I’ve been thinking about changing my name for a while now. It’s interesting how much a name can mean — how much emotional and cultural significance can be attached to a name. I don’t really have much of an emotional attachment to my given name: it’s what I’ve been going by for most of my life, but that’s about it. However, people make assumptions about me — specifically, assumptions about my gender — based on my name in a way that makes me really uncomfortable. My given name generally causes people to immediately put me into the “woman” category, regardless how I present myself, and that is immensely frustrating. Furthermore, my given name doesn’t actually feel like me; it’s a distinctly feminine name, and it’s just not something with which I can happily associate myself.
As much as I’d truly like to have a different name, the idea of changing my name is also a definite source of anxiety. I think my biggest worry has to do with my parents. I love my parents; they’ve been the best parents I could ask for. And they gave me my given name. I don’t want to appear that I am rejecting the name they gave me, and I don’t want to hurt them, but I don’t think I can keep the name I now have.
Additionally, I worry a bit about the rest of my extended family and various family friends, to whom I’m not out as trans. I originally thought that it would be an easier transition for everyone involved if I could find some nickname, some derivative of my given name, but none of those options feel right. So, I started looking for another name entirely. I had pretty narrow specifications — I want a name that begins with the same letter as my given name, and I want a name that could be considered unisex/gender-neutral. As much as I’m not terribly attached to my given name, having the same initial — and thus the same beginning sound — is somehow very important to me. I also don’t want my name to box me into the binary again: I don’t want my name to be a statement that I am, or wanted to be viewed as, a man.
After all of my searching, pondering, and analyzing, I think that I have finally settled on a name: Ryan. It fits my self-imposed search parameters, and (more importantly) it just feels right. There are enough girls with the name that I won’t have to do too much awkward explaining as to why I picked a “boy name,” yet it is not so common for girls that it would be akin to picking another “girl name.” At least, that’s what I’m hoping.
I’ve begun asking certain people to call me Ryan. Eventually, I will tell my parents, which will lead to telling extended family and friends, and then I can change my name on Facebook (a surprising important marker). The last big step, I think, will be legally changing my name. I’m not yet entirely positive whether I want to do that (which is really unfortunate because I’m attending an event about mobilizing to legally change people’s names next week), partly because I want to make absolutely sure that I’ve chosen the right name. However, the more time passes, the surer I become that I can’t keep the name I have for the rest of my life.
I’ve already had an awkward job opportunity situation where I had introduced myself to the woman (prior to learning about the job possibility) as Ryan and then needed to give her my resume and business card, both of which have my given name. I told someone else that I’d send them a copy of my thesis, forgetting that my thesis, too, carries my given name. I actually created a second facebook account so that I could keep my given name from the people who only know me as Ryan, without having to yet change my name on my primary account. This whole balancing act, however, is not sustainable. Sometime — and most likely, sometime soon — I’ll need to make some serious decisions.
I have it almost planned out. I’ve decided on my first name, and I’ve decided that if (when) I change my name legally, I want to change my middle name as well. If I’m going to go for it, I might as well go all the way. Similar to my given first name, my middle name is indisputably feminine, and I don’t hold a great deal of sentimental attachment to it. The middle name is a slightly harder decision, in some ways, and easier in others. I have a stronger feeling that I know what I want my middle name to be, without needing to do research and Google baby names. At the same time, the name I want will force me to change my initials, which upsets me a little.
Actually, I just Googled the name, just to check, and I realized that it apparently means something like “my god is lord,” which is more than a little awkward, given that I am: A) not Christian and B) mostly agnostic, bordering on atheist. Hmm. Other then that, my chosen middle name is about perfect. Elliott is the name of one of the best men I know, and I can’t think of anyone after whom I would rather name myself (excluding my dad, as much as I love him, because I’m not particularly fond of naming people after their parents). Conveniently, it also happens to be an (arguably) unisex name — there is, after all, that character Elliot (the “Blonde Doctor”) on the show Scrubs — so it’s still in keeping with my desired name gender-ambiguity.
And so, my readers, I will introduce myself to you for the first time:
Hello, I am Ryan Elliott.