Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Picking a Name

For the transitioning person, picking a name can be both frustrating and liberating. It is also a choice we kind of have to live with so don't be to quick to just pick one an move on! For me it was a bit tricky...

Should We Simply Feminize One's existing Name?

See it is my opinion that it isn't always a good idea for transgender people to simply feminize their masculine name and call it a day. For one it isn't always possible... I mean sure, if your name is Michael or Daniel it works great, but what if your name is Scott, Peter, or David?

Anyway, outside of this simple name feminization, I think a lot of people also have a tendency to try and pick names that sound neat or have non traditional spelling. I'm not sure this a good idea either as it could have untended consequences. First off, the names that are popular today are not necessarily what was popular when we were born... For instance, I love the name Chloe but when I close my eyes and think of a woman with that name I see a kid or at least someone 15 years younger than myself... Definitely not me.

Secondly, changing letters in names to make alternate spellings can be a) confusing and b) draw unwanted attention. Now, some names do have a millions spellings. My name, Katherine, is one of them, but do I really need to spell it Catheryn, Cathryn, or Katheryn simply do make a point? I open myself up to enough questions, I don't need people asking me how to pronounce my name.

Ok, so if I come off like I am ranting, babbling or preaching and that is not my intent. If your name was Daniel and now you go by Danielle that is fine! My opinion on your name is as irrelevant as my opinion on your gender or you favorite color... I guess I want to point out that what seems like a very personal and current decision may have actually already decided before you were even born! Let me explain...

Below is the process I used for selecting my name:

Plan A: Ask What Your Name "Would Have Been"

The first thing I decided to do when it came time to choose a name was ask my father what my name would have been had I been born a girl. For me this seems the most logical thing to do; after all, isn't the giving of names generally done by the parent? We don't exactly come out with name tags!

Unfortunately my father told me (and my aunts told me the same) that there wasn't a girls name picked out for me! It seems the doctor said I was a boy and that was that... You may not be in the same position. Asking your parents may even help start or continue the conversation in regards to your transition. Many people see transition as a very selfish process and simply asking your parents to name you, or what they would have named you can help make it seem more about who you are as a person in regards to everyone around you and less about personal wants.

As for me, my father had no suggestions and this was quickly turning into a dead end, I decided to go on to Plan B.

Plan B: Pick a Few Names You Like and Narrow Them Down

For this plan I decided to use a process of elimination... Basically I thought of three groups of names:

The first group were the names I wanted to give my kids when I was younger. There was one in particular that I have always loved and it was Stephanie. One other in this group were Lynn and Ann.

For the second group I came up with a list of names I liked that were given to my classmates in high school (not necessarily friends)... Again, Stephanie was in this group as were Christine, Jessica, Sarah, Heather and Renee.

The third group of names I came up with included the names of friends and co workers that I knew were around my age... In this case only one stood out and it was Katherine.

Anyway, after weeding out most of the names I was left with three: Stephanie, Ann and Katherine. After further narrowing it down to Katherine and Ann, I looked in the mirror and said both names out loud as if I was addressing my reflection. I am not sure what it was but when I said "Katherine" it just felt right. I have no other explanation other then that was my name, it didn't matter if I liked it or not. To be honest it wasn't my favorite but as I think I've made clear, I do not think this is what this is about.

On a side note, for my middle name I did make a nod to my parents and chose my mothers middle name :)

Conclusion ???

I am not sure if I am telling a story or giving advice here but if I was to give advice it would be thing... Above all else, even preference, a person who is transitioning should pick a name that is age appropriate. This was my main approach when I came up with both of my plans. Basically I wanted a name that fit and that people would just accept and not give them a reason to second guess me... Think about it like this: How many cissexual women over the age of 30 have a name like Zoe or Chloe? How many new parents are naming their little girls Edith or Phylis today? I'm sure there is an example of each of these cases but not many. More importantly, these people who do have names like this definitely stand out!

Finally, there is a great site that may help as well that shows name popularity for any given year... Fun to play with even if you have a name already:

P.S. I would love to hear your stories on why you chose the name you did.


Gin said...

Funny thing about picking a name. Years and years ago I had one all picked out and it was me and I knew it and then I gave up and let it go. And then I had a daughter and gave it to her.

So then I thought about what defined me, who my heroes were and somehow I landed on Virginia. I have a strong affinity with the British Modernists, of whom Virginia Woolf was a major author. So I asked myself if I liked that name and I pondered the possible nicknames and whatnot and Gin came up which reminded me of a character in a book I once read named Djinn and I always thought that was a beautiful nickname. Also, Gin is phonetically similar to the nickname for my birth name, which I felt made it easy for people to make that transition to. And so, as you did, I looked myself in the mirror and called myself Virginia and it worked. When my GT asked if I had a female name, I said Virginia and it worked and when I hear myself addressed as such, it works and feels right. Plus, it's somewhat age appropriate, so that's a bonus.


Anonymous said...

My naming story always pales in comparison to other folks, but since you asked ... my name is just a masculinized version of my birth name. Kinda cliche, I know, but when I was thinking it over, it was very important to me that my family not regard my name change/coming out as trans as a rejection of them. Keeping my birth name in some form seemed to reflect that intent. Also, my new name has a gender-neutral nickname that my mom already called me--I thought that might be easier for her.

I did play with a few versions for a while, though, as there were a few different names that could work, and asking some friends one night while we were out at a local pub for their opinions. Good times. :)

While there have been times I've wished I chose a more unambiguously male name, by and large, I'm very happy with my choice. It fits me, as I'm not a uber masculine guy.

I think your advice is really good--not as a "you must do this," o' course, but "these are really good things to consider." Choosing a name common among those of your generation DEFINITELY can help someone to blend in, if that's a concern someone has.


Caroline said...

Whilst I had a name in my head for most of my life, for several years a friend regularly visited abroad had been using a feminised adaptation of my given name long before anyone was told just what I was doing in the way of transition. I kept my original name in the head for a middle name. Age appropriate is most important.

Caroline xxx

Sophie said...

I guess I had the notion that I knew a lot of 'sophies' in London through school and college etc.
And then I chose 'sophia' because it was one of my 4 possible and what gave it the edge was that I knew that it would be quickly modified to 'sophie' by those around me. It's rather reassuring to have a name where there's a familiar form so fast.
So do you prefer 'Kate', or 'Katherine' ?

Katherine said...


I go by Katherine. I love Katie but it just doesn't fit =)

Anonymous said...

When I was 10 and my mother was expecting her 5th child, we discussed possible names for the soon-to-be-born child. Mum had a girl's name picked out and a boy's name. I took the opportunity to ask my mother what girl's name had been chosen for me. It was a feminised version of my male name. I felt really disappointed. When I was exploring my gender issues many years later, I chose a name that was common for women of my age and it was also the name of my favourite actor, "Helen".

When I actually came to legally change my name some 12 years ago, I used the name my mother had chosen and Helen became my middle name. Hence Peta Helen ....

Katherine said...

iamnotamuse... =)

Sally Sapphire said...

Tracking back from your latest "Changing Your Name" posted. Who would have thought picking a name could be so difficult?

I have 3 names bouncing around inside my head, 2 of which have marked my secret identity for most of life, and 1 of which is a 'gift' from my wonderfully accepting wife.

I've settled on a clever way of incorporating all three into my pen-name (my first novella should be published this year), but I don't know which I'll end up settling on for life.

Amrisa Trans said...

Everyone who have gotten the chance to get to know the real me, knows I'm a major geek. I just love being a geek. Well... I've chosen the Name Amrisa for two reasons; It sounds very pretty and feminine, also it is the female form of Amras. To which is Elven for Michael.

I know real geeky but I don't care I love it. It fits me soo well. I'm unique and so is my name.

Katherine said...

I think Amrisa is a beautiful name!

Anonymous said...

Hey, there, Katherine. I came across your blog while going through a few trans-relevant sites for information. (I'm in the "early processes" of transitioning and need more info!)

Currently, I am Calliope--yes, I know, egotistic and narcissistic, but I just really love the name :D

Thanks for writing the blog! Keep it up.

Leslie said...

The name I have stuck with me after a surrealistic experience I had while skinny dipping in a pond as a teen. I was alone in the middle of a forested area. There were no houses anywhere near the pond, yet I clearly heard a woman's voice call out the name Leslie three times. I kept the name a complete secret from everyone until I decided to come out and legally changed my name.

Anonymous said...

You will find a name that will suit you

Either you just know somehow what it should be because it comes from within or it may take some time for you to work it through

Alex Forshaw said...

I changed my name about 6 months ago around the time I transitioned full-time. I put together a short list and narrowed it down to 2 or 3 realistic options. The one I chose, Alexandra, just felt more comfortable. One thing I did when putting my list together was to recall the names of girls I was at school with to try and get names that would be appropriate for my age.

My middle name, Maureen, was my mother's name and that connexion means a lot to me.

I didn't want a "girly" name: in fact I invariably shorten mine to Alex at work and socially, which could be ambiguous. That's not a problem for me, but some trans people prefer a name that is strongly associated with either male or female.

Audrie Rose said...

I picked the name Audrie my senior year of high school and had been calling myself that in my head for a long time,that was also the year I really idolized Audrey Hepburn. and before you know it people were Calling me Audrey, though I do get some comments that it's kind of an 'older' name and not one that is popular among people my age group.

Also I do understand the caution on unique spellings, but I just think mine fits me, [even though I can't recall when it became spelled Audrie] but anyway I started using the name in the spring of 2013 full time, and it just felt right to hear it from other people.

Emily said...

I'm just starting out on my own gender identity journey, but picking a name was inadvertently one of the first things I did when I realized that I may some day want to present as female. The funny thing is that up until now I'd used Melissa in any situation where a female persona was needed, going back to high school, but I rejected that name for two reasons 1) Melissa was always sort of a game to me, and I wanted to take this seriously, and 2) my last name starts with the letter "M," and I hate alliteration in names.

So I started from scratch, went through a bunch of names in my head, ended up going over names from songs that I liked, and settled on a Simon and Garfunkel classic: "For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her." And I decided that that was a pretty appropriate name for an identity that I'm still searching for.