3108612944_709edfa90cUnless it’s absolutely necessary, never change your name.

That’s my newly formulated advice for anyone who finds themselves in the unfortunate position of having a new identity that needs to be registered and verified and passed around to some hundred or so government agencies and billing offices.

It should be easy. Supposedly, the minute I got married and put my signature to the marriage license, I had a new name if I wanted it. Events like marriage, adoption, and divorce entitle a person to make such a self-pronouncement. Judges also have the right to give someone a new moniker. And in all cases, all you need is the official, signed-and-sealed version of the document to prove it.

In other words, the 10 copies of the marriage license that I procured just a few days after our wedding were supposedly enough to tell the world that Charity Michele Singleton no longer existed, and in her place, Charity Singleton Craig was now running the show.

But apparently, not everyone got the memo, so some people will only accept a name change if it is registered with the Social Security Administration, others want to see a government-issued photo ID before they’ll buy it, and others, like the IRS, want you to complete a special form.

And here’s the most important part: you have to do it all in the right order, except no one really knows what the order is.

Recently, as I was found to have cancer in a lymph node a few weeks before my marriage and name change, but was not scheduled to be treated until after my marriage and name change, the hospital, doctors, and insurance all have been juggling a complex treatment plan for not one, but two different Charity’s.

“I see this is your first time at St. Vincent Hospital,” one innocent worker announced when she called to preregister me for my surgery.

“No, unfortunately I been there tons of times,” I told her. “You must have my wrong name.”

The confusion persisted through additional phone calls, screening visits, and paperwork filing. One by-the-book clerk insisted I had to use my maiden name until I had my social security card updated. I was happy to go along with it, if necessary, until I realized that my insurance was in my married name. If they filed claims under the wrong name, they would likely be denied.

“Ok, well, I’m going to just hyphenate your name, then,” she told me.

“That’s fine, I guess, but that’s not my name,” I said. “At least my maiden name used to be my name; hyphenated is never going to be correct.”

When I arrived at the hospital on the day of the surgery, my name was back to my married name, just like I wanted it to be all along, just like it is at the insurance company. And not once during my entire hospital stay did anyone ever refer to me by my maiden name. But even with that good experience, I still expected the worse when I arrived for another doctor’s appointment at the same hospital about a week later.

“I’m here for an appointment,” I told the clerk. “My name is Charity Craig, but it might be under Charity Singleton. I just recently got married.”

She looked around at the medical charts, then pulled out a slender one.

“Well, here’s ‘Charity Craig.’ Is that the correct name?” she asked. I had obviously confused her with my preemptive explanation.

“Yes, ‘Charity Craig’ is my correct name, but that can’t be the right chart,” I told her. “I’ve been coming here for years, and my chart is normally very thick.”

As she held it up to evaluate the situation, I saw a dark “Part  2” written in black permanent marker. I started laughing.

“No, that is it. Look, it says “Part 2”!” I said. She started laughing, too.

And I couldn’t stoplaughing at the sheer delight of all. Part 2. I have a Part 2!

Maybe the name change hasn’t gone as smoothly as I would like. Filling out forms and showing identification can get frustrating after the first 10 or 20 times. And who wouldn’t be confused by some unwritten order in which certain offices must be notified before others in order to make it official.

But oh, that we would all be so blessed to have a Part 2.

Photo by fotologic, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.