A regular Source feature, Undercurrents explores issues, ideas and events as they develop beneath the surface in the Virgin Islands community.
If anyone had asked us – and had we been able to talk at the time – some of us might not have chosen the names we carry around all our lives.
Though some people resort to using a nickname, most of us make peace with our monikers sometime between childhood and maturity and, hopefully, eventually take pride of ownership. But a few people go to the trouble of legally changing their names.
It’s not difficult to change a surname because of marriage or divorce, of course. Just provide proof of marital status to the authorities.
But changing a baby’s last name can be a little more difficult. However, “it’s quite common,” according to Terryln Smock, director of Virgin Islands Paternity and Child Support.
A child born to a married woman automatically receives the husband’s last name, (whether or not the husband and wife go by the same surname) and that name goes on the child’s birth certificate. But a child born to an unmarried woman receives her last name and that goes on the birth certificate unless and until paternity is acknowledged/established.
Paternity was established in the case of 934 children born out of wedlock in the Virgin Islands in the last fiscal year, Smock said.
“Once an acknowledgment is done, the last name of the child changes,” she said. And the birth certificate reflects the father’s name.
But there are other reasons for changing a name besides paternity and marital status issues.
Perhaps the best-known case is that of the legendary boxer and icon Muhammad Ali, who began his boxing career as Cassius Clay but changed his name when he converted to Islam and became a political and social activist.
For the prize-winning author, teacher and Source editor “Chip” Livingston, the motivation was twofold.
“I didn’t want to be a junior anymore, so I went from ‘Charles Judson Livingston Jr.’ to ‘Charles Jordan Livingston,’ also taking Jordan as a way to honor my partner who died, Ash Jordan, but not having to change my legal signature, which was/is C.J. Livingston,” he explained.
It’s not uncommon for a person to change his given name to a nickname by which he may be better known. One case in point is former senator Usie Richards, who for many years was referred to in press accounts as “Raymond ‘Usie’ Richards” and eventually made it official.
Another former senator far better known by his nickname than his given name is Clement “Cain” Magras.
“A lot of people believe it’s my real name,” he said.
Magras said he got the name in first grade when he appeared as a shepherd in a school play, carrying a crook, or cane, his uncle had made, with strict instructions to bring it back home. But a teacher asked to borrow it, and he couldn’t refuse.
He never got it back, and he never lived it down.
Later the spelling changed to “cain” and he was able to use it in a political slogan, “Raise Cain.”
But he said he was never tempted to actually change his name to Cain, noting, “It’s not exactly one of the best names out of the Bible.”
Files at Superior Court indicate many people change given names only slightly. “Ayonna” becomes “Ayanna, ” “Tishisro” becomes “Tishiro,” “Thomas” changes to “Tommy.”
One recent petition came from a woman who wanted to switch her middle name with her first name because she felt it better reflected her African heritage. Another woman added a parental surname that she apparently had not used as a child.
William W. Franks, managing attorney and litigation director for Legal Services of the Virgin Islands, said his office gets a lot of requests for assistance with name changes. Often the motivation is consistency.
“We certainly get our share of adults who are completely taken by surprise when they get a birth certificate” and learn their given name is different from what they always believed it to be. Sometimes it’s a matter of spelling, but sometimes it’s a completely different name.
Franks said adult name changes are generally not a priority for Legal Services, but the office can provide guidance.
An official at Superior Court, which handles name changes, told the Source that the process is so complicated that it requires an attorney.
“It’s not that easy,” Franks said. “Sometimes when we explain it to people, they don’t want to do it.” But, he added, “It can be done (by a lay person.) We give them the forms.”
Each U.S. jurisdiction sets up its own process, which generally includes some sort of public notification. A person is not allowed to change his name to avoid creditors or the long arm of the law.
Following is an outline of the Virgin Islands process:
1. Fill out a Petition for Change of Name, sign and notarize, and fill out and sign a Motion for Leave of Court to Publish
2. File both documents with the Court
3. Assuming the Court grants an Order for the motion, you must publish the Notice for Petition for Change of Name with the Order for three consecutive weeks in a Virgin Islands newspaper of general circulation
4. Pick up a Proof of Publication from the newspaper and file that with the Court along with a Motion for Adjudication of the Name Change.
5. Assuming the judge signs the Adjudication of Name Change, take it back to the newspaper and publish it for one week.
6. Pick up the Adjudication from the newspaper and file with the Court an affidavit as proof of the publication of the Adjudication, a Motion for Certificate of Name Change and a Certificate of Name Change for the judge to sign.
7. Once you have the actual Name Change signed by the judge, you have a new name. Now you need to notify any and all authorities to change your name accordingly on all documents, such as your birth certificate, social security card, driver’s license, voter registration, passport, credit cards, etc.
It costs $75 in Superior Court filing fees to change a name – plus the cost of publication and any attorney’s fees, if you decide to use a private attorney.
Then again, maybe you can just live with the name you’ve got.