One of the most interesting things about coming out to people as transgender has been the questions others ask, right after you tell them, or with time.
There’s a question I didn’t expect to be asked often but which has come up with nearly everyone I know, and that’s why (and how) I chose my name. I didn’t expect it, but thinking about it, it’s one of the most natural to ask. Aside from getting married, it’s not common to change your name, especially when it’s your first (and middle) name being changed, not your surname. Of course it’s an interesting idea.
First off, let’s look at the how.
When there’s a baby on the way, it’s common for the parents to freak out about what to name it. There are a lot of factors to be taken into account. There might a certain family member who’s expecting you to name the kid after them, maybe your partner has a name they’ve wanted for decades but which you secretly think sounds awful, and then there’s the weird judgements people might make about them from their name. You don’t quite know how people might think of a Laura compared to a Monique.
There’s a ton of pressure.
Ultimately though, it’s not you who has to live with it, and even if you choose something unusual or odd, your child might get used to it over the years. You don’t have that luxury when you’re trans; you’re stuck with what you’ve got, and unless you take the name your parents would’ve given you if you’d been assigned a different gender at birth, you don’t get to blame anyone but yourself.
You also have to take a few more factors into consideration when you’re trans.
Are you going to feminise/masculinise (masculify? masculise? What the hell is the verb for that??) your old name? That has some positives and some negatives.
Going from Danny to Danielle can be easier for your close ones to adjust to, but what if they take to calling you Dani, or if strangers start doing it? You might spend the rest of your life feeling like you’re being misgendered.
Go for a completely different name and you might hurt your parents’ feelings. They did put an insane amount of effort and time into it, after all.
Is the name you chose one that was popular back when you were born?
I didn’t think to check on the popularity of my name until after I decided on it. It’s in the Top 30 baby names in the US right now, but it was barely used back when I was born. This might explain why, when I say my name at the call centre where I work, I get called Leyla, Kayla, Dana, Deena, Katie, Kimmy, etc etc. It’s just not a ‘natural’ name for someone my age.
You also absolutely cannot choose the name of someone you know. Name your firstborn daughter after a friend and it’s a huge honour. Name yourself after them and it’s downright creepy.
Quick aside: If a trans person you are friends or family with chooses your name for themselves, be very, very afraid. I’ve come across stories of absolutely unhinged people. There was this one girl whose transgender sister stole their name (and, it felt like, their identity). It was terrifying to read.
So, there are some restrictions and considerations to keep in mind, but HOW do you choose a name?
At first I went with the obvious. 13/14 year old me’s browsing history was half full of baby naming sites. I liked to just hit the Random button and check each name and its definition.
That didn’t really work though… I was looking at dozens of names daily and discarding them just as quickly.
Around that time I really got into Pokémon games, and I started creating save files (as girl characters of course) with random girl names I was considering. Thinking back on it, they were mostly taken from videogames or books I was reading at the time. I remember really being into the name Lucy back then when I was first going through the Narnia books.
Anyways, the Pokémon method was great at eliminating tons of names which felt great at first, but got old pretty quickly. I moved around a ton, so I also eliminated a few more names because I met girls with those names, or whose sisters had those names.
That’s how I eventually came to Lily. I have no idea where I picked it up, maybe someone I met once or heard on some show… I have no idea. It stuck though, and after going through a few videogames with the name and still liking it, I started using it in online forums (mainly tumblr, to be honest) and getting more and more comfortable with it. The switch to Liliana came because my best friend at the time thought it sounded better than just Lily, and I just went along with it for her. I’m glad I did; if I’d gone with just Lily I’d have felt like I was abandoning my heritage.
So that’s the how. Now, before we get to the why there are a couple of things I want to explain about my dead name.
My dead first name, [redacted], means Man, or Manly. It was kind of a hilarious, if painful, irony, and I hated it. Sadly it’s what everyone called me at school. Can you imagine how that felt? Being reminded of the thing I hated most about myself every couple of minutes was awful. I started trying to get some really stupid nicknames to catch on, to no avail.
My dead middle name though, was another story. It was chosen by my father decades ago, which I liked, and it means Warrior. Or someone with the name was the patron saint of soldiers. Something like that.
Anyways, I took comfort from that. If I had to define my pre-transition days in one word, ‘Struggle’ would be one of my first suggestions, and I took strength from my middle name. It meant I would fight and keep on keepin’ on until I was victorious. Which I did.
So when the time came to finally settle on a new name, I decided to mirror my dead name. Instead of choosing a name which basically screamed Manly Man at me, I chose a soft, pretty, feminine name. Lily. Liliana.
It’s a name pretty much made to be written in delicate curly script. When I introduce myself I often get “Oh, that’s such a pretty name!” and my internal reaction is a big laugh and a “heck yeah it is!”
For my middle name I decided to focus a lot more on meaning than femininity. If the first half of my life was defined by fighting, I wanted to choose something that would help define the rest of my life in a more positive manner, and which would also offer me comfort in a way similar to how my dead middle name did.
So I went with Amanda. Deserving of love, lovely, loving. I want my life to be defined by the love I give and receive from those I care about, and no matter what people say or whatever happens to me, I want to be reminded I am worthy of love. So, Amanda.
As a slightly unplanned bonus, both names work in English and Spanish, which is perfect for me. They also flow well together, but that was definitely planned. There’s a notebook somewhere with a bunch of names with scansion done all over them, because I wanted something that sounded melodic.
Ultimately though, you can’t predict everything that will come with a name. Soon after I’d had my legal name change, I heard of that old joke on Friends about Amanda (A-man-duh). Luckily I found it funny and it just added to my enjoyment of my name.
I hope that’s been a thorough and clear enough answer about how and why I chose my name. If you have any questions about it, I’d be happy to answer them so ask ahead! 🙂
For fun, let me know what name you’d think you’d choose for a you in an alternate gender-bent Universe, or which name your parents would’ve chosen for you. I always find that interesting.