The Great Name Change of 2016: Hey, I Have Legal ID Now!

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I didn’t actually realise the UK passport has just been redesigned. My new one just turned up and, oh, it’s gorgeous.

I applied for it thirteen days ago with no expedited processing or anything. I just filled in the forms online, paid and then took it to the Post Office and sent the packet recorded. The passport office rang me on Monday to check about the Braille sticker on the back (I am blind; I promise). The nice courier has just turned up bearing not just my new passport but my old one and my official enrolled deed poll (which is now as important to me as my birth certificate).

Seeing my names on credit cards (all of which now bear my new name) is one thing but a passport is totally different. It’s also my only legal form of photo ID. I have other things with my photo on it, a cinema card, my Guide Dog ID, my bus pass, but this allows me to travel. This allows me to prove I am who I say I am (which when you can’t drive is really, really hard).

Oh the bus pass, that’s been a fun one. You see Norfolk County Council, who issue my pass, has a computer glitch. They know it’s there but haven’t fixed it and this year there had to reissue a few thousand passes because of a problem with the card not talking to the bus pass machine on most buses in Norfolk. As a blind person, I have no only a disabled pass, I also have a companion bolt on which allows someone to travel with me for free.

For those of you who’ve never seen one, this is a disabled bus pass (just replace the county council logo):

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This pass means I can travel on any bus in the country for free. Within the county it means I can take someone with me. Which is awesome when you consider I commute to Norwich maybe four to five times a week (which would cost me £5.30 return, £21.00 a week and a whopping £790.00 a year … Fuck me, I genuinely didn’t know that). Oh and that’s one just route. I sometimes take four or even six buses a day depending on where in the city I need to be, each different routes and sometimes companies (of which there are two main ones operating in Norwich, Konnect and First).

FYI: Blind people get passes because we can’t drive, we have no option other than to walk or get a bus so the government funds our travel. I’m probably in the top 1% of visually impaired wanderers, I’m not the norm by far.

To give you an example of how I routinely travel: The other day, for example, I took the 8 into Norwich, got off and switched to the 11 as I’m lazy and it drops me right near Starbucks, then I later got a 12 and then a 25, finished with another 8 to get home again. Tomorrow, I will take an 8, then an 11, then another 11 to get to an appointment across the city. Oh and then the 8 in order to get home, assuming I don’t just decide to go to Morrisons up on Riverside on the 25/26 and get the 8 from there.

I am very good at making use of my bus pass, it’s the one thing, aside from my phone and my keys I never leave home without.

So back to this glitch. It basically meant that even when you tick the box on the online form which says ‘must have a companion bolt on added to the card’, NCC were issuing them without. I then have to ring them up, explain, hope they don’t hotlist my existing pass in the mean time. The guy I spoke to on Wednesday, when my new pass arrived and didn’t work, said I must have had close to five passes issued in the two years, at least three of those were down to the glitch.

Sigh.

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To be fair, the Concessionary Travel people know about this glitch and they reissued my passes (even the one with my new name on it) without charging me for it. I know it costs between £5-10 to do so and the fellow I was quite honest when we discussed the ‘Is your pass valid?” campaign from earlier  last year.

But I have my new pass and it does actually work so I can now travel freely with a companion other than the hound.

I think, touch wood, aside from the vet and the dentist, I’ve now told everyone of importance. The vet, despite it being about the hound/cats, still need to see my deed poll and when I went in, unexpectedly, I didn’t have it on me. Good job I’m a regular then.

The point is the validity of not being Former Me. It’s all done and officially official. There’s been little, if no, disturbance to anything (though all my direct debits go out tomorrow so I might be a little premature on that note). Changing my name has been an incredibly worthwhile experience, both for my psychological healing and also my sense of self. I’m who I want to be, not what others have made me.

That said, there’s no way in hell I’m doing it again.

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The Great Name Change of 2016: So Many Phone Calls

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I got the official paperwork this morning, stamped and sealed, making what was legal properly official. A few weeks and I’ll have the notice from the London Gazette as well. Right now, however, it’s ‘let’s ring all the peoples’ time as I update my details.

Yesterday I started in earnest, going to my local council (finding it was bad enough), they took copies and changed my name on the electoral roll. They’re also going to reissue my council tax bill so I’ll have something with my new name and address on it. In a paperless world, this is something of a challenge but, for example, to change my bus pass to my new name I need to prove said name and residence. Fun.

I took the dog to Wetherspoons for breakfast and spent most of it on the phone to the DWP’s ESA and PIP departments. For them I need to take the deed poll to my local Job Centre and get them to fax it through (otherwise they wanted me to send the actual deed poll and I’m inclined to hold on to it for as long as possible, I need to send it with my passport application). This means having to deal with someone who will be like ‘do you have an appointment’. Oh and our Job Centre just moved to a stupidly far out of town location, up near Tescos which is served, vaguely, by a single bus per hour.

They are also very unfriendly, though the dog helps a bit.

The weirdest thing for me has been how easy it’s been to change some accounts, like my bank and one of my credit cards, and how hard others have made it. My main card company accepted it without even needing proof. My ‘spare’ card, for example, is one I seldom use but the company want a copy of the deed poll posting to them. Similarly, MedicAlert were fine with my notifying them and just emailing a copy over. My GP was similarly easy, just a matter of copying the document and updating a few bits in their computer system. Ditto guide dogs, who congratulared me and just changed the details. I should get my new ID in a couple of weeks.

I did my passport application online (short version: fuck, can they make forms any harder to understand?) The online version is, however, much easier when you’re visually impaired and can’t see TINY LITTLE BOXES or have a working black biro. I’m just hoping I didn’t mess up the form (last time, when I was 25, someone else did it for me and, even then, it was a renewal for a child’s passport).

The problem for me now is everyone wants a copy of the enrolled Deed Poll. Specifically the original. And it HAS to be the original, not a photocopy, despite the fact the DWP is going to fax it, which basically means … making a copy. Sigh. That said, if I can just get the form send out, then I’ll start getting paperwork with my new name and address on, which means I can do stuff like get my bus pass updated. I don’t really need to, of course, but it’s the principle. I take that part where you give up your old name quite seriously.

I can’t do, for example, my Blue Badge either as they only do new badges, not renewals so I have to wait until it’s within four months of expiration. At least by then I should have paperwork from the government confirming my disabled status (all my paperwork is in my previous name, though in theory I should be able to produce it and the deed poll and have no issues).

Though there have been a lot of phone calls, there haven’t actually been any serious pitfalls, just curiosity about why I’ve changed my name. Oh and if I’m still a ‘miss’. I’m like ‘please don’t make me married’. Of course, everyone assumes the name change is in relation to my status. Nope, still single.

I think I’ve broken the back of who I actually have to notify which is a relief. I’m quite looking forward to getting new cards in my new name and seeing it when I log in to my bank account, well it makes it real. This isn’t just a whim, it’s a serious life change and one I’m very pleased I made.

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The Great Name Change of 2016: It Is Done! Do I Get Two Birthdays?

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You know those days when you have everything planned out neatly and beautifully, then the universe steps in to totally fuck it up?

That, friends, was today.

It was supposed to be nice and calm. Get to starbucks, meet Paul, go to the bank to deposit £40 and make sure the cheque I’ve written to the Royal Courts of Justice doesn’t bounce, go to the bank next door and check a balance, hop on a bus to Tombland, find the solicitors, sign papers, drink a celebratory cider and have lunch.

Nope.

I didn’t realise my main bank had ‘training days’ on Wednesday so we had to wait till half nine (the appointment at the solicitors was for 10). Then the machine in branch (which has form for disliking me for myriad reasons) swallowed my card and wouldn’t work in the pin machines. Then we had to wait get to the counter. By the time we caught the bus it was 9:40am and I was starting to worry. Of course, at the next bus stop, the drivers changed and another driver decided this was THE moment to replace some posters on the bus.

ARGH.

We got to Tombland with about eight minutes to spare … and got lost. Turns out the solicitor has two buildings, one in the Close (the picturesque legal cul de sac) and one in Tombland proper (which is all shops and restaurants). I thought the notary meant the former when he actually meant the latter, oh and there are two gates to the Cathedral and we went down the wrong one.

Fortunately I knew which building belonged to the solicitor so went in and the nice receptionist took us over. We’d never have found it, with guide dogs, on our own. None of the buildings are particularly well marked in terms of numbers and location, a hazard of being the oldest part of Norwich. We managed to get to the notary’s office with three minutes to spare but he was running late. I’ve never been so knackered or so thankful; it’s fine for him to be running late but totally not us.

To say the forms were straightforward, well it’s a blatant lie. There was tooing and froing and every time he had to disappear only confirmed doing this ‘officially’ was the right way. We had all the ID so at least that bit went smoothly and it became very real when Paul had to say a proper oath. Yep, legal stuff is fun. To be honest, I spent the whole time worrying I’d spelt my name wrong.

The whole thing took maybe half an hour, thought it cost more than I was expecting because of the complexity. I intentionally took more cash just incase (because lawyers) and came out of it with all the paperwork, an envelope to stuff it in and a certified copy. Then we hopped on another bus, hit the Post Office so I could get everything sent off (and buy stamps; I sense I’ll be needing them), realised it was 11:15 and went to grab lunch and a celebratory drink at the Wetherspoons right next door to the Mall.

I needed that drink—and the full English which came with it.

The experience was stressful but it was also worthwhile. However even the notary agreed the forms weren’t the clearest he’d seen and you hear all these stories about people DIYing the process. Though costly, I don’t regret the expense, especially as the moment we walked out of the office I realised I was suddenly Asha Bardon. Like, legally. I could get new cards in my new name, start updating all my stuff. The Deed Poll form itself is signed and witnessed meaning I should be able to take it into any place requiring it and do the name changing stuff.

Realistically though, I’m going to wait for the official documentation from the Royal Courts of Justice. There’s no hurry but it feels weird: Lesley died today and Asha was born. I’ve decided, as a result, that it should be marked. It’s a much more positive event than my actual birthday and the weather’s nicer too.

I bought myself a large 99 with two Flakes as a treat (and the ice cream seller snuck Uni, with my permission, a half cone filled with ice cream). The old-fashioned kind, from my childhood, Mr Whippy. It was the perfect end to an otherwise odd day. However I’m very glad I persevered and got it all done.

So yeah, if you’re looking to do a deed poll, put in the effort and do it legally. You’ll thank me later, at least that way you have forms that will stand up in court. Now I just have to get more stories published and get some novels ready to be edited. Tonight, though, I’m taking the night off. I think I deserve it.

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The Great Name Change of 2016: Prepping for Cock-ups

Apparently it was warm yesterday.
Apparently it was warm yesterday.

I’m not the best adult, though I have managed to run my own household since 2006 without any hitches. All the important stuff is automated and the cats feed themselves, most of the time anyway. Yesterday was a warm one (yay summer!), I know because I spent most of it in Starbucks running errands via telephone (YES! I RANG PEOPLE. ON MY PHONE!) or actually, you know, running errands.

Changing my name has forced me to take a better look at my finances. Everything might be automated but different things go out on different days. I figure, if there’s going to be a problem (and no doubt there will be), it’s better if I have all my bills go out on the 1st which will then give me an entire month to deal with whatever inevitable cock-ups might arise. Go forward planning! I also wanted to close down credit cards I’ve never used, mostly store cards I opened years ago for such and such and offer and then forgot about.

I also rang my local council, mainly to sort my council tax payment date, and they helpfully explained all I need to do is bring in a copy of the deed poll and they’d not only make sure my name is changed, they’d also do benefits (I presume this meant the local council ones, not the DWP) and the electoral roll. Handy. Plus I now know where my council is actually based.

Then Uni and I did the other mundane stuff. We visited banks to close accounts, open a ‘contingency fund’ that my family can pay birthday/Christmas gifts into without knowing about the name change, went to the Post Office and had photos taken and got a couple of passport forms (tip: Always get a spare, it’s a bastard of a form). My passport isn’t due for renewal until next year but it’s also, as a visually impaired person, my only form of ID.

I got asked for a driver’s license three times yesterday. With the dog right next to me.

Sigh.

Hint: It’s not a good thing if blind people drive real cars. Or if their dogs do.

Seriously, to get a provisional licence, you need to pass an eyesight test. That’s just not going to happen. This is why I’m all for some form of mandatory government ID card, it really would make life much easier. I mean, it’s not like I normally carry my birth certificate and passport around with me. Plus I’m much too old to get carded, thank the gods.

But back to the errands.

By this point it was getting warm and we’d spent about an hour dealing with the notary public who is going to do the forms and make them official. Turns out you DO need a witness whose known you ten years. So I rang Paul, he’s like the only person I’ve actually known a decade and am still speaking too. Most friendships, they don’t last ten years, and you’re not supposed to have family sign the forms either. Seriously, who knows people that long?

Lucky Paul is awesome. I’d already asked him if he would and we managed, via much phone calling, to sort the appointment for tomorrow. I have to bring my life’s worth of paperwork (birth certificate, passport, utility bill, the paperwork itself or at least copies in case of issue) and so does Paul. Luckily he does have a passport, a lot of visually impaired people don’t and, again, it’s not like we can get driver’s licenses. He also has to bring ID, a utility bill, his passport … you get the idea.

He jokingly asked if he needs to make note of his inside leg measurement as well. He’s my witness … not the one changing his own name … crikey.

People have told me I can do this for free and I can, technically, except I have a house so it needs to be official as. Plus it makes me more comfortable, knowing all the paperwork’s been filed. My plan is to take Paul for dinner as a thank you and then go to the Post Office with everything completed and get it sent Recorded. Then, I suppose, we wait.

Then, I suppose, we wait.

I don’t actually know how long it takes. I’m hoping not too long as, again, I have a short window to sort things. I still need to go to my bank and check a couple details, like how important a name is when it comes to a bank account. I have a two week window to do the benefits side of things, though apparently ringing the DWP is the easiest bit. I also need to get my ESA and PIP paperwork reissued under my new name, which is probably going to be harder AND involve accused Vivaldi on a loop. At least once I have those, I can renew my Blue Badge and my rail card. And get my name changed on the NHS and whatnot as well.

I’m going to have to call a lot of people, from Land Registry to the government. Most of it should be a walk in the park, some will trickle down. I’m also signing up for accounts I use regularly, like Waitrose, under my new name. The social media stuff has already been done so it’s just a matter of changing the odd username an email address. I was expecting the internet stuff to be the bit that broke me but it’s actually been easy. I’ll have to get a new Paypal account, for example, but again it’s just a matter of a fresh application which will take ten minutes to do.

Starting fresh, it’s amazingly cathartic.

So tomorrow morning, I have to go to the part of town where all the solicitors have offices. Seriously, there’s an entire cul-de-sac of them right by the Cathedral (which will be a lovely place to wander first thing in the morning). Hopefully we won’t get too lost. I’m actually quite excited as soon things will be official. A lot of people I know have reverted back to my own name so it’s almost a way of saying that, no, I am actually Asha and not my former self.

Onward and let’s hope it won’t be too long.

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The Great Name Change of 2016: It’s On!

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This is purely illustrative … for now anyway.

In January, I decided I wanted to be someone else. This choice was partly because I’ve never liked my name, even though I used it professionally for a decade. So I chose a name and informed the world of my decision, intending to test run it for a few months before going through the legal processes using the wonderful world of social media.

I was raised to believe names were given, not chosen. This is bullshit. There’s no legal barrier, even if there is a social one, and I can call myself whatever I like. I, as it happens, like Asha.

Two-parter names are also the fashion in my family (my brother, father, uncles, Beloved Niece and Growing Nephew) all have a first and a middle name. Except theirs can all be shortened to something manageable, mine can’t and it’s yet another reason I hate it. Worse, I have the extra guilt because I was named for a relative who died decades before I came into the world and a parent (which strikes me as nearly as bad as those American kids named X Y Junior/III). Changing my name … it’s an affront but it also doesn’t matter. Everyone who knew the person whose name I bore is dead. Oh and no one knows my middle name because it is spoken of with derision that when my GP uses it, I glare at her.

I’m also doing it as a way to heal and this is the important bit.

I chose Asha (which means ‘truth’) and Bardon (a reference to being a storyteller; thanks Kim for suggesting it) because they had meaning and there was a nice balance on the tongue. I wanted a single name and a surname (it’ll stand out better than my previous one, as well as looking better on anthology covers). They flow nicely and I feel like Asha. I now answer to it and most, though not all, of my friends have quite gotten used to the change.

I figure an official certificate, a passport and whatnot will help with this.

Oddly, I found precious little on the internet about the process except for warnings about using fake ‘official’ services who charge. Technically you can do your deed poll for free but as I want a proper legal document, I’m going to do this the right way (which involves giving the Courts of Justice money and announcing things officially in the London Gazette. Oh and paying a notary.). I don’t have to do this, but it will make things easier as I’m a homeowner and want to change my bank accounts/get a fresh passport/Blue Badge/Bus Pass (all of which seem to be due renewal).

I also want to be Asha, completely, not just calling myself another name.

My friends have all been awesome about it. Most understand the desire for a change or have changed names themselves (though it’s usually been via marriage rather than a personal choice). I can’t disappear completely but I don’t intend to tell my family (and have my social feeds locked down enough that none of them will know until the deed is done). I’m going to be 40 in a couple of years and this, well, it feels like an early birthday present for that milestone plus if my family must know, eventually finding out, I’d rather Growing Nephew know me as ‘Aunt Asha’ than ‘Auntie Lesley’.

Lesley was a survivor, of life, of shedloads of abuse, of discrimination, of so much bullshit and bad relationships. She attracted the wrong people, she moved mountains for strangers who didn’t deserve that loyalty and made so many bad choices it could be recited as a litany. She was manic, uncontrolled, she let herself be treated badly, talked down to like a ten-year-old and treated, even unto adulthood, as if she was mentally incompetent.

I do know, though, if my family find out, they’ll take it personally, as a grave insult. But it’s my life not theirs and if I do tell them, it’ll be afterwards, once all the forms are signed and sealed. I don’t care: I see it as a new start because Asha is different. Okay, she still has PTSD, she still has GED and bipolar, she still has OCD, but changing my name was never about denying any of that. I am all those things and fuckloads more.

Asha is a short story writer, she writes novels. She’s more confrontational and will not accept bullshit from idiots. She loves her friends and their dogs, she bakes, she shoots arrows (though never at people) and is trying so hard to be teetotal. She’s smart, she can code (a bit), she understands that sometimes you need help and it’s okay to ask for it. She’s the me I wish I’d met earlier, before realising I had to live my life for myself and not how other people wanted me too.

So I wanted to blog about the process, hopefully as an educational thing. In theory, all I need to do is make an appointment with a notary (who will make the documents as well as helping on the witness front; I don’t have anyone I’ve known for a decade who I’m still speaking to). The price is reasonable, given their services and it’s not exorbitant. Then it’s just a matter of writing a cheque under my old name (ironically) and sending all the documents off to the Royal Courts of Justice. Once it’s processed and I have the shiny certificate, I can apply for a passport and notify all the important folks (banks, the NHS, the DWP, my utility companies etc) of the name change. Actual photo ID and the change of name declaration, it should be (in theory) easy to update everything.

Then I can do the stuff I’ve been putting off like redoing my will, sorting my finances, kickstarting another book and whatnot. The adulting that my illness has forced me to put on one side. Taking control, of which the name change is the final step, is going to help me survive in a world that really doesn’t like me.

Wish me luck.

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