When and why does James Gatz change his name in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald?

In The Great Gatsby, James Gatz changes his name to Jay Gatsby at the age of seventeen when he first meets Dan Cody on Lake Superior. James Gatz invents this "Platonic conception of himself" in an attempt to recreate his identity and distance himself from his poor, shiftless parents. James Gatz assumes this exciting new identity as inspiration to live up to his potential, satisfy his imagination, and raise his expectations for himself.

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James Gatz becomes Jay Gatsby at the tender age of seventeen when he first meets the super-rich copper magnate Dan Cody. James takes the opportunity of meeting Dan to reinvent himself and to metamorphose from a humble Midwestern kid to an urbane, successful young man.

James has been waiting for this moment for an awfully long time. For many years he's been yearning to escape his humble background and become rich and successful. In the figure of Dan Cody, he sees a role model, someone to be emulated in his search for wealth and social respectability.

Of course, a change of name is not going to be enough to give Jay, as he now insists on calling himself, everything that he wants. But at the very least it will allow him to start thinking like a rich man, which is an important prerequisite to actually being one. James Gatz was a nobody, but Jay Gatsby is someone else entirely. Though residing in the same body as James, Jay has a completely different soul, one controlled—and dare one say, corrupted?—by the overwhelming desire to be rich and respected.

James may not know it yet, but in changing his name, he's taken the first step on a path that will eventually lead to wealth, success, and his premature death.

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Nick Carraway writes that James Gatz changed his name at the age of seventeen when he first met the wealthy copper tycoon, Dan Cody, on Lake Superior. James Gatz assumed the identity of Jay Gatsby to impress Dan Cody and took this opportunity to reinvent himself into the inspirational figure of his imagination. James Gatz was the son of poor North Dakota farmers and always felt that he was destined for something greater than his shiftless parents could provide.

In James Gatz's imagination, he never really accepted them as his parents, and his newfound identity "sprang from his Platonic conception of himself." Nick Carraway assumes that James had the name "ready for a long time" and embraced his new identity the moment he introduced himself to Dan Cody. Gatsby would remain faithful to the fabricated conception of himself to the end.

As a young Jay Gatsby, he sailed to the West Indies and the Barbary Coast with Cody and remained in his service for five years until he passed away. Following Cody's death, Gatsby continued to assume his manufactured identity and eventually met Daisy Fay, who was well above his social status. Gatsby would live up to his name and eventually transform himself into a successful businessman. Gatsby miraculously achieves the American Dream, purchases a magnificent estate in the West Egg, and follows his goal of winning Daisy's heart.

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James Gatz changes his name to Jay Gatsby at the age of seventeen in order to impress Dan Cody, an extremely wealthy retired miner and yacht owner. Katz spots Cody drop his anchor in a dangerous area and rows out to the yacht to warn him of the peril. This results in a budding mentorship between Cody and Gatsby, which ultimately lasts for five years.

This decision is made out of Gatsby's long held desire to divorce himself from the reality of his upbringing; he no longer wants to exist as the son of penniless farmers, but rather aims to re-shape his identity into that of a significant and wealthy man. In Gatsby's mind, this shift could result in a romantic new future--one in which he achieves great success and recovers the love of his life. It is this imaginative quality that ultimately leads him to build an empire and relocate to West Egg to once more pursue Daisy. 

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We do not learn until Chapter VI of The Great Gatsby that Jay Gatsby was born James Gatz, although rumors suggest Gatsby is not his real name. His father called him Jimmy. He changed his name when he was seventeen years old. On the day he did this, he had been on the beach, not doing anything in particular, when he observed a yacht drop anchor on Lake Superior. He borrowed a rowboat and went out to warn the yacht's owner that this was a dangerous spot. When he introduced himself to Dan Cody, a wealthy and retired miner, he introduced himself as Jay Gatsby, a name Nick speculates Gatsby decided upon well before that day. Cody takes him in and mentors him, and Gatsby remains with him for five years. Gatz became Gatsby because he was reinventing himself and says the name "sprang from his Platonic conception of himself," a large part of the American dream (104). In his heart, Gatsby was no longer the child of "shiftless and unsuccessful farm people," digging for clams at the shore of the lake and fishing for salmon (104). He had a dream and a concept of himself that did not match the reality of his life, and "to this conception, he was faithful to the very end" (104).

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