I never learned to drive. Ever. I had two disastrous lessons when I was fifteen that ended with me blithely sailing through every stoplight in San Francisco as if I were driving the "Bullit" chase scene and decided that driving was not for me. I also thought that, should I be able to live my whole life without once owning a car, (nearly there) that would be one of my little green acts. This left me in a slight identification quandary for, as every American knows, a driver's license is absolutely necessary since it serves as the equivalent of an identity card.
California very kindly offers exactly that -- a California state identity card -- to those who do not drive yet need to cash a cheque. Acquiring this was my next goal in establishing my new identity. After the new Social Security card arrived, my little brother very kindly agreed to drive me to Truckee, where the nearest Department of Motor Vehicles office was located. It was small by some standards, with two windows for service. These were pre-terrorism days, so the windows were really just counter positions and the whole office was open to view.
A charming dark-haired young man took my application form, which I had duly completed as Anne Morddel. My brother stood in the background, smirking, sure that this would never work.
"Got any other ID?" The young man asked as I showed him my smart new Social Security card.
"Well, no," I said. "That's why I need this one." I waited, exercising for the first time an important rule that all should follow when dealing with bureaucrats:
Never, EVER, volunteer anything, no matter how long the silence lasts. Wait until they ask for something specific and then give them just that and nothing more until they ask for that specifically too.
"That your brother?" he nodded in his direction. (We look alike.)
"Yes." I was cautious. My brother was at the age when he would happily have ruined all my plans for a joke.
"Has he got any ID? Can he swear to your identity?"
"No way!" said my brother, true to form. "You're not dragging me into this." The young man looked at me.
"You gotta have some other ID. What about your birth registration?" I sighed, fearing defeat, and pulled out the copy of my California registration of birth.
"You see, I changed my name," I said as I handed it to him.
"Oh, is that all?" he sounded bored. He handed me back the birth registration and the Social Security card. "No problem." My brother and I stared at him, astonished.
"Fill out this form," he said, "and sign it with your new name. It says you swear that you are not taking the new name to commit a crime."
"And you would believe me?"
"Don't have to. It's your problem if you perjure yourself."
"Lady, this is California. You can say anything you want on your ID, so long as the state has the truth on the computer. Can't lie about being 21, of course, but anything else goes. You really think all those women in Hollywood are blond, 29 years old and weigh 110 pounds?" He typed; he pounded some of those heavy stamps that always make me think of Dostoyevsky's "Notes From Underground" and handed Anne Morddel her identity card.
With that, I could change the name on my bank account, which I duly did. The whole name change process took two or three months. Never once did I bother to try to lie or tell a story. Never once was it even remotely necessary. I simply told the various officials that I was changing my name, signed some forms to say I was not doing it for criminal purposes, and it was, as the young man said, "no problem".
The fellow in the DMV told the truth, though in as few words as possible. In California, it is legally permitted to change one's name at will. The "usage method", as it is called, means simply that if one uses the new name enough, it becomes the legal name. The wikipedia article on the subject states that:
Specifically in California, Code of Civil Procedure § 1279.5 and Family Code § 2082 regulate common law and court decreed name changes. Code of Civil Procedure § 1279.5 (a) reads, “Except as provided in subdivision (b), (c), (d), or (e), nothing in this title shall be construed to abrogate the common law right of any person to change his or her name.”
I knew none of this in advance, but was certainly grateful for how it made everything so easy.
At this point, I can hear genealogists moaning. How to trace a person in a state with a law like that? How to trace any ancestor when changing a name is so easy? And the researcher side of me is in complete sympathy, (though I must say that it increases the fun of the sleuthing to have little spanners like this thrown in.) So many people are despairing over ever finding ancestors of the one in their line who went to the New World and became a new person. The other side of me says hallelujah. I cheer that mine is one of the countries that offer people a second chance, that allow a person the opportunity to cut off a past fraught with mistakes or heartbreak or heaven knows what and begin again.
Not long afterward, I was accepted to university and moved to Berkeley. I never again used the name I received at birth.
©2010 Anne Morddel