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The Name Changer

Birth CertificateNot many people know that parents actually have a whole calendar year after birth to name their child. I’m not saying wait until day “364” and then print up your birth announcement cards, but what I am saying is: “DON’T SIGN THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE until you are in total agreement with your partner, your spouse and your soul”. Because once it’s on the birth certificate, it is set in stone and if you want to change it, you must go through the courts.

I should know. I went through it. There was more drama and contention in naming my second daughter than in a whole season arc of “The Good Wife”. I had thrown at least 200 viable names at my litigator hubby and he had an argument for all of them. “Sadie”, “Goldie” and “Billie” were too ” turn of the century”.  He dismissed “Noa”, one of my most fervent picks as being “too old testament”. The name “Fiona” made my heart sing, but made my husband think of Shrek’s true ogre love. We went through all of Shakespeare’s canon, checked out the hot-names-of-the-moment and even dusted off our high school yearbooks. But as they say in Vegas: “No dice”.

Three days before I was to go in for my C, we were watching CNN and a beautiful talking head named Torrie was pontificating about the issue du jour. Her name flashed on the screen. Hubby and I turned to each other. Now that was a name we hadn’t considered. We dug the cool spelling. And hey, Tori means “bird” in Japanese! After five months of living in Camp David Hell, the STAGNATE was over. Torrie was to be our second daughter’s name, hours before the shot clock expired.

Oh, but wait, what about the middle name? I woke up in recovery to hear my mother sobbing on the phone. Mom was seriously emotional. For a split second, I thought she was the one who had just had the baby. “What kind of middle name is MADELEINE!?!?” she demanded.

In all fairness, I completely understood her breakdown. We had promised to honor her mother (my Oma) with our daughter’s middle name. My husband had convinced me that just using the first initial “M” was honor enough. And being minutes away from birth, I didn’t have the Leila Ali  left in me. Besides, Torrie Madeleine flowed quite nicely. With so little time, we had neglected to mention the name change to my parents and our dismissal of my grandmother’s name was seen as a total betrayal. My husband, meanwhile, wanted my mom to butt out. After numerous yelling matches, breakdowns and threats from all parties concerned, my daughter’s name was changed TWICE in the hospital. And that was before signing the birth certificate. We were acting in our very own reality show: “PSYCHO MOMMIES OF BEVERLY HILLS”. Instead of wheeling us to our car, I’m sure the staff wanted to wheel us to the nearest mental facility.

To cap it off, six months later, my husband and I turned to each other after a night out and confessed our mutual dislike of our daughter’s name. After auditing the name “Torrie”, it took six months and a bottle of Cakebread to admit defeat.

After numerous Skypes with the grandparents, it was decided that if we were going to go through a legal name change, we should pick a name with significance, a name to which we actually have a visceral connection. I know, what a concept, right?

So we hired a lawyer. To change a name legally, you need to petition the court for your desired name change and then get a court order approving the name change. You also must give public notice of the name change, such as have it printed up in the local newspaper. And then you need a final decree from the court authorizing the name change. Many states, including California, have the whole process written online with downloadable forms you can fill out. My advice: GET AN ATTORNEY. You don’t want to deal with this meshugas.

My attorney and I went down to LA Superior Court, which was a madhouse as the McCourt divorce trial was going on in the next courtroom. After wading through dozens of paparazzi, I sat down in the courtroom pew, along with about a half dozen parolees. It seems the only people who go through a legal name change are crazy, indecisive parents like us, Metta World Peace, Snookie and convicted felons who want a fresh start. My attorney expedited the process and got me the heck out of there.

What is the collateral damage, you ask? A beautiful, ornate piggy-bank with “Torrie” written on the pink torso, which I can’t bring myself to throw out and a little teasing from her big sister when she’s in a particularly saucy mood.

The only real incident occurred last month, as we boarded a ship to Alaska. We had yet to formally change our daughter’s passport. Changing a name on a passport is so complicated, just maneuvering through all the paperwork requires a graduate degree in structural engineering. The ticket agents kept referring to my 4 year old as “Torrie”. “Torrie, sweetie, look into this camera, so we can take your picture.” We whispered to our little pistol that she shouldn’t worry, this was just a temporary hiccup. My headstrong daughter would have none of it. “My name is NOT Torrie!”, she yelled at anyone within earshot. We were totally stressed, certain we’d be denied access to the boat. Walking up the ramp to the boat, my daughter continued her rant “I am not TORRIE!”  I started laughing and seriously couldn’t stop. Tears were pouring down my face. I collapsed to the ground, hunched over like a fetus, laughing so hard, I was gasping for air. People behind me thought I was having a seizure.

So, whether you name your child while it’s in utero, in the hospital or back home, do like Jackson Pollock and have an abundant palate, play around in the mess and then, ultimately, make it stick.

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