Reader Q&A: 19-Year-Old Name Changer Worried About Being “Dated”

Imagine my surprise when a reader, Emily, came to me for help changing her name. I was amazingly humbled by this. We emailed back and forth and I got her permission to post this on Upswing Baby Names.

Parts were edited for length. Emily’s quotes are italicized.

Emily writes:

I’m 19-year-old college student intent upon changing my name. The only problem is that I like “vintage” names like Clementine, Harriet, Evangeline, Beatrix and Penelope. I have a longer list, but what I’m primarily worried about is unintentionally choosing a name that will suddenly become very popular, or date me somehow. I strongly dislike most of the names on the SS list for 1992, and don’t want a name that is as near as popular as Emily – so the boring classics like Charlotte, Elizabeth etc are out. Could I possibly get your advice on this?

I see babies as a blank slate – even if they aren’t really – and always felt most babies grow into their names. However, your topic has come up often enough online that I know in a few cases people don’t grow into their names.

But renaming a grown person is not at all like naming a newborn baby. While a newborn baby, for all practical purposes, is like a “blank slate” a grown person has lived with a certain identity their entire life.

Selecting a new name with an identity firmly in place raises some issues. You are right that the names on your list are stylish for babies but might seem out-of-place on a 19-year-old. But what kind of name would work better? You said you were worried you would pick a name that would suddenly become popular. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent a name from becoming popular at any given time. Who knew Isabella would become the number 1 name?

Picking a name that isn’t too different from your given name might ease the transition, and may make the most sense in theory. You could go with Emmy or Emmeline or even Milly sounds very similar. But if you don’t feel Emily fits, perhaps one of those names isn’t right. Ideally you would have a grandmother, great-grandmother or great-aunt with a vintage name you like, giving you a compelling reason besides style to use it.

I’m also going on some assumptions:

  1. You have disliked your name most of your life.
  2. You have your parents’ blessing or you can live without your parents’ blessing.
  3. You have already considered that you will face resistance getting some friends and family to use your new name.

If you haven’t considered the above, I would spend more time thinking about the decision, but you seem resolute from the tone of your email.

While it’s tempting to give you a list of names, I would rather help prepare you for the transition, help you decide how much of a departure you want to make from your given name and help you discover your new name on your own.

As I think about this, I think talking to other people who have changed their name would be very helpful. You can ask if they regret their decision or feel it was the best decision they made. If they regret the decision, what do they regret: abandoning their given name or not choosing a different name?

I will try to do some research and follow-up within the next couple of days.

Emily Replies:

I’m touched by the thoughtfulness of your reply! I have talked it over with my parents, and they accept it, although of course they would rather I keep my name. Their main qualm was paperwork! I’ve looked at names similar to Emily, but no go. I’ve been compiling a list based on style, but will ultimately decide based on the vague “I feel like a ______” (Strangely enough, Fiona is one of the names I can see myself as. That’s how I found your site!) I will take your advice and scout around for stories of people who have changed their names. I know this is a decision that is somewhat like getting a tattoo on one’s face!

I think my main problem, actually, is that there are so many choices. Of course I know what my taste/style is, but there is that lurking feeling of “What if I’m missing one?” I’ve been poking around name lists etc for about a year, so I’ve set myself the “due date” of May 3.

I’ve searched around for a group for name-changers and haven’t found a group exactly, but I have found this article from babyhold.com that quotes people who have changed their names, How to Change Your First Name.

Here are some thoughts on the names you are considering:

Fiona: One of the reasons I named my daughter Fiona is because I feel it is easy to wear, but I do feel the name could get almost as popular as Emily in a few years. In other English-speaking countries, Fiona was very popular in the 1960’s-80’s. It was just slow to come to the US for some reason. It is a great name though. I’m very biased  🙂

Beatrix: Beatrix and its sister Beatrice, I see becoming a little more popular in a few years. Both names have that vintage sound that is stylish on babies now. While both names could become dated because of that, I feel Beatrice is a little less provocative, and therefore might not date as quickly. The X ending may be eye-catching now, but could date Beatrix more later. Both names are established though and if you are a fan of Beatrix Potter or have some other compelling reason to use Beatrix, then you might be able to get away with it.

Clementine: At first I thought this name would be the most difficult to pull off. But then I realized Clementine shares the “em” sound with Emily. The shared sounds might offer you a way to ease yourself into the name. First you can start going by “Em” or “Emmy,” then you could change that to “Clem” or “Clemmy,” and if that sticks, you can legally change your formal name to Clementine. The only drawback I can think of is that “Clem” rhymes with “phlegm.” I’m not sure how much of an issue that is for an adult. I hope my readers can weigh in on that.

There are a few names I see as being equally stylish on babies and people in your age group, usually because the names were almost equally popular in 1992 and 2010 or were ahead of their time back in 1992. I’ll throw them out here with the 1992 and 2010 rankings:

  • Autumn – In 1992 #170 – In 2010 #81
  • Bianca – In 1992 #97 – In 2010 #280
  • Cecilia – In 1992 #275 – In 2010 #277
  • Naomi – In 1992 #251 – In 2010 #92

Of course these ranking don’t mean a thing if these names don’t feel like you. That’s why I was hesitant to give you a list of names. Make of this list what you will.

You might find an easier transition if you start using the name first and if it sticks, then making the legal change.

Emily Replies:

Thank you for your help! None of the names you listed really resonates, although looking at the rankings is a good idea! My list as it stands is; Beatrix, Clementine, Penelope, Camilla, and Harriet. I was considering Cordelia. It fits stylistically but I didn’t like the nicknames/sound so…

Besides vintage, I’m looking for a non-frilly name. I’m not into the super feminine names like Isabella etc, I think Clementine is a good example of what I find feminine but not frilly! I appreciate your help very much thank you!

Readers: Do you have any advice for Emily? I forgot to ask Emily if her self-imposed due date, May 3 was significant. I don’t know if she is transferring to another college or graduating or just decided she needed a deadline. This is certainly a huge decision for her.

I hope I have given her some things to consider, but I am hesitant to endorse any one name. And as I think more about it, I understand why her parents are concerned about the paperwork hassle. I am not sure how her birth certificate will be effected or if she could run into extra challenges should she decide to get a passport in the future, if she doesn’t have one.

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