After losing 250 pounds, AJ Rice decided he was no longer AJ Rice.
He didn’t look like AJ Rice. He didn’t wear the same clothes as AJ Rice. And, frankly, he didn’t like AJ Rice.
So, last December he went to the courthouse and filed a petition to change his name to Sean Kurtis DeMarco. And, after a court hearing a few weeks later, AJ Rice vanished into the past.
“I feel like I have two lives in a way,” said DeMarco, 21, of Grover Beach. “That was my old life, and this is my new life. I always refer to it as The Old Me and The New Me.”
While name changes are common for adopted children and women who marry or divorce, for many others, a new moniker symbolizes a new beginning. In those cases, the name change declares, “I am a new person,” said Linda Lewis Griffith, a marriage and family therapist in San Luis Obispo, who also writes a column for The Tribune.
“It’s a pretty profound statement that you’re making,” Griffith said. “It’s a way of claiming power over a situation you maybe felt powerless about.”
How to start
Technically, changing your name is easy — just start calling yourself something else and insist others call you by your chosen name.
While this is considered a legal change, according to the legal website FindLaw, in an era rife with identity theft, credit card fraud and fear of terrorist spies, many financial institutions and government agencies — including the DMV and the IRS — require legal documents to prove your identity.
In California, this process begins with a court petition, which requires a $435 filing fee. The petition is basic and shouldn’t require a lawyer, said Kara Schacher, a Paso Robles attorney.
From there, Schacher said, you must publish your intent to change your name in a newspaper “of general circulation” once a week for four weeks to give the public a chance to object.
“If there haven’t been any objections filed, then the court really just rubber stamps it,” she said.
In 2014, an Ohio woman named Sheila Crabtree made national headlines when she legally changed her first name to “Sexy.” In 2008, Steve Kreuscher of Zion, Ill., changed his name to “In God We Trust.” And in 1997, a jolly fat man named Robert Rion in Mundelein, Ill., changed his name to “Santa Claus.”
Most local name changes won’t draw much attention, though a 23-year-old man had petitioned the San Luis Obispo Superior Court last May to change his surname to Warbenjagermanjensen — nearly four times as long as his given name.
Some ground rules
According to FindLaw, courts won’t allow names that are offensive, obscene or racist, and they won’t allow confusing names, such as monikers with numerals or punctuation. (When recording artist Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol in 1993, the government still knew him as Prince Rogers Nelson.) But otherwise, you can be whoever you want to be — as long as you aren’t trying to skirt your debts, mislead others into thinking you’re Harrison Ford or hoping to get away with a crime.
Change-of-name petitions require people wishing to change their names to state the reason why. A recent review of petitions in San Luis Obispo County shows a range of motivations.
Multiple residents requested to change their names as part of their gender transformation; a few said they no longer wanted to share the last name with their childhood abusers; and others simply said their name “does not fit me.” One woman changed her first, last and middle name after 65 years, writing, “(I) created my own name that I will like and has meaning to me.”
A 49-year-old woman who changed her name to Chillas Chillas wrote, “This is the name I was conceived with.” A 33-year-old man who changed his last name said he was “reborn into Christ.” A 59-year-old who changed her first name wrote, “I was named after my grandmother, whom I hated.”
Several petitioners contacted by The Tribune did not respond to requests to talk about their name change.
Taylor McNamee was raised by his mother and stepfather. As a result, he and his parents had different surnames.
“I had a name that didn’t belong to me,” he said.
Just before his wedding this spring, he decided he would change his name so neither he nor his wife would have to go by McNamee.
“We started a new family tree with the two of us,” said the newly named Taylor Mac, 27, of Atascadero.
A meaningful change
DeMarco doesn’t have a relationship with the father he was named after. But the main reason he changed his name was his dramatic weight loss transformation.
Raised mostly by his grandparents until they died during his teens, DeMarco once weighed 422 pounds.
“I was heavy throughout my whole life,” he said. “And then, when my grandmother passed away, I literally gained 100 pounds in just one year, just eating to fill a void.”
His low self-esteem made him suicidal. And after high school graduation, a doctor told DeMarco he had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and sleep apnea. If he didn’t lose weight, the doctor told him, he might not live to 19.
DeMarco had gastric bypass surgery at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara in 2013. A year later, he was down to 172 pounds.
Suddenly slim, DeMarco began to take fashion modeling jobs. Given his metamorphosis, a friend suggested he change his name.
Griffith, the therapist, applauded DeMarco’s new identity. But, generally speaking, a name change is not a decision that should be taken lightly, Griffith said. If there are deeper reasons for a name change, she said, psychological issues might have to be dealt with through counseling.
“If somebody came to me and said, ‘I want to change my name,’ I would say, ‘Let’s do the work first and become that person at the end of the work,’ ” she said.
Likewise, she said people should take time when considering a proposed moniker. If a new name reflects a desired change, the name itself should have meaning to the person.
“I would sit with that name and say, ‘Does this name sound good to me?’ ”
Because his name was McNamee, Mac’s friends often shortened his name to Taylor Mac.
“Since people already called me that, it didn’t make sense to pull a name out of a hat,” he said.
Now he has a new name that already fits him, Mac said.
Because DeMarco was modeling, he decided he wanted a name that fit that lifestyle.
He was born Kenneth Aaron Rice Jr., but always went by AJ.
“AJ Rice doesn’t sound as sophisticated as Sean DeMarco,” he said. “I always liked the name Sean, and I always liked the name Kurtis. And I wanted an Italian-sounding last name.”
Once he was sure his friends would call him by his new name — he initially tried Sean-Kurtis DeMarco, but everyone called him Sean — he decided to make it official.
Changing a name requires more than just a court case, though. A name change requires a visit to the DMV, calls to credit bureaus and changes to bills, Social Security cards, passports and other documents.
In all, Mac said, it cost him about $1,000.
Both he and DeMarco said the process was an expensive hassle. But DeMarco is so distanced from his old self, he gets anxiety whenever he gets a piece of mail addressed to AJ Rice.
Symbolically, the cover of his autobiographical book “Finding Me” features the name AJ Rice crossed out, with Sean Kurtis DeMarco underneath.
If he never saw AJ Rice again, DeMarco said, he would be happy.
“I don’t even like seeing my old name anymore,” he said. “I hate that name.”
How to legally change your name in SLO County
If you’re not happy with your name, you can always change it — though it will take time and money.
If you change your name after marriage, the marriage license should suffice to prove your name change. But if you change your name because you don’t want the old one, a trip to the courthouse is required.
There you will request a petition to change your name. (Those going through gender transformation will need a different petition for change of name and gender.) This is available at the San Luis Obispo County courthouse or online at slocourts.net. You’ll also need to include an order to show cause for name change, explaining why you want to change your name; a decree changing name; and a civil case cover sheet.
Make two copies of all of your forms, then file them with the court clerk. The fee is $435, though in some cases the fee can be waived. Anyone wishing to change their name has to pay to publish their current and proposed name in a local paper once a week for four weeks.
A court date will be set. If no one objects to the change of name, the name will likely be approved if it isn’t considered offensive, obscene or misleading, and if your reason for changing it is appropriate. Finally, you’ll need a decree changing your name from the court and a certified copy of the order.
Even then, your work isn’t complete. You’ll need to change your name on all personal documents, such as wills, deeds, titles, trusts, accounts and powers of attorney. In addition to family members, you’ll need to notify various entities about your name, including employers, schools, the post office, Department of Motor Vehicles, the Social Security Administration, banks, creditors, telephone and utility companies, insurance agents, the Veterans Administration and your state taxing authority.
Financial institutions and creditors are reluctant to change name information because of a fear of identity theft or fraud. But remind them you have a right to do so and offer them a copy of the court order.
Sources: San Luis Obispo Superior Court, FindLaw.com