What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name? We name places so that we have a common reference for a location. Villages, towns, cities, countries have names and have histories that are tied to names. We name objects, so that we can identify them. We name our children at birth and, for Christians, the child or adult is named again at baptism. It is expected that the name or names given at birth will represent the person throughout their life.

What happens when the given name does not fit?

Some people choose to use their middle name, they find it suits them better, or their parents decide to use the middle name instead of the first name. Others are or were forced into new names when they immigrated to Canada or the United States and their names did not translate well into English. Sometimes the name given just doesn’t fit the person the infant grows into.

Three years ago when I began my transition one piece of the transition was deciding on a new name for myself. For some who transition this is relatively easy, they had a name they identified with pre-transition and there is no doubt about what the name will be. Others decide, for many different reasons, to use the feminine or masculine version of their birth name. Each of us chooses a name that’s right for us.

When I went about choosing my name I considered using the feminized version of my birth name. I rejected this fairly quickly as I didn’t particularly like it. As my transition has progressed and as I have been spending more time working out who  I am and where I’m going in life I have come to another realization as to why I didn’t chose the feminized version of my birth name, it never fit me.

As a teen and as an adult up until my transition I never really used my birth name if I could avoid it. This was both concious and subconscious. When I was in Air Cadets I was known by my surname and I found I preferred it. Now that I have been Talia to the world for two years I find any mention of my old name – even referring to someone else – bothers me. Addressed to me it triggers an emotional response that is far from pleasant.

When I see articles where a person’s pre-transition name is used I find it bothers me, so I asked myself why. As I reflect and think on the use of pre-transition names (I’m not using ‘birth name’ in this context because it’s possible that the pre-transition name was not the birth name.) and come to the conclusion that my reaction comes down to how I would feel if they did that to me. Once this reaction is dealt with the use of pre-transition names can be handled more rationally.

The primary concern about the use of pre-transition names is whether or not the person allowed the use and, if so, was the permission coerced or otherwise given under pressure. If the permission was given openly and freely there is no problem. It’s a personal decision. If the name was used without permission or was used after obtaining permission by using pressure tactics it is disrespectful.

When a person changes their name there is a reason for it. Please respect the person’s wishes and use their new name. There may be a period of adjustment, if you have known the person for a long time you’ll likely slip up on occasion. If you make the effort it will be noticed and appreciated.

Talia Caileigh Johnson.

P.S. Perhaps I should have chosen a name that’s already in software dictionaries, would have made spell checks easier.

2 Replies to “What’s in a Name?”

  1. It doesn’t help when you have people who insist on using a pre-transition name just to further their own agenda. Try to rest content in the knowledge that they look like control freaks who are angry at being unable to control the lives and identities of others.

  2. Talia, I’ve long considered it, at best, rude and at worst, bullying to use a name which someone doesn’t like. Whether it’s pre-transition, or a nickname which someone doesn’t like, it is wrong not to take into consideration the preferences of the person to whom you are referring. You’ll always be my niece, Talia, to me xxx

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