naming the self

written may 12, 2022

choosing a name is such a special thing, i think.

there's lots of reasons someone will pick a new name, some mundane, some particularly noteworthy, but i think, at the end of the day, any name change is cause for celebration.

names are indicative of who we are, as people, as beings or personalities or ideas. sure, some people are simply given a name when they're born by their parents when they are nothing but a hungry body. and of course, there is a particular empowerment in choosing to go by that name consciously, to take it and mold it into an image you like, because, well, you are defining it!

but my particular focus here is on names chosen after birth, when the self has woken up proper and is able to do its own thing outside of the autonomous body functions.

as a child, my deadname did not particularly mean anything to me. i knew its meaning - "of the valley" - but in truth, my name was hurriedly picked out last-minute by my mother, who said, 'hey, ****, i want to name her after you.'

my twin sister had a name picked out already - though it ended up being the feminine form of that, because they thought she was a boy in the womb and she surprised them when she arrived. but i was kind of just a second thought. and, i think, growing up, i was often a second thought to people (including myself).

in middle school, i came up with an internet username that i thought was unique and felt right. in a way, these are also self-names, because, yes, people can and will call you this on the internet! and the truth is, a lot of trans people, like me and many of my friends, had the unifying experience of going by their internet name more than their dead/birthname before coming out. (a common line from a friend of mine was, "hey, i keep wanting to call you [username]. isn't that weird?")

and sure, i had no idea i was transgender until after highschool. and yet, i went by that username for many years. i rarely ever gave anyone my birthname - i was raised to respect my privacy and not overshare on the internet, unlike some people on twitter, but i also felt like the name was..... wrong. for some reason. (clueless!)

in june 2014, i saw a friend come out as nonbinary over twitter. (hi, sen!)

for some reason, this is what clicked something in my brain. i went... "wait... you can do that?"

and so, i told my closest friends i was, almost verbatim, "not really vibing with the cis thing". which is, like, an incredibly funny way to describe that. good job. lmao

i didn't really think about pronouns until my friend d messaged me and asked. "hey, so, i know you came out as nonbinary.... do you have any pronouns you want to try?"

and, well, i had not thought that far!

so i decided with they/them, at d's suggestion. and honestly, it's as familiar and comfortable to me now as a worn pair of jeans, or a favorite shirt. i would say it's my primary set of pronouns now, even if i don't use it exclusively for myself (i also use he/him and ve/vir, as of writing, though i only ever use he and they anymore).

anyways, this kind of went on a tangent, but...

in 2014, as well, i also did some thinking. i was not very experienced with the 'trans thing', and i had no idea about what to call myself. not that i necessarily had to change it, but it was such an overlertly feminine name that i wasn't quite comfortable.

i decided to look through baby name websites, which i hear is a common thing for trans people to do... it was hard to find a gender neutral name i liked with the same letter as my birthname, so i did searching, and ended up with a name (which i don't go by here, but go by everywhere else) that i thought sounded nice. but i was... nervous. i was really hesitant to try anything new. it was a huge transitory period for me.

so, it took a few years for me to go by that. in the meantime, in college, i mostly went by 'dee', a childhood nickname that felt a little more neutral. but that still didn't feel quite right.

in december 2017, in a private chat with friends, we were discussing someone going by a new name, and i tentatively mentioned there was a name i thought of trying for a while but was too nervous. and, with some encouragement, i changed my name there, to try it out.

and let me tell you! changing a name is so strange! and different! because it's like trying a new shirt on. you don't know if you like how it feels, or how it fits yet.

but after a while... you sort of lean into it. it starts feeling natural. and you feel like you made a good decision.

obviously, it's not only hard for you to get used to it - oftentimes you have to mention it to people close to you so they can start correcting themselves, and believe me, it takes a lot of correcting!

but after a few years of having my legal name changed, let me tell you. it is an absolute relief not to see the old name on my official documents, or on my medication bottles, etc.

and not to say you can't be cis and change your name.... people do it all the time, y'know? some people go by their middle name instead. some people go by a nickname. etc. and those are still 'real names', regardless of their gender or transitional status.

start doing what you want to do. life is fleeting, and too important to be wasted by not making yourself happy and healthy. whether you know it or not, you deserve comfort. and, well, new names are kind of sick as hell. you should try it.