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My parents gave me a name that I hated. At 38, I legally changed it as a birthday present to myself.

Jane Ridley   

My parents gave me a name that I hated. At 38, I legally changed it as a birthday present to myself.
  • Lissy Dunning loathed her birth name of Phyllis when she was growing up.
  • She said it was an "old lady name" and she was bullied at school because of it.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Lissy Dunning. It has been edited for length and clarity.

My 38th birthday was coming up in June 2000, and I knew exactly what I wanted to give myself as a present.

I decided to legally change my birth name — which I hated — to my nickname.

It was one of the best things I've ever done. It felt like a fresh start. I finally had control over something I couldn't have before.

When I was born in 1961, my parents named me Phyllis. My middle name was Elaine, and my sister was Patricia Elizabeth. They wanted our initials to match.

But, for as long as I could remember, I loathed Phyllis. I disliked it so much that I often called it "the P name" or "the bad name."

I never got on well with my mom or dad, but I was close to my grandmother. Thankfully, when I was a baby, she nicknamed me "Lissi" as a derivative of Phyllis.

But my parents sometimes called me by my birth name, especially when they were angry or disciplining me.

Kids at school were cruel to me because of my name

By the time I was around 7, I'd grown to hate it so much that I'd refuse to answer if someone used it instead of Lissi.

It was partly to do with being bullied at school. The kids would taunt me by chanting "Phyllis Diller" in the playground.

People in the US who are about my age — or older — will probably remember the late Phyllis Diller. She was an actor and comedian with a wild hairstyle. She'd pull silly faces. I'm sure she was OK, but I didn't want any associations with her.

I'd always thought that Phyllis was an "old lady" name, and the fact this person was famous made it worse.

It was all the more reason to want to be known as Lissi. After a while, only the occasional teacher would call me Phyllis. It usually happened when they were new to the school. I'd correct them.

As a young woman, I was always known as Lissi. It suited my personality. It was lively and spirited.

Still, although I was estranged from my father, he called me one day at work to tell me that my brother had been injured in a bicycle accident.

He asked to be put through to Phyllis. Someone figured out that he meant me. I was sorry to hear about my brother but berated him for calling me that. "Nobody knows me by that name," I said.

I was very careful with the names I picked for my children. People are stuck with their names for life; I didn't want them to have my experience. I made sure that they didn't have names that they were going to hate.

I named them Autumn and Alexander. My son goes by Alex. They've told me they love their names. So many people compliment Autumn on her name.

Someone jokingly asked if I was in the Witness Protection Program

After I'd divorced and moved to Ohio from my native Michigan, I thought enough was enough with Phyllis. I researched online and discovered that legally changing my name would cost $80. It was $120 less than the fee in Michigan. "I'll do it for my birthday," I thought.

I decided to spell my name Lissy, not Lissi. It was easier for people to spell. I completed the legal documents. Part of the process was placing a notice in the local newspaper. I went to probate court and explained my reasons to the judge. He granted the change.

As for my parents, who have since died, I didn't care what they thought.

I recently told someone about my situation, and she laughed. "Are you in the Witness Protection Program? " she said.

I'm happy and proud that I went ahead with the name change. I've got my own identity and feel comfortable with it.

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