An ineffable string of random letters and/or sounds that somehow represents you. YOU. Who you are. Your essence. The same word is used to refer to who you used to be; to call your attention to the present; to stand in for who you will become. This name is yours. Your name is yours. You are your name. Even when so many others share the same four, five, six, seventeen letter phrase that, through all your years of existence, has come to signify YOU.
This is why your name is important.
Yet, as transgender and gender-aware people know so well, most names are inherently gendered, which is why most of us choose to change it. We didn’t choose our birth gender, and we didn’t choose our birth name; but we choose our new body, and we choose our new name. Somehow all other aspects of transition don’t have as many options as a name: the possibilities are infinite, and with it the difficulty of a decision increases exponentially.
Sometimes a name chooses us. Much like our gender, as hard as we tried to fit into this or that box, our place in the spectrum awaits us as soon as we discover it, already warm for when we’re ready to nestle into it. But other times, much like our gender and transition and all the choices we’ve had to make along the way, we agonize over our name, mull over a handful of the options, start going down one path only to realize we need to back up or start over.
One of my earlier experiments with names failed miserably. It turns out this was not the right name for me. But is there a “right” name? Or can I at most hold out for a close approximation? Will I be forever stuck with a name with which I can live by, but never truly feel at home in?
I can think of a sizeable number of names that I like, or would like to like. I dream of a name I can call mine, a name I can see myself in, a name that is ME. But it is just a dream.
Given this constant state of flux I’ve been in for years, not being able to see myself in my name – for perhaps my whole life – I’ve come to feel like there is no name at all that fits. It is, after all, called transition, wherein motion is implied. My transition is in progress, with no end in sight. And what is constant motion but a blur; what is the space between moleculues but emptiness; what is something that has no name but ineffable – undescribable, undefinable. Do I even exist without a name? What can I call ME? Who is ME?
Finding a name that “fits” has been one of the hardest parts of my transition.
45 thoughts on “Nameless”
I looked at your other post about names to see what I wrote for a comment on that one, and I have a new comment that might be interesting. Now that I’ve moved to San Diego I’m meeting a whole new group of people. I have a lot of opportunities to introduce myself. When I introduce myself as Jillian, I get different names back. It goes like this:
Me: Hi, I’m Jillian.
Well, that’s a lie — I corrected the person who said Joann. But I accept Jillian, Julia, and Julian as my name, whichever the person thinks I said. It’s kind of neat because I’ve started doing the same thing with pronouns. People call me he or she and I just go right along with it; for that person, I am a he or a she. I am a Jillian or a Julia or a Julian. I feel most at home with Jillian because that’s what I’ve been called my whole life, but I answer to the other ones, too. I won’t be legally changing my name or anything, but Julia and Julian feel kind of like nicknames, and I can live with that. I’ve already got a lot of nicknames from friends and family. Jillin, Jillybob, Jillybean, Dr. J… Sea, Seabird, Sea Urchin, Sea Monster…
I think perhaps I’m becoming comfortable with the performance aspects of gender (and identity in general) and I’m playing with letting my identity be partly created by other people’s perceptions.
I wonder, what do the people close to you call you? Do they see you as a Maddox, or a Mich, for example, or do those names feel as wrong to them as they do to you?
As always, you crack me up Jillian / Julian / not-Joann / neither JoAnne. As I’ve distanced myself from my birth gender, I have also distanced my self from my birth name, so even though I’ve been called that my whole life, my whole life so far has not been me.
Indeed very often it is a performance – of gender, of self. I do this all the time. But I’m getting tired of not knowing what’s going to come up next. I kind of want to sit back and enjoy just being me, and not have to worry which “me” others will see.
I’m writing a follow-up post because all of these comments are amazing.
Names are such a personal thing. I have two first names and no middle name, the first part a modification of my birth name, the second taken in honour of a friend, the latter in particular carries much meaning to me.
I’d be curious to read how you came about this decision. Even when a name can carry a significant meaning, it doesn’t always feel “right” y’know?
When I came out to my parents at age 41, I had already chosen my name. My mom asked if I would consider the name that my parents were going to give me if I had been born female. I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t remember what that name was, but I told my mom “no.” I had chosen a name and it was mine. It was me claiming my own identity.
Yes, choosing one’s name is an important thing. It’s not easy, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Thank you for another insightful post.
Glad you stood up if you were already sure of yourself.
I have been thinking of asking my parents what name they would’ve given me, or what name they’d give me now, but it’s a subject I have yet to broach.
My brother and I often laugh at the names our parents would’ve given us had we been born the opposite gender, because they are truly horrible names!
my parents said they would’ve named me “boris”. …i don’t think i could live with that.
It fits, in a “it’s so wrong it’s right” sort of way…. hehe.
I considered using Jacob, the name my parents would have given me if they thought I was a boy. I could totally be a Jake. Or a Jack — Jack and Jill went up the hill, hehe. Never tested either of them, though.
Test Test Test! This is the tennet of science and software development, both of which I have dabbled in.
(Just throwing it out there that, of all the variations you could come up with, “Seabiscuit” will likely not one of the good ones.)
Haaa, Seabiscuit. Never heard that one before.
i don’t think you can rush this (as you know); naming is too important and too intimate for us to take it lightly. and naming is powerful! take your time and experiment– maybe try out names that are easily altered or shortened.
or maybe your name will just come to you when you least expect it. maybe someone will mispronounce whatever you tell them to call you– and that will turn out to be your name. maybe someone will name you in a dream and when you wake up, you will have a name. maybe, when you’re farther along in your transition and you feel less like a blur, you will grow into a name and know it.
for me, the most important consideration when choosing my name was how i wanted to address myself. i addressed myself by my real name for YEARS before i started telling people to call me by it. i was lucky i guess.
i hope you find your real name! and i LOVE this post, btw.
I am in a way waiting for it to “come” to me. It’s a good strategy to address yourself – I try addressing myself with other names but it doesn’t work. Not even with my current name. Hence my frustration.
i wish there were, like, a name-finding spell i could cast for you. or a wizard who could just be like, “eat these three basil leaves and you will know your name” or something.
my real name sorta comes from my old name, but that’s kinda coincidence; i named myself after something with significance to me.
I had my name changed for other reasons, but it took me several years before I was sure enough to make it legal.
What were your reasons, if I may ask? I’d love to know!
Well, as I became more religious, I wanted to have a Jewish name. I have been called my birth name until about age 9 when I asked to be called another name. At age 13 I added another name to it. As an adult, I got it legalized. See? Totally different reason. lol.
I know a few Jewish people who changed their name for religious reasons, but they didn’t necessarily go for the Hebrew equivalent of their name. I don’t think the reason matters as much as finding yourself reflected in another name, and knowing that this name is you.
I never understood people who just chose names that sound similar in Hebrew. You’re choosing an identity here.
Exactly! You just summarized everything….
Yes! We’re glad this isn’t an uncommon thing.
We identify somewhere along the lines of agender and transmasculine, and it’s gotten to the point where we’re not sure /what/ to call ourselves, because it seems as though after a few days or so, nothing fits properly.
We know that it’s not something that can be rushed, but it’s pretty anxiety-causing, yeah? Not knowing what to call ourselves, let alone what to tell other people to cause us
I’ve also been meaning to ask my parents what they would have named me. Of course, they would have given me my brother’s name…so can’t take that name. Oh well, I don’t much like it.
And this is why I just call myself “fluffy,” all lowercase.
Yet somehow I do not imagine you as a very cute furball…. I mean, you probably are quite cute 😉
For me leaving my old name wasn’t a problem, and the new one came from the same person who gave me my first couple of sets of names. I was adopted by my stepdad when I was 4, so they changed my name to his, as a Jr., which I resisted, so they changed my first name back but kept my stepdad’s middle and last names. Then, when it was time to give people something new to call me by, I remembered that a couple of the options my mom came up with was a combo of my grandmothers’ names, Mildred and Ellen, so it was either Emily or Melanie. I chose Melanie because I like that Mel is pretty asexual for my generation. Those who were still coming to grips with my change eased into things by calling me Mel, and everyone else since starts out with Melanie and shortens it to Mel eventually. Names are funny things. They either fit, or they don’t, and I’ve noticed that for some reason, people with the same names seem to have more commonalities than would seem to be normal. As an example, every Wendy I’ve known was athletic and blonde and kinda butch (except for the red-head on the burger-place).
I always use my initials because of it’s androgynous nature. You have an interesting blog, by the way 🙂
Initials are a good strategy, but they are quite particular. I think they work only for some people, definitely not for me. Mostly because my initials are MR (likely to be pronounced “mister”).
I always hated my given name. It just didn’t feel right at all. Well, people started calling me by JK (jay-kay) the moment I changed my fb name. At first I found it hilarious like an in joke but it actually felt right.
I hope you’d find the right name. Who know’s? it might be just around the corner.
…looks around corner…
Natural progression is how I ended up with my current name. You’re right, maybe this’ll stick, or maybe a new name will just creep along.
I’ve always been of the opinion that my (real) name becomes non-binary by virtue of me using it.
Also, once you’ve hung around Jamaican families for a while, you learn that a name is just a bunch of sounds used to get a fix on a person…they just put sounds together and call it a name.
Sometimes I think I’d like to change my name. Not so much because my name is overtly gendered, but because I feel like it chains me to a person I’m not anymore. Or perhaps a person I don’t want to be anymore. It seems sort of frivolous though, to change my name just to cut ties with the past.
That is exactly why I really don’t like my old name – it just belongs to a different person!
I’m actually torn between using my given name (Chloe), my neutral name (Cas), and my male name (Nicolas). :-\
I’m glad you shared this post on names today; I’ve been mulling writing about names for about a week now, and I think you’ve given me the push I needed.
I got my name when I was a kid and first starting to realize I was trans. A bunch of boys on the chair in front of me on a ski lift, having gendered me based on my ski gear, were trying to guess my name. I was shy and refused to talk, but liked the one they finally decided on. I picked the spelling based on one I saw in a book plus my synesthesia with letters and changed it legally a few years ago 🙂 Unexpected problem: It’s a very gendered name in Slavic countries though and the customs officer almost didn’t let me into Ukraine after interrogating me on whether I was a man or woman (not on hormones and haven’t changed my gender marker).