What’s In A Name When You Can Choose Your Own?

If you had your way, would you choose the name given to you at birth? For many transgender people, shedding their birth names and choosing a new name is a critical part of the female-to-male or male-to-female transition. Taking a new name marks the definitive end of their old self and the beginning of a new identity — but it’s also plagued with problems.

Transgender writer Juliet Jacques chose the name Juliet for her new MTF moniker and says that making the choice (and signing over herself legally to being female) was a big moment that was difficult on her friends and acquaintances.Choosing her female name was fun — but fraught with anxiety. She writes:

Having carried two names in my head for most of my life, switching between them at will, I’d not realised that most people find it incredibly hard to dislodge the first name they attach to someone – and that the longer they’ve known it, the harder it becomes.

Juliet also says that it was difficult to figure out how to reconcile the past with the present. Should old memories belong to the newly generated Juliet, or to her former identity? She writes eloquently of the cognitive dissonance of moving from her old self to the new:

When discussing the present or the future, Juliet felt perfect. When my friends or I talked about my pre-transitional past, it didn’t. Inserting my new name into anecdotes felt strangely Orwellian, and implausible when talking about my schooldays, but it seemed less right to use my old name, especially around people who’d never heard it.

The dilemma is particularly prescient for trans people, but I imagine it applies to anyone and everyone who goes through a name change: Who was I before and how do I reconcile that with who I am now? For Juliet, the answer lay in recognizing the new self without rewriting the past. Juliet is who she has become, but not necessarily who she always was.

Have you ever gone through a name change? How did you feel about it? [The Guardian]