20 votes

To those of you who have changed your name, what was it like for you?

The question is open to anything that anyone wants to share about changing one’s name (e.g. social, familial, or legal proceedings), but in particular I’m most interested in what the personal process of deciding on a particular name was like for you. Was there one that just “clicked”? Did you try out different names until you found one that fit? Did you choose the name based on meaning, aesthetics, association, or something else entirely? How did it feel to change your own name in your own head? How did it feel when others started using it to refer to you? What do you like most about the name you chose?

Also, I don’t want to pressure anyone to share their name since that is very identifying information, so feel free to share details of your experience without sharing your name itself — unless that’s something you’re comfortable with putting online here.

15 comments

  1. [7]
    Whom
    Link
    I'm going through the process of doing so legally right now and let me tell you that part is a bitch. My state requires you to go through so much garbage, including publishing a notice that you...

    I'm going through the process of doing so legally right now and let me tell you that part is a bitch. My state requires you to go through so much garbage, including publishing a notice that you are trying to change your name for several weeks in a local newspaper and all the typical bureaucratic bs you'd expect with anything that requires you to go to court. Did I mention going to court? I'm terrified, I've never done that before! I'm a cripplingly anxious wreck how am I going to do that aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

    Even after everything gets approved, I need to send the result of that bullshit to the state I was actually born in for even more bullshit, and then of course I have years ahead of me of changing my name on file for every institution that has my name on file. Ugh. I'm told by some of my friends that the process was just a trip to the DMV for them, and I am sick with envy.


    For the part you were curious about: I got lucky and choosing a name was actually very easy for me. I took my first name (Scarlett) from the trans StarCraft 2 pro whose visibility back when that game was in its prime (christ, has it been 7 years? 8? I should write about how much online trans communities have changed even in that short amount of time) really helped me figure out that I was trans...plus I was just a huge fan. Then I took my middle name (Serenity) from a friend I met in the MMO Eldevin. I've stuck with those names ever since and I am SO happy about them. The origin of the names were the big thing for me at first, but nowadays I mostly appreciate them for looking and sounding so nice together. Scarlett Serenity...just feels right. I have an additional name that I only tell people very close to me, but that's mostly an experiment to see how much I like having a "private name" like that.

    Changing it in my head took time, but living on the internet and having most of my interactions with other people go through my new name years before I was out in person gave me a big advantage. By the time I finally came out to everyone in all contexts, it had long been a comfortable name.

    Feel free to ask any questions, it may be kinda vain but I just love talking about my name and like fuck it I've earned that after being called my deadname for so long, lol.

    19 votes
    1. whbboyd
      Link Parent
      Many courtrooms are open to the public, and I would highly recommend—if you are able—watching the judge who will preside over your hearing in a few cases before you actually come before them. To...

      Did I mention going to court? I'm terrified, I've never done that before!

      Many courtrooms are open to the public, and I would highly recommend—if you are able—watching the judge who will preside over your hearing in a few cases before you actually come before them. To the best of my knowledge, you should be able to call the courthouse, ask them in which room Judge So-And-So will be on a given day, and then just walk in and seat yourself in the gallery in that room on that day.

      9 votes
    2. tindall
      Link Parent
      Wow, yeah. So many different kinds of large threatening men with weapons just sorta strolling around, I never have seen. Luckily for me, after a couple of rather confusing trips to the court clerk...

      Did I mention going to court? I'm terrified, I've never done that before! I'm a cripplingly anxious wreck how am I going to do that aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

      Wow, yeah. So many different kinds of large threatening men with weapons just sorta strolling around, I never have seen. Luckily for me, after a couple of rather confusing trips to the court clerk over three months to get my petition right, things were easy. The baliff was very nice and I didn't even have to talk to the judge, just go in to the courtroom, sign a paper, and leave.

      Even after everything gets approved, I need to send the result of that bullshit to the state I was actually born in for even more bullshit, and then of course I have years ahead of me of changing my name on file for every institution that has my name on file. Ugh. I'm told by some of my friends that the process was just a trip to the DMV for them, and I am sick with envy.

      I massively feel this. It was easier than I thought in California - no listing in the newspaper, just a few hundred dollars into the black hole of fees and service charges - but the amount of nonsense I had to go through with the DMV, the Social Security agency, my school, my bank, my credit card company... it's too much. It almost makes you wish that the government was competent in data engineering. (Almost, but not quite.)

      I've actually given up on convincing my deeply conservative birth state to change my birth certificate; people have done it, but I managed to get a passport with my right name and info, so as long as I keep that current I don't really see the need.

      Feel free to ask any questions, it may be kinda vain but I just love talking about my name and like fuck it I've earned that after being called my deadname for so long, lol.

      I think it's an absolutely beautiful name! I'm so happy that you were able to find something that fit you so well.

      7 votes
    3. [2]
      kfwyre
      Link Parent
      This warms my heart, and you have absolutely earned it. It's not for the exact same reason, but I've actually long thought that nearly all LGBT people have an earned vanity on account of having to...

      Feel free to ask any questions, it may be kinda vain but I just love talking about my name and like fuck it I've earned that after being called my deadname for so long, lol.

      This warms my heart, and you have absolutely earned it. It's not for the exact same reason, but I've actually long thought that nearly all LGBT people have an earned vanity on account of having to be under other people's microscopes so much. I see it as a building block of pride: we get to match the energy of others' scrutiny of our identities with an equal and opposite genuine self-expression.

      I wish you the best with the legal change, and I can't believe you actually have to publish in a newspaper. That's beyond absurd and is so completely unnecessary it makes my head spin. It's like they're trying to be deliberately unfair (which I'm sure was the intent). For the court proceedings, is it just an appearance in front of a judge to confirm the change, or is there more to it?

      Also, I think it's worth mentioning that I'm someone who has no interest in Starcraft and have never played it myself, but even I am fully aware of how much ass Scarlett kicked! She was a complete phenomenon. Given that she helped you uncover your own identity, did you consider any other names as you started to figure things out, or was that really the only one that you were drawn to?

      5 votes
      1. Whom
        Link Parent
        That's a wonderful thought :) And yeah, the newspaper bit is SO ridiculous. I imagine the original intent was to make in obvious in case they were avoiding paying debts or notoriety as a sex...

        I see it as a building block of pride: we get to match the energy of others' scrutiny of our identities with an equal and opposite genuine self-expression.

        That's a wonderful thought :)

        And yeah, the newspaper bit is SO ridiculous. I imagine the original intent was to make in obvious in case they were avoiding paying debts or notoriety as a sex offender or something, but in practice it's a massive roadblock for something which should be easy to control: your own name. Of course, it's also up to me to pay for it. They do at least have a confidential name change option if you're able to prove that posting it publicly would put you in danger, and I forgot to mention that that's what I'm trying for. Thing is, I'm not exactly confident that a small town Wisconsin judge will be all that receptive to the idea that hate crime is a real thing that exists.

        I'm not entirely sure how involved the court proceedings are, really. Information is really inconsistent because these things are managed differently by county. On the state checklist for name changes, I do get this horrifying tidbit:

        Attend the Name Change Hearing. Be on time and be polite. Don’t get emotional.

        That's been looping in my head for months now. "Be on time and be polite. Don’t get emotional. Be on time and be polite. Don’t get emotional. Be on time and be polite. Don’t get emotional." I'm so scared of the expectation that I be a fucking robot while doing something this important to me and this stressful.

        Given that she helped you uncover your own identity, did you consider any other names as you started to figure things out, or was that really the only one that you were drawn to?

        If I did, it only would've been for a few minutes at most, I landed on Scarlett very early. I may have thought about Sasha (Scarlett's actual first name) or something like that, but not for long. I do like a lot of names though! I could very easily be like some other trans friends I know and have 4-5 different names they let people choose between, I just love my current one so much that I don't feel super compelled to.

        5 votes
    4. cardigan
      Link Parent
      The situation may be different in Wisconsin, but I was able to file in forma pauperis because I was broke, and represented myself without a lawyer. If I remember correctly, the judge asked me a...

      The situation may be different in Wisconsin, but I was able to file in forma pauperis because I was broke, and represented myself without a lawyer. If I remember correctly, the judge asked me a single question, which was if I was changing my name to avoid any creditors. For the public notice, I think I paid $25 to have it run in a lawyer's quarterly that pretty much exists only to post things like that that no one will read. I was thinking things were going to be so much more painful than they actually were. The total cost was around $25-50 dollars, due to the publication notice and the cost to amend my birth certificate. I can't remember how much in legal fees I avoided by filing in forma pauperis.

      3 votes
    5. Rez
      Link Parent
      I used to know Scarlett's brother, that's great to hear! I only had the briefest of interactions with her online before her SC2 career and transition, so I've nothing notable to say there.

      I used to know Scarlett's brother, that's great to hear! I only had the briefest of interactions with her online before her SC2 career and transition, so I've nothing notable to say there.

      2 votes
  2. [3]
    MimicSquid
    Link
    My experience isn't in the context of transition, but perhaps still has some interesting aspects nonetheless. I was born with a name that coded strongly for a gender that wasn't the one I...

    My experience isn't in the context of transition, but perhaps still has some interesting aspects nonetheless. I was born with a name that coded strongly for a gender that wasn't the one I identified with. It wasn't quite "Boy named Sue" territory, but the part of the world where my name and gender presentation matched wasn't the one I grew up in. I was hassled pretty regularly about it as a kid; "Isn't that a [other gender] name?" was asked often enough I learned to show indifference to it, but it was still a source of frustration. I often fantasized about changing my name to something I felt better represented who I was, but didn't ever push for that as a kid.

    In my early twenties, when I decided to make something of myself beyond the situation where I found myself, I also decided I had to change my name. New me, new name, new situation. It was wonderful. I was able to introduce myself to people using a name that I had picked, that worked for me, that identified me, not who my parents had thought I might be. And I've stuck with it for the last decade and change to my great satisfaction.

    I never changed it legally, because it was the social experience that was the problem, but for me changing my name was part and parcel of presenting myself differently to the world and was incredibly valuable.

    12 votes
    1. WendigoTulpa
      Link Parent
      Haha, I'm the same way. Thankfully my middle name is one of those biblical names that is globally masculine, but boy did I get bullied in elementary/middle school for my first name. I switched to...

      Haha, I'm the same way. Thankfully my middle name is one of those biblical names that is globally masculine, but boy did I get bullied in elementary/middle school for my first name. I switched to my middle name the last year of middle school and even though it was still awkward during roll-call the first day of every year, it was overall much better.

      I've wondered about switching my middle/first names around legally, but at this point I'm not sure how much it matters. People calling from agencies/utilities will often say "is this her" on the phone and I purposefully deepen my voice to say "yes that's me".

      8 votes
    2. kfwyre
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      This is great to hear, and I’m happy you were able to choose a name that works for you. I think your story is also a valuable reminder that one need not be trans to change their name! This...

      This is great to hear, and I’m happy you were able to choose a name that works for you. I think your story is also a valuable reminder that one need not be trans to change their name!

      This actually reminds me of a student I once had. She didn’t like her last name since it came from her father who was abusive and who she was fully separated from. She expressed this to one of her teachers, and that teacher pointed out that her last name meant “Summer” in her native language and that she could just write “Summer” in English instead (note: for privacy, I’ve changed the actual word her name translated to). She loved the idea and from that point on started writing her name on all of her papers as Firstname Summer from that point on. I have no idea if she ended up changing it officially once she was older, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she did. It meant a lot to her to not have to write her father’s last name each and every time she put down her name, and her and your story speak to the value of anyone being able to change their name should they feel the need to.

      5 votes
  3. [3]
    Gaywallet
    Link
    A quick preface - I have always hated my deadname because it was so popular (it recently had a streak of nearly 15 years straight as the number one boys name in the US). I don't think there was a...

    A quick preface - I have always hated my deadname because it was so popular (it recently had a streak of nearly 15 years straight as the number one boys name in the US). I don't think there was a year I ever had in school where there wasn't another kid with the same name. It was biblical in nature (I got kicked out of both Saturday and Sunday school as a kid for asking too many questions and questioning authority far too much) which was another strike against it.

    Interestingly, I had never considered that I also hated it because it was gendered and that didn't match with my thoughts on gender until much, much later in my life when I revisited what importance gender held in my life.

    in particular I’m most interested in what the personal process of deciding on a particular name was like for you. Was there one that just “clicked”? Did you try out different names until you found one that fit? Did you choose the name based on meaning, aesthetics, association, or something else entirely?

    My process was as follows - I started with an idea of things I were looking for, but I didn't really write any of them down. In general, if I had to summarize, the important qualities were as follows:

    • Must 'feel' cute. This one is a bit amorphous and hard to quantify, but some names just feel cuter than others. I think certain sounds are likely more cute, but I haven't stopped to consider the exact mechanics of how or why a name is cute. Generally speaking shorter names tend to feel 'cuter'.
    • Must be short. If a name isn't short, you're open to people turning it into nicknames, and while most nicknames are cuter than the long version, they are a distortion of the truth of me. Also, there's research which shows shorter names are easier to remember (not really all that surprising) and is correlated with higher earnings, higher social standing, etc.
    • Name must be non-binary in some aspect (or uncommon enough to avoid gendered stereotypes when someone hears just the name). Things which are abstract or not gendered such as nouns like arrow and storm are good. Names which can apply to both sides of the gender binary can be okay, but only when they actively are - for example Kyle is a unisex name, but more often is given to boys than girls and when it is given to girls it's often distorted into Kyla or Kylie.

    That's really all there was to it. I started reading names and created a list. Any name that fit the criteria and felt good enough went on the list. Some names were popular among trans people and didn't make the list. Others weren't. Some were popular and still made the list because I really enjoyed them, but none of them 'spoke' to me, until one did. That name was cute, short, and happened to be a common nickname/shortening for one male and one female name in another language. That's how I arrived at my name, Sigi. All in all I ended up reading somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 names before I found the one that was right for me.

    How did it feel to change your own name in your own head?

    Surprisingly easy. I had one early stumble when I ordered a boba tea to my old name on a date with someone who only knew me by my new name (luckily they weren't paying close of attention), but otherwise I've never really thought of myself as my deadname, so it was very simple and quick to adapt. I still don't think things in my name and would probably have an easy time adopting another name, but I also went by a plethora of nicknames in my childhood so the idea of having multiple names has always been second nature to me.

    How did it feel when others started using it to refer to you?

    Better than I thought it would - for a long time I jokingly explained my pronouns as "I don't care- you can call me hey stupid so long as I know you're referring to me" because that's how I genuinely felt. But I think it's precisely because I chose it and others are specifically choosing to respect that I chose it and want to use it to respect me that gives it a little bit of extra power. Like they're implicitly saying that they know who I am and that they accept and respect it and want to treat me well.


    A quick aside on the legal process of changing a name - it sucks and it's a lot of paperwork. Modern companies are not designed to deal with this. I've been told by banks that automatic payments which have existed on the same card, from the same company, for over a decade might get denied next month because of the iterative process of changing my name. This is because I need to update my checking account before I update things that charge to the checking account and then I need to update the credit card before things that charge to the credit card, and so forth - there's an unfortunate ordering to what I change and when.

    I think the most upsetting part about changing the name, however, is that there are services you can purchase which streamline the process - they fill out all the paperwork for you and basically all you need to do is give them some money and walk into the DMV with the right paperwork to kick off the process (as @Whom brought up) but these processes are designed around paperwork which is specific to changing your name because of marriage and either cannot or will not offer their services for name changes of any other sort.

    Oh and the court was really fucking confused when I told them I wanted to change my name because of gender reasons but I did not want to change the gender on my birth certificate. This added a few months of delay due to some back and forth mailing and trying to find a clerk who would file the correct paperwork (they insisted I needed different forms which were then rightfully denied and I had to refill out the paperwork I initially filed 🙄).

    9 votes
    1. [2]
      kfwyre
      Link Parent
      Thank you for this very thorough writeup, Sigi! Just so I know I’m getting it right in my internal voice: is it pronounced with a hard or soft ‘g’? I find it incredible that you considered 10,000+...

      Thank you for this very thorough writeup, Sigi! Just so I know I’m getting it right in my internal voice: is it pronounced with a hard or soft ‘g’?

      I find it incredible that you considered 10,000+ names! Kudos to you for your perseverance and for finding the one that works for you.

      Also, as someone with a common male name, I definitely feel your pain on other people having it. There is often someone else with the same name in a given setting/circle, and I was almost always distinguished not by my name alone but by adding my last initial or one of us going by an abbreviated version. I actually identify more with my last name than my first, in part because it’s less common and in part because in teaching last names are the default.

      That actually leads me to another question for you (no obligation to answer it if you don’t want to though): do you have a preferred title if someone addresses you by your last name? In teaching we are always referred to as “Mr./Mrs. Lastname” by students, which is unfortunately inherently gendered. If you became a teacher, how would you prefer your students identify you?

      5 votes
      1. Gaywallet
        Link Parent
        It sounds very much like ziggy, but with an S (it's German). I don't really like formalities, and would prefer not to be addressed with any title. I think formalities are not necessary to be...

        Thank you for this very thorough writeup, Sigi! Just so I know I’m getting it right in my internal voice: is it pronounced with a hard or soft ‘g’?

        It sounds very much like ziggy, but with an S (it's German).

        That actually leads me to another question for you (no obligation to answer it if you don’t want to though): do you have a preferred title if someone addresses you by your last name? In teaching we are always referred to as “Mr./Mrs. Lastname” by students, which is unfortunately inherently gendered. If you became a teacher, how would you prefer your students identify you?

        I don't really like formalities, and would prefer not to be addressed with any title. I think formalities are not necessary to be respectful and often draw boundaries where they shouldn't be and reinforce harmful norms. However, I did learn of the gender neutral Mx., so if someone was going to insist on titling me, it would that one.

        5 votes
  4. tindall
    (edited )
    Link
    I picked a name based on just two criteria: I had to be able to keep my existing e-mail addresses, which are based on the initials of my birth name, without revealing that I'd ever changed my name...

    I picked a name based on just two criteria:

    • I had to be able to keep my existing e-mail addresses, which are based on the initials of my birth name, without revealing that I'd ever changed my name
    • It had to, as @Gaywallet says, "feel cute" - but also retro and old-timey.

    As I've mentioned before, most people call me Nora, which is already pretty grandma-esque to most white Americans, but "Leonora" (lay-oh-no-rah) is even more so. It means "light", and I personally like the connection to a few Leftist and scientific heroes of mine. Better than the people my birth date connects me to, that's for certain.

    Edit: thinking about birth dates, I recall that some trans people celebrate their "hrtday", the day they started hormone therapy, rather than their birthday, as their marking point in the year; that would put me in a category with Winifred Asprey, famed computer scientist, and Helen Joseph, somewhat less famed but no less important traitor to apartheid South Africa, which I'm pretty happy with.

    7 votes
  5. cardigan
    Link
    I'll say it was a very validating experience. To people who haven't done it, it may seem like it's not that big of a deal for a state to "recognize" the name that you use if you're able to use it...

    I'll say it was a very validating experience. To people who haven't done it, it may seem like it's not that big of a deal for a state to "recognize" the name that you use if you're able to use it with your friends and loved ones. But being able to visit doctors, fill out forms, and do all of the boring stuff in life without the psychic terror seeing my old name causes me is close to priceless. It improved my life immeasurably.

    6 votes