I Am Who I Say I Am
As a writer, names are a crucial step in the process of creating a good, well-rounded, believable character. Over the years, I’ve come up with dozens of characters. Probably close to the one hundred mark at this point. And not one of them has been named by process of quick thought or random choice. I spend a lot of time thinking up their names, how they sound, and how they fit the overall sense of who it is I’m giving them to. Names mean a lot to me. That’s why I changed mine.
From a young age, I was overweight and had an overactive imagination and an assortment of oddball family members that made carnies seem relatable, both literally and figuratively. And once puberty hit, I really knew I was screwed, as when my male friends starting noticing the girls in our class, I started noticing the boys. All of this quirky dysfunction was summed up in what I considered the worst name on earth: William Allen Schulz.
My first name came from my grandfather on my mom’s side, who was also William. My middle name came from my father’s side of the family, after a distant uncle I’d never met, per a request I have an ‘A’ somewhere in my name. My last name, as it was spelled, should have been pronounced with a sliding ‘sezz’ sound at the end, but because of my family’s impeccable taste for difference, they pronounced it as though it were spelled Schultz, only without the T. I’ve had arguments, yes, actual arguments, with people on how to say my last name.
With this as my reality, I delved into writing as a way to cope. Through writing, I explored the complex and freighting scenarios the real me wasn’t ready to handle. In effect, I came up with characters that did what I could not, or—thought I could not. There was Max, the artist, who followed his dream, regardless of what others thought of him. Maris, the shameless flirt I never thought I could be. Miss LeQuesha, a voluptuous African American woman who embodied my sassy, take no BS nature. And Cassandra, a take no prisoners badass who made anyone who opposed her quiver in fear as she pressed the tip of her heel into the side of their face. And then there was Alex. Alex was handsome, funny, and sweet, balanced with a dash of nerdiness. I envied Alex in every way you could desire to be another person, most of all for his name.
The first time I heard the name Alex was in my sixth grade gym class. It belonged to what I considered at the time to be the handsomest boy I’d ever seen. I loved everything about his name. How it was spelled (I found the x exotic), how it came from the tongue with a smooth roll, and above all else, how it sounded passing from our gym teacher’s lips to my ears. Alex was a name I associated with rugged appeal and strength. It didn’t take long until Alex Williams was born, my very first pen name. Finding some redemption with my first name, I began to sign every piece of writing I finished ‘Alex Williams,’ even toying with the idea of changing my first name to Alex and my last name to Williams. At that time, I was going through a number of changes, physically and personally. When I was twenty-two, I came out of the closest as a gay man and in the following years, I lost over one hundred pounds. I gained a sense of style and adopted a medley of wonderfully supportive friends. Slowly, I turned the focus of what I perceived as ‘wrong’ with me – namely my odd sense of humor, overactive imagination, and sexuality – into something special and worth embracing.
I realized I had come to embody many of the characters I created. It was not they who I had taken my strength from, but rather I who’d given my strength to them to nurture and protect until I was ready to carry it myself. With all the changes I had made in my life, both inside and out, I knew I no longer desired the name I was given. William A. Schulz felt like a second, constricting skin, one I willingly kept blanketed around myself in favor of its suffocating familiarity. He was a fat, self-loathing mess who’d outstayed his welcome. I came to the decision in early June of 2012 that I would legally change my name to William Michael Alexander. I came up with a covert plan to go through the process of changing my name while keeping my family in the dark. To some degree, I was successful in the operation. I researched everything I needed to do to legally change my name and only confided what I had done and what lay ahead to a few trusted friends. Shortly before my court date, I came out to my family in regards to my change and found an overwhelming response of indifference.
My favorite reaction by far since then has been when I tell someone about my name change and have them respond with a quiet concern and cautious curiosity. I’m still waiting for someone to ask me, “Who are you trying to evade?” as if I were on the run from a loan shark or had the notion to fake my own death. I suppose it’s rather uncommon for a man in his twenties to change his name for no other reason than because he wanted to, which, in my opinion, is a biased view of our society. Women who change their name, while often for marriage or other reasons, are looked upon with much less scrutiny. Even the judge for whom I had to swear an oath of truth before stared at me with a perplexing befuddlement when he asked what purpose I sought for the change and my response was, “It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do.”
And that’s why I wanted to share my story. I wanted so badly to come across something while in the process of my name change that would provide a sense of encouragement, a reprieve from the linguistic legal mumbo-jumbo, and tell me in simple verse that it’s okay to change something about you if it betters you, even if you’re the only one who understands it.
© Bill Alexander for Acceptance Revolution, 2013
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