I have lived with three different names over the period of my life.
My birth name, James McKinney, was associated with a dad I never knew. My second, James Johnson, was a short-lived decision my mum made after dating a man for several years. My current name, James Kosur, was a decision I reached on my own after several years of marriage to my wife.
My wife didn’t want to take my name, which was generic and offered nothing in terms of my family’s heritage. I didn’t want to take her last name because there was and still is a lot of stigma associated with a guy taking his wife’s last name.
Admittedly, my decision to take my wife’s last name was born more out of frustration than anything else.
“James” is listed as the number one first name among males in America over the last 100 years, according to the Social Security Administration. “Johnson” is the second most common last name in America — behind only Smith, based on statistics from the 2010 US Census. That makes James Johnson one of the most common names in the country.
My full name, because of its commonality, was quickly becoming a huge nuisance in my life. I was constantly bombarded with debt collection calls for other people named James Johnson, and on several occasions, I was banned from local bars because the bouncer was told to watch out for someone with my name.
In 2010, I decided to move into a new management role with a telecom provider. The interview went great, I passed my drug test, and then I received a call stating they were going in a different direction after doing a background check. As luck would have it, there was another James Johnson who was born on the same day and in the same year as me, and he was incarcerated in Cook County, Illinois — my former place of residence. The background agency had accidentally pulled his record instead of mine. That mistake cost me an executive-level position.
After our daughter was born, we decided she would take my wife’s last name to avoid many of the issues I had already faced. In my daughter’s early days, the lack of a consistent name didn’t have any real-world implications, so we went about our lives and didn’t think about my different last name.
When my daughter developed a wheezing cough while my wife was at work, I was tasked with bringing her to the ER. After filling out countless forms, I handed in my daughter’s paperwork, which featured our full names. The nurse looked over the forms and then proceeded to ask if I had any more documentation for my daughter.
Admittedly I was a little shocked. My daughter is listed on my health insurance, and I had her insurance card in hand. When I mentioned that no further documentation was needed, the nurse looked me up and down and then shuffled away quite rudely.
Thankfully my daughter was fine, but in that moment, I realised that my different surname was becoming a hassle full of double standards that I no longer wanted to deal with.
Little did I know, the name change process would not be simple because of my gender.
I lived in Illinois at the time of the change. Unfortunately, only nine states — California, New York, Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Oregon, Iowa, Georgia, and North Dakota — have laws that help a man change his name after marriage, according to attorney
Brett Snider at Findlaw.
To perform my name change, I first had to fill out name-change paperwork with a local court. In exchange for my paperwork, I received an official letter of intent, which was then presented to a local newspaper.
A name change for a man in Illinois requires taking out an ad in a local newspaper for three weeks. The simple ad stated my current name and my desired name change.
The newspaper ad was a requirement meant to create a public record of my name change for any interested parties to discover. Many states require a name change to be published in order to catch people who are attempting to avoid debts, commit fraud, or defame others.
Interestingly, my name change was published in a small-town newspaper read by less than 1,000 people. Hardly a public record that most agencies would discover by chance.
After three weeks had passed, I was able to set up a time to appear in front of a judge and make the name change official.
If I was a woman who had been recently married, I would have presented my marriage licence to the court, paid a name-change fee, and moved on with my life.
A close friend tells me she remembers paying around $60 and submitting a simple form alongside her marriage certificate to change her name. Within weeks her name change was official.
I paid $300 for a newspaper ad and spent hours in court and visiting with a newspaper ad sales representative in order to change my name. The change took more than a month to complete.
While the name-change process was a pain and completely biased against men, I am ultimately very happy that I made the transition.
I definitely took a good ribbing from my guy friends who called me “whipped” and made fun of my decision for various other reasons, but outside of those jokes, everyone in my life has been supportive.
No longer do I receive annoying debt collection calls for other people, my background checks are now clean, and after years of last names associated with people I didn’t know or care to remember, I finally found a name that I was proud to call my own.
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