Friday, August 26, 2011


Sorting out my own Identity......

After carefully collecting and storing many birth, marriage and death certificates of my ancestors, I realised recently, that I had lost my own birth and marriage certificates in a move. I needed a copy of it to apply for a new passport. A few weeks ago, whilst visiting my hometown of Brisbane in the State of Queensland, I decided to make a trip to the Department of Births, Deaths and Marriages to order a copy of both my birth and marriage certificates. I allowed half an hour between meetings, to slip into the department (I had downloaded the relevant forms online and filled them in to save time) to lodge my requests. Simple... you might think. Not so!

Although I use the name Sharna-Lee (Sharn), this is not the name I was given at birth. My
mother gave me the name, Sharon-Lee, intending it to be pronounced Shaaron, however, it was never pronounced correctly. By the time I was aged 9, she was heartily tired of my name being pronounced the wrong way. I can still recall the day that my mother asked me if I would like to change my name. I was so excited. After all, it is not every day that a child is given the opportunity to name herself. Of course, being nine years old and just having watched the movie called 'The 'Shiralee'' ( a later remake starred Tatum O'Neal) I immediately announced that I would henceforth be known as Shiralee!.... I, as any adventurous nine year old would, imagined myself trouncing through the Australian outback, swag on my back, just like the real Shiralee or even Waltzing Matilda...... Thank heavens good sense prevailed on my mother's part. (If one can call changing your child's name at the age of nine, 'good' sense.) As it happened, my mother had already found a new name for me. She had obviously given the matter some prior thought and announced that she wanted my name to be Sian, ( Sian is a Welsh for Jane...Sian for my Welsh heritage... Sian for the same Welsh heritage that I have now discovered... I don't have.) Sian is pronounced, Sharn, but my mother was worried that this name would be mis-pronounced. And we had already encountered that problem. Perhaps, she should have called me Jane. No one ever mispronounces Jane. For an unknown reason, my mother didn't just call me Sharn. She made up the name Sharna-Lee to replace Sharon-Lee.

At the time of the name change, I was transferring from one school to another as my family was moving house so I needed my new name to be written on the school transfer. ' Awkward,' thought I. 'Not so', said my mother, who deftly took care of the problem with the school principal.... which caused me to spend the next three weeks in the school playground, red -faced and humiliated, as I was continually asked, by teachers and friends, 'Why on earth did you allow us to call you by the wrong name for three years? Why didn't you just tell us your name was Sharna-Lee and not Sharon-Lee?' Why i
indeed! Thanks Mum!

Of course, being a nine year old, I didn't, at all think through the consequences of a name change.
After about a month, the novelty of having a new name had worn off and I asked for my old name back. No amount of begging could move my mother's resolve an inch. By now I was attending a new school and was being called Sharn. No one ever mis-pronounced my name and my mother was very happy. I, on the other hand, cried every night for six months. But, being told that it was too late to undo the decision, and with my new name being apparently official, I became resigned to the change and eventually grew to like my name.

When I married and applied for a copy of my birth certificate, I was stunned to see the name Sharon-Lee still boldly typed as my name. Surely there had been a mistake. Many years ago, hadn't my own mother told me that the name
change was official? That..I could NOT have my name back? For all of those years, I was unaware that my name had remained officially Sharon-Lee.

So, I was married as Sharna-Lee a.k.a Sharon-Lee. I actually found it a little embarrassing to have the words 'ALSO KNOWN AS' on my lovely marriage certificate. (What if the Minister thought I was an impostor or, worse still, a criminal with a background I needed to hide?)
If I wanted to be married using the name I had been known by since the age of nine, there was no other course of action but to use both names in the wedding ceremony. It definitely takes something from the romance of the ceremony ... 'Do you, Sharna-Lee 'also known as' Sharon-Lee take... ' I, Sharna-Lee 'also known as' Sharon-Lee promise to..... I'm sure you get the picture.

Although I intended to change my name by deed poll, after the wedding, I never did get around to doing so. I am still, to this day, some 30 years later, an A.K.A. All of my official documents are in the name of Sharna-Lee and I never use Sharon-Lee. Applying for a passport was no trouble as I simply presented my marriage certificate bearing the large A.K.A and all was well. My passport said Sharna-Lee.

In Brisbane, the very nice girl at the department of Births Deaths and Marriages, informed
me that I would have to wait until the next day for my birth certificate as it was issued before 1989, but that she could print out my marriage certificate while I waited. I had filled the marriage certificate form using Sharna-Lee but the birth certificate form in using my original name of Sharon-Lee AND had put on it my mis-spelled surname as well. (Did I not mention that my father who registered me at birth, further complicated my life by mis-spelling my surname?) He did, at least, spell my first name correctly, unlike that of my my sister who was intended to be Janean. My father ( had my mother not learned after she sent my father to the registry office for me the first time?) could not remember the name Janean and so my sister became Janelle. My sister's surname was MacDade but somehow mine was spelled as Mcdade.... no 'a' and a small 'd'. A small, but for me, a significant difference, especially as I am the family historian.

After a long wait, at the BDM counter, the young girl finally asked me if I was sure I was born in Queensland?
'Yes. I am certain.'
'Because, madam, you don't appear to be here.'
'Try Sharna-Lee?'
'No... No one by that name.'
'Try MacDade with an all important 'a'.'
'Still not here.'
'Did you try Sharon-Lee with McDade AND Mcdade or perhaps McDade with a capital 'D'?'
'How many names do you have madam?'

And, therein lies a significant problem for me. Who am I? How will my descendants look for me? Under which name? I need to sort out my identity so I can be found somewhere down the years ahead. My name change could potentially create a huge brick wall for family historians in the future.

As for my birth certificate, the poor girl searching for it was completely confused. Two days later she was still searching. Although I had spelled my surname as Mcdade for the birth certificate application, she had been looking for MacDade which was the name on my marriage certificate. But, I am happy to say, that I do exist. On my third day in Brisbane, I finally held in my hand, a birth certificate and a marriage certificate. Unfortunately... there is now yet another problem. The name Sharna-Lee has been left off my marriage document. I am no longer an A.K.A. I should be overjoyed, but for the fact that I need a passport in the name Sharna-Lee and no longer have proof that I am Sharon-Lee A.K.A Sharna-Lee. Time to sort it out, I think.


  1. What a drama! But dealing with Queensland Registrar-General's Office often *is* a drama. I once applied for a death certificate, and after returning it (twice) for correction of obvious typing mistakes (eg, an impossible date), it arrived the third time with *my* name as the name of the deceased. At that point I spat the dummy and wrote a strongly-worded letter to the relevant Minister.

  2. Goes to show we must try all variants - even for people born in modern times.

  3. Oh my what a hassle! I have to confess that while I sympathised with the bureaucratic dilemma and the need to get it sorted, I could see the humour in the litany of compounding "mistakes"...but only because it wasn't me in the maze.