When we left University 10 years ago, my friends marked the occasion with the likes of a tattoo or a big holiday. I, however, thought of another way to celebrate: I changed my name to Luke Skywalker. Yes, the one from Star Wars.
In my mind, it made perfect sense. It was funny, a lot less permanent than getting inked and I could always change it back if I really regretted it. But there simply wasn’t anything to regret at first: I got ‘Luke Skywalker’ printed on my degree certificate, plus a gigantic applause when my name was read out during the graduation ceremony.
Fortunately, my family weren’t hugely shocked by the change. When I was a child, then called Luke Gough, I always joked that I would change my name to Skywalker one day. I was a Star Wars fan from a young age, always running around with poster tubes and whacking my brothers on the head. And, if I’m being honest, my love was also driven a bit by ego: I loved that the main character was called Luke.
When I got older, I was able to pass on my enthusiasm for Star Wars to a new generation. After a brief spell working at a phone shop (alongside somebody who was legally called Han Solo – seriously), I became a primary school teacher. Although my pupils didn’t initially know too much about Star Wars – I was mistakenly called ‘Mr Skyscraper’ and ‘Mr Skydiver’ a few times – this all changed in 2015 in the run up to Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
The release seemed like the perfect opportunity to inspire my class. We wrote the script for our very own Star Wars film, shot it and edited the footage into an actual movie. I even managed to get our local cinema to screen it, taking the kids to see their work on the big screen before we all watched The Force Awakens. It was amazing to see their faces getting caught up in a new Star Wars story and being introduced to new heroes – even if Luke Skywalker only turned up at the end.
Somebody who’s not as enthusiastic about my name: my wife. Although she finds it funny on occasion, it often leaves her cringing. If I’m booking a restaurant table on the phone, she’ll have to walk out of the room. She didn’t take my name after our wedding (no, I didn’t invite any Stormtroopers) and we’ve agreed any children we have won’t carry on the Skywalker name.
For me, however, being Luke Skywalker is far from embarrassing. It’s a guaranteed ice-breaker, leaving me able to speak to anyone (well, as long as they’ve seen Star Wars). However, it can get awkward if I don’t get the chance to explain it. When I give blood, for example, sitting in a waiting room full of strangers, I’m dreading the moment the doctor comes out and bellows ‘LUKE SKYWALKER!’. That’s when I have to do my walk of shame through a room full of muttering and pointing. Although to be fair, I would definitely join them if I heard somebody was called Aragon or Rocky Balboa.
Although about 80 per cent of folks believe I’m called Luke Skywalker and absolutely love it, there are always those that think I’m making it up. Facebook, for instance. They wouldn’t allow me to set up an account in my own name, shutting me out completely. Getting a page with my name took a very curt email, a copy of my name certificate and a four-week wait.
You can never take yourself seriously as Luke Skywalker. But the downside is that you can never take yourself seriously as Luke Skywalker. And that’s a real problem when you don’t always want to be the entertainer.
For instance, one time my house was burgled. Everything, including the car, was taken. It was horrible, but the police couldn’t help but chuckle a bit at my name. I felt the need to put on this face for them, but at that moment, I didn’t want to be centre of attention. I just wanted to be left alone.
That’s not been my only run-in with the police. Another time I was pulled over for a broken headlight and was asked for my name. It’s in these situations it’s best not to say anything, just to slowly present my driving licence. At this, the policeman instantly changed from stern to friendly, bursting out laughing and asking: ‘”Is your X-Wing in the shop then?”.
Sure, there are times when it’s tiring to be Luke Skywalker and people always expect me to be up for a joke. Plus, every Christmas present I get is always Star Wars related. But I’ve never thought about changing my name back. Quite simply, I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I wasn’t Luke Skywalker.
I was shy and socially awkward when I was younger – and I hated it. But that’s all gone now. Being called Luke Skywalker made me come out of my shell. It’s forced me to be more outgoing and more grounded. It’s meant I’ve had to be the class clown. And that’s great.
People are always shocked that I’ve changed my name, but I’m always surprised by the reverse: “Why haven’t you changed your name?” I ask. I find it stranger that people don’t want to do it, especially if you can become a Star Wars character. After all, name yourself after a Jedi and you’ve got licence to use the ultimate sign-off: may the force be with you.
Words by Thomas Ling