You can tell a lot about a person by the questions they ask. When someone asks if I write under the surname LeTigre because I'm really into Kathleen Hanna, I know they're kind of hip. When they say, "Le Tigre, like the T-shirt company?" I know they've probably never heard of Kathleen Hanna, except maybe as that shrill riot grrrl that Courtney Love punched at Lollapalooza in 1995. (We should all love Courtney for that reason, if nothing else.) For the record, my name doesn't have anything to do with either the band or the T-shirt, and as of April 26, 2007, it's not a pseudonym, baby—it's the real deal.
For years now, I've wanted to change my name. As I'm sure my family could tell you, it's an adulthood extension of my incessant childhood need to be someone or something else. I'd always hated my given name (let's just say it's German for "kids on the playground will call you 'Slut-Man'"), the way instructors stumbled over it when calling roll, always having to spell it three times to customer service people on the phone, the way the clerks at Safeway wouldn't even try to pronounce it ("Good day, Misterrrrrrr....") Recently, encouraged by a friend who told me, "Oregon is the easiest state in the country to change your name," I finally got off my ass and made it happen. I found that something I'd postponed for years—and built up into a major endeavor in my mind—turned out to be easy as buttering bread.
When I first walked into downtown's Multnomah County Courthouse on a fine afternoon in early April, I was stopped at the checkpoint by some good-old-boy security guards who seemed perfectly tickled that a clueless, effete artist had wandered into their clutches. The guy who checked my bag asked if I had something "thin and sharp" in there. Sure enough, it was my etching needle, since I was headed to a printmaking class immediately after the courthouse. After looking through the bag and determining that I wasn't a terrorist ("you obviously have some interest in art"), he confiscated the needle and gave me a number. I couldn't blame him, because despite his condescending manner, which reminded me of being made fun of by mentally deficient jocks in high school, he was tall, dark, and really good-looking: the kind of man you could take home to your gay-friendly, PFLAG-member mother. And it's true that an etching needle—a long, thin, and very sharp piece of metal used for incising copper plates—could be a pretty wicked weapon, if you wanted to use it that way.
My mission being considerably more benign, I headed up to the second floor, where congenial clerkettes gave me some paperwork and a pretty young cashieress charged me a bunch of money and gave me back a lot of attitude and a couple receipts. To begin with, she was annoyed I didn't have $1.25 in cash on hand to pay for the paperwork, meaning she had to run my card twice, once for the paperwork and then again for the $104 court filing fee. ("It's just a lot of work for such a small amount.") I felt like smacking myself on the head and yelling, "God, I'm so stupid!" the way Chris Farley did on Saturday Night Live. She griped about having to get "a lot of information" from me (my name, address, and phone number). I felt bad for bothering her. She seemed like the kind of girl who'd rather be filing her nails than filing papers.
After shelling out 105 clams, I picked up a little phone on the office wall, called a magic number and got a helpful Name Change Elf who told me to come back to the courthouse in two weeks, at eight in the morning, for my appearance before the judge. Then I had to pin the first couple forms from my name change packet up on the bulletin board. This constituted "notice in a public place" of my intent to cosmetically alter my name. The idea is that someone wishing to contest it would have two weeks to do so. It struck me as a rather quaint custom. Maybe it would make sense in a little village of 200 people where everyone knows everyone's business, or the community cave back in the Paleolithic Era, but what were the chances of someone happening onto the second floor of the Multnomah County Courthouse, spotting my form and wishing to challenge it?
On the way out the security stud remembered me. "You need your little art tool back," he said. Hey man, there's nothing little about my art tool.
Two weeks later I returned to the courthouse for the moment of truth. A little group of us, including an elderly Ukrainian lady with a walker, waited in the hall until we were ushered into the august courtroom. My mum had told me about changing her name years ago in another state and said the judge would probably ask my reason for doing so, so I'd brought along a sheaf of supporting documents and had prepared a speech to deliver when summoned before the tribunal. I'd considered various options: "My last name is hard to spell and caused me to be ridiculed as a child. I've never known my father, so why should I have to carry his ugly surname around for the rest of my life?" That sounded too whiny, so I decided on something along the lines of, "I'm an artist and journalist and I need a name that looks good in print." If that didn't work, I figured I'd cry.
As I waited for my turn, some tawdry human theater was provided by a bleached-blonde woman in a cheap pink suit who wanted to change her children's names in the wake of her recent divorce from her visibly sleazy and unsavory husband. The judge summoned both of them before her to call the matter and heard speeches from both sides. The woman's behavior belied her pretty-in-pink attempt at compliant femininity, as she interrupted her husband during his turn to speak and was roundly scolded by the judge. Unfortunately for the divorcée, the judge observed "the law is very clear that children's names are not to be changed for the convenience of a parent." The woman, who seemed to have prepared for court by watching episodes of Judge Judy rather than doing some simple internet research on name change procedure, turned around on her way out of the courtroom to argue her point further. The judge promptly shut her down. I felt bad for her, but it's undeniably entertaining when life imitates bad television.
When my time came, neither the documents nor the explanation were necessary. Our seasoned and likeable judge simply called me over to show her my ID card and paperwork, stumbled briefly over my new name ("Now in the matter of the soon-to-be Anthony Luh Tie-guhr? Luh Tie-gruh?"), and signed the name change order. With a flourish of her pen I became a fake French American. She even flattered me, comparing me to the ID photo, saying I looked much better in person. Behave, your honor!
From there it was a cakewalk: I stopped back by the office where I'd originally filed my paperwork and ordered a couple extra copies of my official name change certificate from my friend the cashier, which would be mailed out within a couple of days.
Walking toward the exit afterward, there was the same good-looking security guard who had been so condescending. His back was to me and I couldn't help noticing that his rear looked mighty fine in those form-fitting knickers that security guards wear. Emboldened perhaps by my fierce new name, I thought of going up and giving him a smack on the bum, but resisted the urge. Sexual harassment is still wrong.