Choosing a name is one of the first big steps in your transition – it’s the name you get to choose to signify who you are after you come out. It’ll be the name that reflects who you honestly are. It’ll be the name that goes on your new paperwork, the paperwork that signals to the GIC, your GP, your bank… the taxman… work, everyone that you have opened a new chapter and are ready to move forward.
So no pressure then.
I’m going to walk you through some quick advice I have, having reflected on many people’s chosen names over the years. If you want to work with me in a coaching setting, I can help you find a new name – one that reflects who you are accurately. In a weird way, amidst all the negative aspects of being trans, choosing a name is a bright point: most people are stuck with the name their parents chose for them at birth, no matter how much or little that name echoes their true personality.
Where to start?
First up, don’t rush into this decision. It’s quite a big process, and you should take your time – maybe ask friends and family what they think of a few different choices – and allow yourself time to sit with your final choice before you accept it and move forward. Look at baby name websites, look into the meanings of different names if that appeals – there’s a whole range of approaches you can take.
There are a few stumbling blocks to choosing a name, though, which are worth thinking about. The wrong name can call attention to the fact that you’re trans, or it won’t suit you – you need to have a name that you can confidently introduce yourself with and spell out for someone without feeling embarrassed at later down the road. You also don’t want a name that’s going to make someone look at you twice and start clocking. Names are pretty powerful – the right one fits you like a glove and tells people who you want to be… the wrong one… Not so much.
Age and culturally appropriate names
If you were born in the fifties or sixties, look for women’s names that were popular in your birth year or decade. The thing is that a name that is ‘too young’ or ‘too old’ for you will seem inappropriate and out of place. If you were born in the nineties, again, look for names that were common for that year or decade. Think back to school – what were common names that girls had in your class? For me, it was Sarah all the way.
For example, if you’re a young, white woman in your mid twenties, Patricia might not suit you as well as it would if your family are Italian, Polish or Spanish, or of African descent. It also might suit someone in her fifties or sixties much better than a younger woman, as it’s a name that was much more popular a few decades back. You can google popular names by decade, and look up the origin of different names to decide if the one you particularly like will seem natural to you.
Also, no matter how much you love a particular culture, try to stay away from choosing a name in that language. For example, if you’re German, don’t call yourself Miyoko – it’s kinda weird and will definitely stand out. Pick a name that is more common in your language or culture and it will help you blend in well.
Gender neutral or hyper-feminine versions
Another issue is that sometimes it’s tempting to choose a gender neutral name or gender neutral variant of your birth/deadname, to make the process smoother. This could be one approach, but you do want to give people an indication of what gender you want them to perceive you as, and a neutral name won’t help with that. So if your name is Sean, choosing a name like Shon gives less of a clue about your gender identity than say, Sian or Siobhan. Likewise, if you were christened Alexander, and you pick Alex or Alyx as a name, certainly in the early days of your transition, this might confuse people initially, and that hesitation is not something you ideally want to cause.
On the flip side, choosing a very feminine name can in itself be an issue. If you choose a name like Priscilla or Violetta it’s also going to cause people to do a double-take. Not only because they’re rarer, but because they are so very feminine that while you are in the early days of your transition, this will definitely seem out of place and a bit unusual.
Something that is clearly feminine but not especially ‘flouncy’ (if that even makes sense) like Sarah, Sophie, Jessica, or Katy is a good choice. Those are definitely female names, but they’re also fairly regular names, they aren’t unusual or unfamiliar (I’m of course talking to the English-speaking world here – the situation is similar and applicable to whatever your native language or culture is, but for familiar names wherever you’re coming from). No-one is going to double-take for a Katy the way they might for Hermione.
If you’ve absolutely fallen for a particular women’s name, but it’s a bit too feminine, you can always give it to yourself as a middle name, or ask close friends to use it as a nickname later down the line. But do yourself a favour and choose a more standard name as well.
I get it – everyone’s individual, and you want to reflect your unique personality in your name. The thing is, if you are particularly off the wall, off-beat or vibrant to meet (maybe you’re a Buddhist cross-fitter who also paints elaborate murals) then that will shine through when people meet you and ask about your interests. Your name doesn’t need to do all the talking for you.
For example, I’ve seen people choose to call themselves things like Poet, Artist, Painter… among others. In some ways, I can see the appeal. These are names that speak of creativity, they’re unusual and perhaps inspiring. But imagine if you’ve called yourself Artist, and now you work in a bank. Somehow the setting isn’t quite right, and you’re asking the name to do a lot of heavy lifting.
Plus, we’ve all met the people who are keen to tell you how interesting and exciting they are, but whose behaviour is definitely more middle of the road than they think it is. (I think I’m definitely one of those, or certainly used to be. I’ve embraced my middle-ground happily now.) A name that doesn’t fit with your personality will seem weird, and a name you’ve invented for yourself might feel particularly unique and exciting, but again, if it makes people double-take when meeting you, you’re more likely to get clocked.
Plus, imagine having to tell a mortgage broker or banker that you’re called Morgana-le-fay, or Arrow, and imagine what they will think of your choice. Whilst it would be great to live in a world without judgement, we live in and with society and kinda have to engage with their perspectives somewhat.
On that note, you’re definitely already in a fairly small group of people – trans folk make up around 0.3% of the population, if that. Don’t ask your name to make you unique, you already are.
I know, Daenerys is amazing, and as the Khaleesi she’s incredibly inspiring as a role model for all women who secretly want to be the mother of dragons, buuuuut… See my point above about living in the real world. You might know someone who’s just called their baby daughter Daenerys but one: imagine how much fun secondary school is going to be for that kid and two: unless you’re very advanced for your age, you will be much older than anyone whose parents are going through a Game of Thrones phase right now – people will clock your choice.
I’ve also seen a lot of women choosing the name Lyra at the moment. Sure, Lyra Belacqua is an incredible character as well – but the thing is that lots of women have chosen that name ‘to be unique’… which means it’s becoming something of a trope that trans women will call themselves Lyra. Not necessarily a bad thing but do you necessarily want to pick a name that a bunch of other trans women have also chosen in order to ‘stand out’? Let your personality speak for itself, don’t feel you need to do it all with your name.
A note on spelling
The final thing I’d say is think about spelling. You can choose a fairly standard name – Amy or Emily, for example – but if you spell it in a non-standard, and deliberately feminine way that will also attract attention. A spelling like Aimee or Emilee, however pretty you think it is, might seem childish when you have to spell it out for someone. It’ll also make someone do that double-take thing that makes it more likely that your name will out you as much as your deadname would have done.
So, to wrap up
Names are important – they introduce who we are and how we want to be seen, but they can also trip us up. A name that doesn’t suit you will cause people you introduce yourself to to think twice, pause and maybe clock you. Plus, if you aren’t yet passing 100% of the time, they’ll know you chose your name yourself, and that might cause them to question your judgement. Do you want people to see you as a woman, or as a trans woman? Your name choice will influence what side of that division they fall on. You want people to accept your name and your identity without question, so it pays to give it a bit of thought.
Did you find this helpful? Want to talk it through with an empathetic coach who can help you decide? If you think it would be useful, feel free to contact me to arrange a consultation session.