Although natural discovery would require somehow coming across a printed copy of a publication distributed only to its subscribers, knowing that it’s formally in print—and will continue to be over the next four weeks—makes it feel appropriate to finally disclose in writing the details of the “legal matter” I initiated earlier this month: a legal name change. As far as the what and why behind it, the easiest path is to go name by name.
Throughout the entirety of my lifetime, the clerical error made by whoever filled out my birth certificate once upon a 1986 by defaulting to “Jimmy” instead of my father’s “-ie” spelling. Aside from technically making me not truly being a “Jr.”, that small misspelling has proven to be a fairly inconvenience when having to verify my identity within certain systems since I became a legal adult: government, medical, and banking. However, the $500+ it typically takes to pay for the court fees and the required newspaper publication of the court order were a high hurdle for someone trying to get a work history going right before the great recession of 2008. Seeing it as a very costly spelling correction, I figured it would be something that I’d get around to later on in life.
As I moved through early adulthood, the notion of having a nickname variant as a formal legal name began to irritate me. Every so often, I’d get asked if “Jimmy” was my “actual” name, to which I’d begrudgingly answer in the affirmative. Even once I did get that spelling error fixed, I’d still have a diminutive form a name as my own proper one. When 2012 rolled around and my relationships with my family started dying off, getting rid of this name became a decided part of my exhaustive parental separation.
Still, I avoided getting it done. Partly due to the costs involved, but more so on account of my own psychology. At first, the hesitation of making such a definitive move and forfeiting what I’ve known all my life—would I even be able to get used to being called a different name? Would I end up regretting it a few days after hearing myself addressed by a new name? And the more I slid down that depression spiral all that time ago, the more it became undesirable to have my name changed. I felt perpetually mediocre and insignificant, a letdown to myself worthy of bearing the name “Jimmie Jr.”. To get the name changed would have to be preceded by getting myself changed, something that only felt more impossible as the cycles of progress and relapse reinforced themselves over the years.
But as I’ve entered and moved through my 30’s, I’ve found those long-sought senses of calm clarity and collected confidence. Most notably throughout the COVID pandemic, finding myself largely unaffected by the sudden halt of all social life, and have been making my biggest improvements to the point where I very much do feel like a wholly different person from the self-perception I’ve long known. And because COVID’s impact, I had the perfect conditional alignments to initiate the process without having to pay the court fees or make the courtroom appearance typically involved to finalize it. At 35 and feeling like a now-or-never deal, I’ve gotten it done.
My discontent with my middle name is as intense and long-running as the one with my first name. Being the big nerd I’ve always been, my younger self investigated my middle name as soon as the knowledge of the internet opened itself to the world. It was then that I learned “Khan” isn’t even Chinese at all, it’s of Mongolian origin. I was a Chinese-Mexican American with a diminutive nickname for a first name and a Mongolian middle name. Never mind the fact that most popular _Khan_s in history were invaders that murdered and subjugated Chinese people.
That contradiction was my internal conflict with the name; the external one was all the fucking casual Asian racism in the world. Very few people who know me know what my middle name is, as I avoid disclosing it to the point of refusing the question when asked upfront. The only time I’ve ever told it to someone without having it jeered and laughed at is to another Asian, and only if they have at least one non-American name themselves. Otherwise, letting it be known has, without fail, been an open invitation for mockery. All over a name that doesn’t even ethnically fit me.
It remains untouched, but not without consideration. “Lew” lends itself to being pronounced as “Lou” by English tongues, when the actual name is better captured by the primary “Líu” transliteration.
But when I reflect on my paternal history, I skip my father and am immediately drawn to thoughts of my grandfather. Even though we didn’t have a close bond or much of a relationship, I always had an immense quiet admiration for him. He was this quietly graceful and masculine mystery to me, one that evokes that Asian desire to honor ancestral roots to rule out my maternal “Rodriguez” alternative. “Lew” is as it reads on his grave, and so would I have it read on my own.
This suffix neatly resolves itself with the change of any one of my names, I went with two.
With my first name, making the change from diminutive from to proper variant was always my go-to. James is a name I’ve always liked and coveted for myself even before learning it’s what “Jimmy” is a substitute for.
As for my middle name, I remained inclined to keep the “K” initial. Since it isn’t a naturally occurring letter in Spanish, it ruled out putting a Latino name in the mix to reflect my mixed ethnicity. But since my name and the shape of my eyes are the few connections I have to my Chinese side, I decided to get the “Khan” swapped out for an actual Chinese name—hopefully one that could also double as a given Chinese first name. I deferred this to one of my closest friends, such that we regard and address each other as family. I gave her my dad’s given Chinese name of 辉子刘 as a starting point, and after some conversation over desired meaning, Mandarin/Cantonese variations, and desired name count (settling on one instead of two), she circled Liu Kai Cheng ultimately concluded with 开刘: Liu Kai.
So it was determined that I’d file my court papers, leaving behind “Jimmy Khan Lew Jr.” and moving on as “James Kai Lew”. No suffix.