My new name started on an airline flight to trial lawyer camp. Not long ago, I had the chance to spend a month on a ranch in the hills of Wyoming at Gerry Spence’s Trial Lawyer College – a lifelong dream. For nearly a month I lived on a ranch miles from town with trial lawyers from around the country I’d never met before. On the flight, I thought of how I’ve often wished for a new name – one I didn’t associate with Christopher Columbus, who introduced slavery and all sorts of other horrors to the western hemisphere. So on that flight to Jackson, I thought that this was the moment to try it, to give myself a different name for the month, anything I chose.
I’ve always liked the name Tristan. I like it because it has some of the same sounds as Christopher, but it’s less common. I like the old story of Tristan and Isolde. So when I arrived at the ranch I just introduced myself as Tristan.
The first time I said “my name is Tristan” I felt like I was doing something wrong, breaking the rules, betraying someone, telling an outrageous lie. But although it was very strange at first – and although I kept forgetting about it and calling myself Chris as well – I loved this name. I loved the choice of it, the fact that I had given it to myself. I loved that it felt like a new chapter or even a new start to life. My friends at Trial Lawyer College shortened the name to “Tris”, and I like that, too. I crossed out “Chris” on my nametag and replaced it with my new name: “Tris”.
That time at Trial Lawyers College was transformative for me, and started me on the path that includes a new law firm dedicated to representing injured people. And with the sense of purpose came a sense that I was – am – entering a new phase of my life. The name marks that transition for me, and so I’ve kept it.
The truth is I’ve always been more of a rule-follower than I like to admit. It’s probably partly why I went to law school in the first place – to be right in the business of rules. But this new name feels like a bold step to me, and one that is at least bending the rules and charting an unexpected course. In fact, I’ve been surprised by how some people seem taken aback and uncomfortable by the idea of changing my name. Maybe it’s a category of change that doesn’t fit in any usual categories.
So it’s been strange to ask people to call me something new. But I like it when people call me Tristan or Tris. At the same time, I’m not offended by my old name at all, and probably won’t correct it when it is used. It’s my middle name now. I just like Tristan better. Because it’s my name.
And one of these days I’m going to write a blog post about how to go about legally changing your name in Vermont.