I was born Emmanuel Benjamin Budinger. I will die Emmanuel Benjamin Forge.
Why did I choose to legally change my last name?
My short and sweet answer:
I didn't like my old last name. Budinger is often mis-spelled, more often mis-pronounced. And ultimately the name has no meaning.
From a purely functional standpoint, I want a last name that is spelled correctly and pronounced correctly in this country. The emotional part of my decision includes a desire for a last name with personal meaning. I want a last name that's relevant to me.
This is within my control. So much of life isn't. If my last name is something I don't like, why not change it?
Interestingly enough, though my parents did not pick my last name, my grandpa did. A product of a coal mining household in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, my grandpa decided to change his last name to Budinger many years ago.
Born in 1912, six weeks after the Titanic sank, Emil Bernard Budinsky would eventually die Emil Bernard Budinger.
While I can only speculate on his reasoning for the name Budinger, I imagine he didn't want to drift too far from the name Budinsky. The reason for the change all together was most likely that the name Budinsky had a derogatory connotation in those days (one that "butts in", a butt-in-ski).
For me this decision was a long time coming, a childhood ambition that never felt like it would materialize.
There was a point in time, a few years ago, I thought I'd be a lawyer, which would create a natural pivot point to change my last name before going to law school. But I would grow to let go of the pursuit of a law degree. My shortest explanation of that choice is I came to conclude a lawyer is one who removes road blocks for others to do something. Ultimately I want to drive creation, not assist the creator. For that reason, practicing law was not for me.
This past year, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail became the unforeseen pivot point to change my last name. And as life would unfold from there, the choice to start an engineering business meant the last name change needed to happen now or never.
The criteria is as simple as I stated to open this post.
- Are most people going to spell it correctly?
- Are they going to pronounce it correctly?
- And does it have personal meaning to me?
My first choice was not Forge.
While studying for the LSAT, I had settled on the name Jenner. Yes that Jenner.
Jenner, of all names, is the old english word for "engineer". I'm an engineer. My dad's an engineer. His dad wanted to be an engineer, but kind of missed the boat on college. And as the story goes, my dad's dad's immigrant father was an unofficial engineer of sorts at the coal mine.
The meaning was there.
But then Bruce Jenner happened. And I just had to let that name go.
With all the time in the world to pick a new last name between Mexico and Canada, I would stretch my brain for relatable words that could be fashioned into a last name.
I really liked Gratus, the Latin root word for gratitude.
Pronounced "gra-toos", Emmanuel Gratus would surely be pronounced "grat-us" or "gra-tis" quite often, if not always, and therefore did not satisfy all of my criteria.
I'm not sure when I thought of the last name Forge. It's not common. I've never met a Forge.
But it means, by my favorite definition, "to create by a concerted effort".
Very much so, that is what I want to do with my life, I want to create my life by a concerted effort. I want to forge my existence.
The meaning for me is there. I will forge my existence. I am creating by a concerted effort.
Most Americans at least have heard of the battle of Valley Forge, and in that regard the spelling and pronunciation should be fairly consistently accurate.
In a fun twist of fate I can even weave Valley Forge back into "meaning" as my parents both went to Valley Forge high school.
Really the only other question I get on this decision to change my last name is "what does your dad think?"
My dad really has maxed-out open mindedness skills.
When I was 17 and came home at 7 o'clock in the morning, and I told him I had just got back from a spontaneous trip to Niagara Falls, he said "okay."
And when I told him I was getting a tattoo, he said, "okay."
And when I said I need you to drive me to Virginia so I can not work this summer and ride a bicycle across the U.S., he said, "okay."
And when I said I'm quitting my job and selling my car to walk from Mexico to Canada he said, "okay."
Legally changing my last name, the name we share in common, was no different.
I love my dad. For many men though, stringing together generations of a surname earns credit in some patriarchal point system. I don't see it that way. I don't think he does either. So I don't see this decision as a sign of disrespect.
If my dad however, had chosen the name Budinger himself, I would be genuinely less cavalier about the whole situation.
And I will give a quick shout out to a part of my name my parents did choose:
"Emmanuel", which means, "God is with us."
Everyone at my new job knows me as Emmanuel Forge. But I still go by Manny.
My next step is to change my Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. And in the coming weeks I need to stand before a judge to defend my name change, as well as take out an ad in the newspaper declaring the change (I'm not kidding, these are legal requirements...). I guess they're still afraid of men changing their name and fleeing town to shed their debt and start a new life in the Wild West.
Must be nice.