Wednesday, 15 October 2014
Nearly 46 years ago, my parents went into a government office and registered the name they were giving me. That name stayed with me until I got married some 17 years ago and added a hypen to include Matt’s family name to my own. But then last year on a hot and sticky day, as I sat in the office of a career beauracrat in Singapore, I was advised the government there only recognized my maiden name as I had not changed my name by deed poll. Still I managed to convince him to include my married name on my passport - if only in brackets. Thinking I was done with all this naming nonsense, I was in for a rude shock when I applied for my US visa — they only accepted my maiden name and saw my married name as an ‘alias’.
Wait! What? An ‘alias’? All of a sudden, I found myself suffering a severe case of schizophrenia, swinging from being outraged to feeling like a fraud. The past 17 years were very much tied to my married persona — my married name was everywhere from my children’s birth certificates, all my legal papers to my university degree and professional papers? Did that mean I had unknowingly committed identify fraud and would therefore be thrown behind bars? Theatrics aside, with everything else going on with the move, I didn’t have time to deal with it and thought, “How bad can it be?” Ha! Famous last words!
When I landed in the US and set about getting my papers together, the enormity of the problem hit me like a brick. At the Social Security office, although my married name was recorded, it appeared that the nameless person who processed my US visa back in Singapore had swapped my first name (Michelle) and my chinese name (Mei Sar)! As such, that was the way my name now appeared on my Social Security card. Ever the optimist (or perhaps from sheer laziness), I thought to myself: “Well, at least the spelling is correct! How bad can it be?” Ha again!
A few weeks later, I turned up at the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) to run through the whole gamut of applying for my driver’s license here. Whilst sitting with the masses and waiting for my card to be issued, I heard a lady call out: “Lee Mei. Lee Mei.” I didn’t see anyone get up. And then: “Mei Lee, is there a Mei Lee here?” I remember thinking to myself, “Come on Lee Mei or Mei Lee! Surely you can hear your name..” And then, it dawned upon me: hang on, I think they may have butchered my name even more! Low and behold, I scurried to the window. Unfortunately, I was right. So, while I started out as “Michelle Lee-Farlow Mei Sar” 17 years ago, thanks to the bungling of several government offices, I was now “Mei Sar Lee-Farlow Michelle”. Excellent. This was now serious. To cut an already long story short, I reached out to the US embassy in Singapore and after numerous emails back and forth that dragged out over several weeks, it became very clear they were never going to admit they made a mistake. They did offer me a solution though: I could change my name through the courts.
My email response to their suggestion was as follows:
Hang on. What? You want me to change my name FROM the name you butchered TO my actual name? There MUST be something lost in translation here. Please can I have your supervisor’s contact so I can speak with someone to help me sort this out.
That was about three weeks ago. No. I still have not received a response. Meanwhile, I lost sleep over it as I raged at the stupidity and demented idea of having to change my name to my name. Surely someone was playing a prank on me but I was just not getting the joke. Endless 2am wakings followed with me lying in bed fuming at the idiocy of the whole situation until one morning, after hearing me rant about people butchering my name, Matt said to me as he gave me a big hug; “Oh honey, it doesn’t matter what everyone calls you.. You will always be sexy bum to me!” (note: no laughing allowed but yes, that is one of his terms of endearment for me. Go figure.) In that moment, I realized there was no use in fighting this. There was simply no way around it. I just had to get with the program and do as the powers-that-be instructed - no matter how bonkers the idea appeared to me.
And so, it is another lesson learned. Sometimes, things just are. And you just need to take a big breath and go with it. At least I am sleeping much better now.
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