Love your baby name blog! I'm writing in not for any impending babies, but for myself. Here's the thing. I've LOATHED my name since I was a kid. I'll be 30 this year and have decided enough is enough, I'm going to change it.
Current first name - Stephanie
Last name (which I'm keeping and plan on keeping if I get married) - P [2 Italian sounding syllables] a
I love my last name. Things I cannot stand about my first name include being lumped into that early 80s group of Tiffany/Brittany/Kelly, how it sounds as a full name and how it sounds as Steph. To my ear it just sounds like bleh and I've just never felt like Stephanie fits me. It's getting to the point where I'm cringing when I introduce myself to people.
I've had a list of possible first/middle name combinations that used to hang out in the back of my school planner and now lives in my smartphone (aaah, changing times).
My style is very pulled from romance novels. Lots of European names, surnames as first names, traditionally male names.
I do enjoy Stefania (though I'd likely keep the 'ph' over the 'f' even though that's not the traditional spelling). However, it seems like a lot of fuss to change one letter. I could just ask people to call me Stephania but it seems like it'd be going backwards - my name is Stephanie but call me Stephania. It's the same reason I'm leaning towards a legal change versus just having people call me by a different name - if every legal document, form, and identification still says Stephanie, it won't matter if people sometimes refer to me as Starlight Moonbeam, Stephanie will still be my go to name. Plus Stephania is still likely to get shortened to Steph and ugh.
Also, I'd like to be called by all 3 names in more formal situations. Document wise, is it more preferable to have one first/middle/last and introduce myself, sign things as first/middle/last or is it clearer to go the two last name or two first name route?
I work in a fairly traditional field so anything too eyebrow raising is out. Some of the names have been on my list for years and others are more recent additions (some from your blog!) but they all just felt and sounded right when I thought of them for myself. I'm definitely decided on changing, but I think I'm in a forest for the trees scenario where I need some outside opinions and suggestions. At this point, everything sounds phenomenal, not too unusual or odd, but not too common and there's no way I can pick just one :)
Braeden (stuck on middle name)
Merrielle Emerson (I love the way Merrielle looks and sounds in my head, with the 'eh' sound in the first syllable but am concerned I'll have to deal with an 'ah' sound, definitely not a fan of Mariel or Muriel or Mary)
Other list favorites:
Sadie (even though I 100% prefer this to Stephanie, it still has some of the same issues of sounding young and more unprofessional)
Thank you so much!
Here is what I think is the NUMBER ONE issue: you're looking at names that are being given to TODAY'S babies---but were NOT given to babies in 1981 when you were born. The name Stephanie fits perfectly into what we expect for someone who's about 30 years old. The name Vivienne does not.
This is a problem I've noticed in novels, too: the author uses her favorite BABY names on her characters, forcing us to try to imagine a married couple in their thirties named Isabella and Noah. It's jarring. It's jarring in real life, too.
I strongly recommend choosing a name that would have been reasonable in the year of your birth---as opposed to a name that might have occasionally been used but would have been a shock. In the U.S. in 1981 only 10 new baby girls were named Vivienne. Girls named Braeden/Brayden/Braden or Gray/Grey or Ellery or Merrielle: 0-4 (fewer than 5 is recorded as "0" on the Social Security forms). Penelope: 77. Winter: 109. Sadie wins: 280. But for comparison, 20,201 baby girls were named Stephanie.
I think it would be best to find a name that is not quite as common as Stephanie was, and that feels to you like a better fit, without making you sound like you were born in 2011. A distinctly younger name can give a "Behold the ravages of time!" feeling: imagine seeing a woman in her seventies and hearing her introduced as Jennifer. It does happen (42 baby girls were named Jennifer in 1936), but it's startling and not in a pleasing way. And, if you have children in the future, we want to avoid using up the names you might want to use for them.
I'm not sure about the "use all three names for formal situations" question. What SORTS of formal situations? Very few people include their middle names in introductions, and I'm having trouble thinking of a situation where it would be anything but confusing. I think the easiest way for a woman to go by three names is for her to have a hyphenated surname or a two-name first name.
I think if I were planning to change my name, I would begin by asking my parents if they still remembered other names they were considering for me (including boy names), and seeing if any of those fit better. This has the advantage of being more "authentic" a name change (to something your own parents might actually have named you), and also of better pleasing your parents if they're still in the picture and might be fluffled by this name-change idea. I would in fact interview them extensively, asking if there were family names they considered, or family surnames they might have used as first names (or that they would be willing to consider now that such names are more often used). In addition to the previous advantages, this gives you something to say to anyone startled by your name: "It's a family name." I've found that line takes the wind out of most sails.
If those interviews and family-tree-shakings yielded no good candidates, I would take the 1981 Top 1000 Social Security name list and I would start at the top and just keep going down. Lauren? Veronica? Victoria? Katrina? Cassandra? Margaret? Bethany? Sabrina? Molly? Jillian? Meredith? Bridget? Joy? Claudia? Marissa? Those are all from the 1981 Top 200 so they shouldn't shock anyone when used for someone your age---but they have a sound that still works for today's babies. Too common among your peers? Here are some possibilities from 200-300: Audrey, Ruth, Sophia, Naomi, Evelyn, Olivia, Lydia, Esther, Eva, Amelia, Charlotte, Grace. Good names for babies now---but they were being used in 1981, too.
If by now you are saying, "Pff, Swistle, you old worrywart, I don't care about any of this! I asked about the names ON MY LIST!" Okay! I can do that, too.
I closed my eyes and imagined meeting someone approximately my age (fine, I was a 1970s baby, DETAILS, DETAILS), and hearing her introduced as each of the names on your list. To my surprise, it was some of your LEAST-used-in-1981 names that seemed least surprising to me on a 1981-born person. For example: I could imagine meeting a Braeden or an Ellery my age, but not a Penelope or a Vivienne or a Sadie or a Winter. I am not sure how to explain this. Part of it is likely regional and so will vary from commenter to commenter. Part of it might be that Vivienne and Sadie and Penelope FEEL so "now" for baby girls, with people writing in to ask if they're too trendy, whereas Braeden and Ellery are not quite here yet. Part of it may be associations (which, again, will vary from commenter to commenter): Penelope sounds ONLY like Penelope to me, but Braeden is reminiscent of Brianna and Brandi, and Ellery of Emily and Danielle and Michelle. Part of it may be that it's not uncommon for a new name to waffle around a bit between boys and girls when it first comes into usage (example: Mackenzie), so it feels like it COULD have happened that Braeden would be used for a girl before it became primarily a boy name.
For middle names, I think choosing a name from your own generation will make the first name seem more likely. I think use Snowden only if that's a family name for you. Otherwise I'd look for other family names, or perhaps use Stephanie or your current middle name there, or your mother's maiden name, or something else of that sort. Or if you're again saying, "HELLO, I asked about MY list!," then I say Ellery Snowden is good, and I'd do Braeden Winter or Braeden Ellery.
Or I might do Braeden Sofia. It's feminine enough to make it clear Braeden is a girl name in this case. And Sofia is similar to Stefania, and yet Sophia was already #211 in 1981 (and in fact made a huge leap between 1980 and 1981) so it wouldn't be odd as a middle name for a 30-year-old.
Name update! Stephanie writes:
I wrote in a couple months ago about wanting to change my name as an adult from Stephanie. You and the people who commented offered some excellent suggestions and made some great points and after using various names at restaurants and such and narrowing the field down to a winner (Ellery Braeden!), I looked at the calendar and realized that between scheduled travel and out of town things and court schedules, there wouldn't be time to make it official until next year. And the fact that residency of at least a year is required and I'm planning on moving before then and it's something I'd rather not put off till 2014 so am compromising with myself and going with something that could be a reasonable stretch from Stephanie. And I've landed on Sutton. I love it, have loved it, it's unusual enough to make me happy but still easy enough to avoid most confusion and while I'm-Stephanie-but-everyone-calls-me-Sutton isn't the most natural of flows, I think the similarity in s and t sounds make it plausible. So that's the update, hooray!
The follow up is - how do I transition into using my new name in professional/formal circumstances. It seems like it shouldn't be too complex, I think of the people who have legal names of John and are called Jack or are Mary Sue Claire Smith and exclusively go by Claire but...how does that work?
Do I put Sutton on my resume and just mention in any future interviews oh hey, my application says Stephanie but I go by Sutton? My license/credit cards will still say Stephanie but what about at doctor's offices/store loyalty cards/other non social situations where I'm writing my name but it isn't a legal document? It seems like a familiar enough situation that I should be able to discover some answers but it is proving to be rather un-googleable. So am turning once again to you and the fabulous community.