What's in a Name?
TLDR: Worthe is out, Wernick is in

24 March 2019

Hi all! If you follow me on any social platform, read blog articles that I’ve written, or work with me you might notice my surname change from Worthe to Wernick in the next few weeks.

Names don’t change all the time, so I thought I’d quickly write up what is going on.

The short version of the story is that I changed my surname from Wernick to Worthe several years ago, when I got married, but we could never get the department of home affairs to accept the change. We’re giving up on ever getting that change made official, and are going to just use Wernick from now on.

The long version of the story takes me back to why I changed my name in the first place.

I changed my name when I got married

Originally, my surname was Wernick. I met a lovely girl, and we decided to get married. Any wedding comes with a massive pile of gendered baggage which we wanted to avoid as much as possible, so rather than just having my wife take my surname we decided to try a more equitable option.

We took the letters of our surnames, Wernick and Botha, and we started making anagrams. Someone in the family suggested “Boink”, which gave us a good laugh. In the end, we decided that the best name was to take the W, E, and R from Wernick, and the O, T, and H from Botha, and formed Worthe.

Home affairs wasn’t impressed

After the wedding, we visited home affairs to make the change official. This is where the trouble started.

Firstly, they put a mountain of paperwork in front of us. Changing your name after a wedding for a man isn’t a simple procedure. You need to amend the birth register. So in effect I had to re-register my own birth. You follow this up by filling in all of the forms for applying for a new ID book. Finally, it’s not enough that you’re standing in home affairs telling them about it, you need to visit a police office and fill in an affidavit form with them explaining exactly why you want to change your name.

Paperwork completed and fees paid, we were sent home to wait for their notifications.

Several months passed with no feedback. We started calling and visiting regularly to try to get an answer on when this would be finalised. Eventually, we got feedback that our request was rejected with the confusing message of “name not on family three”. Given what I know now, I’m fairly confident that the “three” there was meant to be “tree”.

We continued this fight with home affairs for a while, trying to figure out how to get the name changed, but with no luck. Just filling in the forms got rejected. One of the officials at one point mentioned having a list of valid reasons for changing your name, but would not share it with us.

Eventually, we gave up on the legal paperwork. We’d just have a surname that we use for legal paperwork, and a name that we’d use socially, and it would be fine. This is a hassle at times, but it’s generally worked out alright for the last seven years.

The law was currently being changed

Much later, we’ve discovered what we think is the reason we were given such a runaround. The original wording of the Births and Deaths Registration Act says that a person can change their surname for any “good and sufficient reason”. In May 2012, there was a draft regulation published that enumerated the list of good reasons to change a surname.

The good and sufficient reasons are:

  • you’re a woman getting married and taking your husband’s surname
  • your parents have had a wedding and you’re taking a new surname to match your parents
  • you’ve had a name change previously and you want to go back to a previous surname
  • you would rather use one of your parents’ previous surnames
  • you’ve been adopted, and want to take your adoptive parents’ surnames
  • you’re entering a witness protection plan and need to protect your identity

Notably, the reasons around getting your name changed at your own marriage are specifically limited to if you’re a woman taking your husband’s surname, which is an example of the type of gendered wedding nonsense we were trying to avoid. Also, the only reason that would permit making a new surname would be the witness protection plan, hence the rejection message saying that the new name isn’t in the family tree. I could try to find someone who already has the surname Worthe and ask them to adopt me, but I think that may be taking things a bit too far.

One of the interesting things to me here is the timeline of this list. It was published as a draft in May 2012. We applied for our name change in January 2012, so this list was unpublished but probably already being used as a rule of thumb for what made a good and sufficient reason. The list was at this point only a draft, so nobody at home affairs wanted to state officially that this was why it was rejected and share the list with us.

Regardless, the list of reasons to change a surname was finalised in 2014, and so there is now no legal way for me to change my surname to Worthe.

It’s time to give up on the name change

There’s a really large change coming up in my life. I’m going to become a parent soon. I’ve been discovering all of the things that I may need to know in preparation for this and trying to figure out how to parent. One of the things I don’t want to burden them with is extra complexity in administration.

The surname that I can legally give to my child is Wernick, and so Wernick they will be.

I want to have the same surname as my child, so it’s time for me to go back to using Wernick too.

Long story short, it’s Wernick now (again)

This is really the key takeaway point. If you’ve followed me on social media, or read blog posts that I write, or worked with me, you may notice my name changing. It’s still me! Sorry for any confusion.