What It’s Like to Legally Change Your First Name

Stella Guan
5 min readNov 19, 2019

Please don’t congratulate me for getting married

As early as I could remember, I’ve hated my Chinese name. It was a completely masculine name. I felt my female identity was challenged.

Growing up, I constantly dealt with people’s surprised reaction toward my name. So much so I tried to apply for a name change with the local authority when I was 17 years old.

I was denied. The reason they gave me was that 17 is too old for a name change. Later, I found out that was not true at all. I may have encountered a disgruntled civil servant who was trying to wrap up her day without getting more work from a kid.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

When I moved to the U.S., I had a new problem— English speakers butchering my Chinese name badly.

To make things easier, I picked out an English name (Italian to be precise), Stella, from a dictionary. After living in the U.S. for 10 years, I was ready to make it official.

I had been warned of the hassles. However, to celebrate the end of my first decade in the U.S., I was ready to say goodbye to all of the confusions whenever I call customer service.

After filling out numerous forms, sending documents to various government agencies, publishing notices on newspapers, court appearances and hundreds of phone calls to credit card companies, banks, social security office and every other place I have an account with, I have a new name.

It took a total of three months, a couple of hundred bucks, and lots of emotional stress. Worth it? Absolutely. It is not for the faint of heart, but it’s definitely not as scary as I thought.

Until recently, I didn’t realize that legally changing my name was a possibility as a non-U.S. citizen. I was well aware that my home country’s government will never change my name on my passport to an English one because English is not our language. However, I learned that it is possible to add a note on my passport after I legally changed it with the U.S. government and obtain my green card.

Every country has different policies regarding changing names for citizens living abroad, but knowing that my country’s no-change policy wouldn’t affect my ability to assume an English name in the U.S. was…

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