German-born Melanie Kratzmeir changed her surname to Summer to better reflect her personality.
German-born Melanie Kratzmeir changed her surname to Summer to better reflect her personality. Nicholas Falconer

Living with a strange name

LIKE a genetic disease, it is passed from parent to child, often following the paternal line, although one parent alone can be a carrier.

The affliction is often obvious at birth or shortly after, although the child may not experience symptoms until school age.

Symptoms can disappear in adulthood.

Some may choose to live with their handicap, although the bold and brave have been known to take matters into their own hands with success.

Love, although not a cure-all, can lead to remission for some women, while there have also been unfortunate cases of husband-to-wife transmissions, although these are avoidable with modern precautions.

For the sake of the story, let's call it Namus horribilis. The horrible name. Daggy, plain, weird, rude - you might have one or know someone who has.

I've got one, although fortunately, it remains quietly hidden most of the time between given name and surname and I do not intend letting it out for a run on these pages. Suffice to say that the name book must have fallen open at the butch-girls-in-Jackie-Howes-and-Docs page when they were looking for something to fill in the gap between Janine and Hill.

Unfortunately, for other people, their cursed monikers are out there for all to see.

Talula Does the Hula from Hawaii was so fed up with that by the age of nine that she changed her name.

New Zealand has since seen to it that parents show their children a bit more consideration. The Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages has knocked back requests to dub offspring Lucifer, General, King, Mr, Messiah, 89, and the letters C, D, I and T (although apparently, Q and J are under consideration).

Benson and Hedges (for twins) and Number 16 Bus Shelter (for no good reason that I can see) have already got through.

United States baseballer Ron Arteste wants to go the other way.

Although he has a perfectly normal name, he feels that Messa World Peace would be more appropriate, and is petitioning to change his name.

Sunshine Coast businesswoman Melanie Summer changed her name to better reflect who she was as a person.

Cursed at birth in Germany with the surname Kratzmeir, which in German hints at "itch", she was relieved to become Melanie Schwarze by marriage.

"I really suffered as a child by my name," she said. "It wasn't until I was in my 20s when I was comfortable with it and it didn't affect me anymore. Then I got married and I was excited about having a 'normal' name.

"Then I got to Australia and it wasn't 'normal' anymore."

Melanie found many Australians struggled with the pronunciation, and a marriage break-up meant that it no longer made sense to hang on to the surname. But there was no going back to Kratzmeir, either.

She began toying with the surname, Summer, and after careful consideration, changed her name by deed poll.

"I came up with it about one-and-a-half years ago but it's a big thing to change your name, so I had it sitting and was trialling it," Melanie said.

"I went to a seminar one day and I had to introduce myself, and I introduced myself with my new name. It was really easy to say and I felt comfortable with it."

Melanie said feedback, including some from her family, had been positive.

"I've had lots of good comments," she said.

"I'm a really cheery person. I love the summer.

"I love hot weather. I'm really positive and everybody says it suits me."

Melanie said her name meant a lot to her identity.

"For me, it's about being who I want to be and having that reflected in a name. I chose the country that I love. I chose the people that I'm with. I want to choose the name that I call myself as well."

Melanie's friend Maggie Wilde had already done the same thing.

After a marriage breakdown and a move back to Australia, Maggie Holt, as she was then, was ready to move forward.

"I felt stagnant and it was a stagnant name as well," she said.

"I didn't feel comfortable going back to my maiden name. I was a different person. So I decided to think of a new name."

After a couple of wines with a friend one night, she went through the phone book, came up with about five options, and began trying them week by week. She liked how Maggie Wilde felt when she said it.

"Every time I introduced myself as Maggie Wilde, there was a spark in me and I could see a sort of a spark in other people as well," she said.

Maggie stopped outside the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages one morning as Maggie Holt, walked in, emerged 15 minutes later as Maggie Wilde and has never looked back.

But there are plenty who learn to live with names that would not be of their choosing.

High school teacher Daniel Pink has found his name a talking point, but said he would not consider changing his.

"I feel it would be disrespectful to my parents, who obviously also toughed it out. My father is a bushman/logger," he said.

"I can't be bothered. It is sometimes handy, as there is only one of me so I am never mixed up with others."

Daniel said some names could certainly lead to teasing and problems with self-esteem but his experience had made him a stronger person.

"Certainly, I do get some comments and questions, for example, 'What's your favourite colour?', but after a couple of days, people mostly forget about the name and get to know the person it belongs to."

Twin Waters retiree Ken Allcock has never found his surname too hard to handle.

"I got the usual ribbing at school," he said. "Primary school wasn't that bad but high school, I got ribbed and things like that, but it was all in good fun, and after I left school, I never had a problem with it."

Ken said the name, which was earned by an Anglo Saxon ancestor who kept poultry, "is nothing to be ashamed about". But although changing it has never been a consideration, an uncle opted to switch to Anderson instead.

Changing names is not without its own set of complications.

In Germany, the only way to change a name is by marriage or divorce. Melanie Summer's change of name by deed poll in Australia is not recognised, which means that she must remember to travel on her German passport when she goes back to visit relatives. Her surname is now different to that of her daughter, although she will probably also change her name.

Desley Hoare, nee Haughton, of Tewantin, has lived comfortably with her surname since she was married 48 years ago.

"A few years ago, we had a couple of times when the kids used to ring up and say, 'Why are you a Hoare?', but that was it. I've got three sisters-in-law who all have the same surname and we've never had any problem with it."


Bad combinations:

Jenna Taylor (say it out loud)

Drew Peacock (same deal)

Richard Head

Craven Moorehead

Guy Dickman

Chase D. Adcock

Best not to hyphenate:

When a Short marries a Cox

When a Box marries a Head

Career appropriate:

Brendon and Vicki Barker (veterinarians)

Darryl Fry (firefighter)

Peter Charman (firefighter)

Weird, mad, and plain stupid:

Zachary Zzzzzzzzzra - Painting contractor Bill Holland kept adding z to his name so that people could always find him in the back of the phone book

You Only Live Twice On Her Majesty's Secret Service Diamonds Are Forever Live And Let Die The Man With The Golden Bun The Spy Who Loved Me Moonraker For Your Eyes Only Octopussy A View To A Kill The Living Daylights Licence to Kill Golden Eye Tomorrow Never Dies The World Is Not Enough Die Another Day Casino Royale Bond - Englishman David Fearn is a huge 007 fan. But for some reason, he seems to have skipped Goldfinger, From Russia With Love and Thunderball.