Q. My teen-age daughter has recently changed the way she spells her name - from Mary to Merry. I'm very upset about this as she was named for her grandmother. About two years ago she wanted to be called "M. J." (short for Mary Jane) and I talked her out of that. We have had several arguments about the recent change and she won't listen to reason. My husband thinks we should let her do as she wants. I wonder why changing names is so important to her. What do you think?
A. Our identities are linked to our names. In fact, we each have a distinct and separate name in order to identify us as individuals. In addition we often are given or we adopt nicknames which are less formal than a full name. Nicknames are used by family and friends and carry an even more intimate and personal meaning for us.
Children are often teased about their names. This cannot be totally avoided but careful thought as we pick a baby's name can minimize this. Children who carry an unusual name or one that can easily be ridiculed are apt to suffer teasing. When we choose our child's name we have a responsibility to choose carefully. We need to choose names that show we are contented with our child's sex and names that fit well with our last name.
Children often change their nicknames as they move toward adolescence. Boys with names that have a "Y" ending often change this. For example, Johnny becomes John and Teddy becomes Ted. In a similar way, girls experiment with new nicknames.
Beth or Liz. Margaret may become Peggy or Marge. Elizabeth
Some children will change their names as a way of forgetting an unhappy past. Carrying the name of a father not seen for many years, can be a burden. Changing one's name is one way of coping with this.
Children often yearn to change their last names to match their mother's remarried name. This has to do with wanting to belong, wanting to be accepted. Sometimes this wish can be fulfilled by the step-father adopting the child. This should not happen when there are active ties to the natural father.
Girls often change their names in adolescence. A change in spelling such as you describe from Mary to Merry, is usually a desire to make one's name seem more interesting and, at the same time, to change one's self image a little. These girls may be struggling with dissatisfaction about themselves.
Adolescence is a time of great change. A name change is a safe way for an adolescent to experiment with being different, with changing his or her personality and with breaking the parental tie. A name change may only last for a brief period. Left alone, the adolescent may emerge into adulthood and make the decision to return to their former name or former spelling of their name.
Parents do have the right to name their baby. But as the child grows up and becomes able to choose for himself, I believe its best to allow him or her to make a name change. I hear your pain about this but often its best with teenagers to loosen control and “give in” on minor, harmless issues. I hope these ideas will help all parents realize how important names are to children. We need to respect our children's wishes about their chosen name or nickname.
“Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.” Psalm 103:13