Sunday, 26 February 2023

Whats In A Name

It's been over 4 years now since my trans daughter let us know who she really is...and in that time, we've navigated some changes.

Contrary to what the right wing media would have you believe, changes for trans kids in the UK are social only - simple and reversible things like style of dress, hair length, and pronouns. The biggest change for us as her family was the psychological one of adapting to the realisation that we were not a family with 3 boys as we had always thought - we needed to learn the practical things like how to dress a daughter, we had to work on getting used to a change in the language we used to talk to and about her - but other than that, things largely stayed the same.

Nothing else about who she was had changed - she was the same person she had always been, we were just using she/her pronouns now and she was wearing dresses more often (She had always liked to wear them occasionally and spent most of her life dressed up as a Disney princess so even this was nothing out of the ordinary).

But of course we've always known that this was a journey likely to have its twists and turns along the way. Given that we don't personally know anybody else navigating life with a trans child, I joined some parent support groups on good old Facebook - I barely ever post in them but I read other peoples posts and learn a lot from them about the things we might come up against as she gets older and how to handle them. One thing I read a lot about in these groups is name changes.

When our daughter first told us that she was in fact our daughter and not our son, she was adamant that she would be keeping her birth name. She told us that she liked her name and had no desire to change it - and I have to admit, I was pleased about that because I LOVED her name.

But I knew from those Facebook support groups that she might change her mind on this one day. Its very unusual for a trans person to keep their birth name, even when its a unisex one - this might be because it subconsciously connects them to their past experiences living in a body that didn't align with their gender, I'm not sure - but I knew that a name change was something we should expect at some point. But despite this knowledge, when she came to me last year and told me that she'd decided it was time to change her name - It took me by surprise.

Even though I had always known this was likely to happen, I didn't feel ready. Not for the change of her name, or for the many emotions that the change brought up for me.

In order to explain how I felt about the change, I should probably first try to help you understand how I feel about names.

Ever since I was a child, I have had a fascination with names - I poured over choosing a name for my baby dolls for hours, trying to pick something unusual and beautiful for my Tiny Tears. Where my friends had dolls with standard 80s  names like Gemma and Mandy, my dolls boasted elaborate and unusual names like Tamara Hope, Miriam and Rosalind. I found so much beauty in names. When I was around 12 I bought myself The Big Book Of Baby Names - I'd read it every single night in bed, marking off my favourites and learning about the origins and meanings behind them. I read that book so frequently for so many years that the cover disintegrated, and still it's poor dishevelled innards kept pride of place at my bedside for many years to come.

By the time I found myself expecting my first child, my book had long gone but my interest in names had I replaced it with its modern equivalent - a website called Nameberry, dedicated to names and their meanings, complete with a forum full of fellow name nerds. I spent hours on there every day during my pregnancy, discussing ideas - and eventually we settled on our first borns name.

Although he was a boy, we didn't give him my all-time favourite boys name - because it wasn't one that my partner loved as much as I did and we wanted something more unique. 

But when I found myself choosing a name for a second baby boy (or so I thought...), I decided now was the time to use that favourite name of mine - and so we did. And we found the perfect middle name to compliment it, chosen by my Mum.

The names we chose, when placed together, translated to mean Peaceful Dream - I loved this. Although I loved each of my kids names, this one remained my favourite of all.

So isn't it typical that the child carrying that name should be the one to want to change it! I know it will seem silly to most people, because its just a name after all,  but I've always seen names as a gift that mothers give to our children and I was particularly proud of that one. The future's I had imagined for each of my kids was tied up with their name somehow, and so letting go of that name feels a little like letting go of that imagined future

But gifts are supposed to be for the benefit of the recipient and not the giver right? And if you give someone a gift that no longer fits or suits them, it's ok for them to return it and find something that fits them better. I guess that's what's happening here.

I'm sad to let go of the name I loved. I can't help those feelings - it feels like another piece of that little baby boy I remember so fondly drifting away from me. But I have to keep reminding myself that's not really true - that person is still here, they're exactly the same soul they always were. We're just seeing them more accurately now. We're listening to who they are and what they need from us.

It's been a couple of months now since the name change - we decided on a new name together, after a conversation about how best to go about things. She had suggested some names that were a million miles away from ones I would have chosen, and I knew that I would struggle to adapt to a name that I disliked so much - so we talked about how much names had meant to me and how important being a part of the naming process was to us as her parents. She understood and we agreed that the name would be one we choose together...the conversation was a fun one, we both laid on my bed tossing around our ideas for hours - her laughing at my zany choices and me giggling at her plain ones. 

Until eventually, she said a name that I didn't hate - one which had actually been a contender on my "If it's a girl" lists when I was pregnant - one that was even written in her baby book as a potential name.

I told her this, and she got excited. And so that's what she settled on.

I know that its common for trans kids to change names a few times before they settle on something, so I can't say for sure if this one will stick but for now - we're getting used to it.

Of course a change of name brings all sorts of other issues up alongside it - it means expecting others in our lives to get used to another change, it brings with it the potential of highlighting non-supportive people (although I hope not), and it also means outing her to a handful of people on the periphery of her life who didn't know she was trans. But we've been pleasantly surprised by peoples support in the past, and I'm hopeful that we will be again.

To my surprise, her Dad and brothers have adapted to the name change so much faster than I have. They hardly ever get it wrong now, but I still do - I'm not sure why but I'm finding it so much harder to remember this change than I ever did with the pronoun changes.

But I'm trusting the process, apologising and correcting myself when I get it wrong and trying my hardest - which is all I can do.

I'll get there. 

For now, I still feel sad about not hearing that name I loved anymore - I miss the feel of it in my mouth, I miss hearing it called around the house. It feels bittersweet to let it go. But my daughter is excited about her new name that better reflects who she is, and her comfort outweighs my attachment to something which - it turns out, for all my planning -  never really fitted who she was on the inside.

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