What’s in a name?

I picked the name Natalie under some duress. At my first HRT appointment (which I am trying to find the words to write about), I was strong armed into picking a name. I had intentionally left the preferred name on the intake form blank, because I had yet to pick one. The nurse assumed that I simply missed it, and asked for my “new” name. They did not believe that I had not picked one prior to starting HRT and kept asking me for a name. Worried that they might deny me HRT over not having a name, I made one up on the spot: Natalie. They accepted the name and begrudgingly accepted my request not to call me it yet. So, at least for now, Natalie is my “name”.

Names are weird in generally, but they are especially weird for transgender people. I have found that this oddness is something that most cis people don’t understand, even those who work heavily with trans people. For most people, a name is not something you choose, it is something you are given. It is with you from birth and will remain with you until you die. It is just how it is. Even the cis people I know who hate their given name recoil at the thought of getting it changed. It is simply not the way it is done. Cis people spend very little time thinking about their name, because they see it as out of their control.

In contrast, trans people have to make a choice. That choice is not made in a vacuum. It is a decision that is impacted by a lifetime of experiences. Our ups, downs, joys, and traumas all play into the decision. It is rarely an easy decision and one that may be made multiple times. My first name I ever chose, the name that a year ago I thought was the “final name”, is now anathema to me. It brings up too many bad memories for it to be a name that I choose for myself. The complexity of this decision is rarely understood by cis people, who think of it as picking a name off of a list. But it is more than that, it is act of self-identification, a way of saying “this is who I really am”. The name we choose represents ourselves and reflect both how we see ourselves and how we want to be seen. For trans people, the act of choosing a name is an act of identity crystallization, one that is influenced by our entire life.

I already suspect that Natalie will not be the name I choose if I do transition socially. I feel no attachment to the name, it feels like I stole someone else’s name tag. Yet, it is a name that serves the purposes of my current moment, allowing me to say that I have a name picked out when I am asked. I don’t know if it will be a name that lasts, but for now it works. And maybe, that is all it needs to do, fill the preferred name space until I am ready to actually make that decision.

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