A name change is surprisingly simple. Pick a name. Go to civil court. Fill out the Name Change Petition form and a Proposed Order. Hand your paperwork to the clerk and done. The biggest challenge in the process is filling out the “Reason why?” portion of the Name Change Petition. For me, there wasn’t enough room to fill out, “I’m really over this Ask Michael Cohen thing of being the Jewish guy that tells you what is in, hot and not and now answers all of your questions and gives advice on everything under the sun too.” So, instead, I just wrote “work.”
I handed over my birth certificate, paperwork, 65 bucks, had everything notarized and got my court date.
Dropping the surname is nothing new. Name changes were first seen during America’s slave period where slaves were given new ‘white’ first names and the surname of their owners. Ellis Island immigration was the second. Here, name lists compiled by personnel of the passenger ship companies were anything but accurate, some foreign names were too difficult to pronounce, while some just wanted a fresh start and a new name to go with it.
In modern day America, people feel freer to play with and invent names. Today’s pop culture stars run the typical gamut as to why.
Joaquin Phoenix was originally Joaquín Rafael Bottom (to my fellow gays… stop your laughing right now) because a phoenix represents new beginnings. Bruno Mars changed his name from Peter Gene Hernandez, so he wouldn’t be typecast as a Latin singer. Lea Michelle was bullied as a kid and dropped Sarfati from her name because, say it aloud, it sounds like ‘Lea So-farty.’ Transgender icon Chastity Sun Bono changed his name to Chaz Salvatore Bono. Ralph Lifshitz, as known to his parents and bar mitzvah friends, changed his name to Ralph Lauren because polo, horses and red, white and blue yachts are more gentile than Jewish. …And for those ultimate fashion lovers, Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel changed her name to CoCo. What would the world be without our intertwined C’s?
My day in court was as uneventful as filling out the paperwork, except thank God for the girl a few rows in front of me. She was the hipster version of Betty Page, with her black hair, bangs, tight jeans, t-shirt and moto leather jacket. I imagined that she was an artist, probably lived with her husband in some super cool loft, had really interesting friends, and their entire existence was Artisanal.
After everyone pledged allegiance to the flag, we sat and waited. I was certain I would have to plead my case to Judge Levine who I thought for sure would ask why I was dropping ‘Cohen’ from my name.
That didn’t happen. Instead, he told all 100 of us that our name changes were granted. That was it. The last step was to make it public by publishing it in a newspaper. Judge Levine selected the Irish Times as my coming out newspaper, which I thought was as hilarious as it was twisted.
As I was leaving the courthouse steps, I crossed paths with the girl I had spent so much time focusing on. I congratulated her and asked if she was getting married. I know it was random, but I needed to know my story was right.
“No, she said. Married, no!” And so I asked, then why the name change. “Because I’m going to become a Jew,” she said. “I’m not Kelly Bryan anymore, I’m Bunny! Bunny Shapiro!”
Seriously? Was this really happening? Where was the hidden camera?
She asked about mine. I decided to practice using my new name.
In my rather deep voice I said, “I’m not Michael Cohen anymore, I’m Michael Henry.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “One Jew goes, another one comes,” and pranced away.
Although my obviously Jewish last name is gone -I now go by my middle name, Henry, which was my Cohen grandfather’s first-, I didn’t get rid of my Judaism. Yet I wonder if mine is more a state of mind than a religion. I was just tired of being a caricature of myself and ready to evolve and move to the next part of my journey.
“Names define us,” says Robi Ludwig Psy.D. “When we take control of our identities, we also want to take control of how others address us. It’s about being empowered and proactive about our lives. Everyone wants the opportunity to create a new beginning.”
I was wondering if this also happened to Bunny Shapiro and in that clichéd kind of way, Facebook brought us together. It was easy to find her since there were only two Bunny Shapiro’s on all of Facebook. One was retired (surprise), the other living her life in Puerto Vallarta and owned a namesake jewelry shop, pink walls and all.
I had a million questions for her, but mostly, “What is life like as Bunny Shapiro?” Her answer was simple, “I’m being who I want to be and doing what I want to do.”
I am too. No longer am I a celebrity stalker and advice giver. Now I work as a content strategist and have an evolved state of polite confidence and I surround myself with the people, places and things that feel right. At night, I continue writing “Conversations with Bunny.”
We FB messenger everyday. Today she told me a shopper asked if her parents really gave her that name. I mentioned how the checkout girl at the grocery store asked why my parents gave me two first names.
Who knew our new names would be so confusing.