What's in a Name?

Every parent has a story, an important story about how they chose their child’s name. It is probably the first BIG decision we make for our child in utero, and as parents-to-be we definitely feel the pressure to pick something great!

J’s birth name is super feminine, like I might argue an actual icon of feminine names. It isn’t a very popular name, but very recognizable due to a famous literary reference. My partner and I chose it well before we were pregnant. We were at a friend’s wedding the day before our one year wedding anniversary, feeling very lovey and starting to look forward to having children in the coming years. There was a small toddler who every time she was left to her own exploration would end up in front of a large speaker dancing to the jazz music playing over dinner. We were enamoured with her. Completely taken with how curious and cute she was in her party dress living in the moment. At some point we asked what her name was, and it stuck with us. This name also had a very strong connection with a special non-profit organization I worked for, and a loose theme we had at our wedding. It seemed to us the perfect name for our first child.

It is funny, because my real name (yes I use a fake name here), is actually very gender-neutral, and I have always been a big fan of names that can sit in the middle and swing both ways. But I loved J’s birth name to bits, and it took over any other names that were mentioned in conversation while I was pregnant. My partner really didn’t want a “popular” name, citing all the Mason’s and Sofia’s being born at the time. So once we found out the genitals of J, we immediately started using his name … the whole family did.

I heard a saying once that said “a name is a gift given to you when you are born, if at anytime you find that gift no longer fits, you can exchange it no problem” --- and that is essentially true in our situation. J’s name did not fit him anymore after he socially transitioned and started using new pronouns, so eventually he asked to change it.

But it took him some time to come around to the idea of changing his name. Initially, when we changed pronouns, I asked him if he wanted a more masculine sounding name. And he was VERY upset that I would even ask him. But by that time we were already using a shortened version of his birth name to make the transition a little clearer for those around us, and for J himself. He stuck with this shortened name for a few months and every so often the conversation of picking a new name would come up, but whenever I would suggest an idea for a new name, he would get upset and shut down the conversation.

Once when we were at our Psychologist appointment, she mentioned to J

“Sometimes people have secret names in their heads that they don’t want to tell anyone about, have you ever had a secret name?”

But J refused to answer.

I can look back now and see it clearly. J had an attachment to his birth name just like I did. It was hard for him to give up. It was such a part of him that he didn’t know what would fit him better than that name. I also felt a loss for the name we had carefully selected and felt so connected to. But, now that J was living truly as himself, I did feel the name … even the shortened version didn’t fit. I’m sure many parents out there can attest to this … if you push them, they will push back. SO I waited, and waited.

Then one day J told me he was ready to change his name. He had just finished his bath and was in pjs with wet hair. I jumped on the opportunity to pick a new name! I told him to get a piece of paper and write down a YES, NO and maybe column. He knew he wanted a name that started with J, just like his birth name, so I pulled up a list of J names and started reading them out loud. After a couple duds we came to J’s name … I have never seen his face light up like it did … he loved it and put it in the YES pile.

But you know what? I HATED it. I would have never chosen that name for J, and my partner probably wouldn’t have either. I continued down the list of names, but nothing made it into the YES column. He had made up his mind. At the time it felt like I had let go of a name I loved, but didn’t want for him anymore, for a name I didn’t love, but that FIT him so well. I felt very mixed.

And then I remembered all the uncomfortable years he lived with his birth name and the assumption he was a girl … I thought about the kiddos who come out as transgender as teenagers or adults and all the years they lived with a name that didn’t fit … and you know what?! He deserves to have have any name he wants! And in fact I love his name now. I couldn’t imagine him with any other.

Hear RUBY’s story in Episode 8

-- Lucy