “We’ve spent a million years together,” you say.
40) “Who are you?” he says.
41) Look at him with defiance. “I was Kathleen Hale. But now I’m Kathleen Fucking Rich. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Kathleen Hale is the author of two novels, No One Else Can Have You and Nothing Bad is Going to Happen (the latter will be published by HarperTeen in 2015). Her essays and reporting have appeared in Vice, Elle, and Hazlitt, among other places.