A number of years ago I took the Dale Carnegie course on human relations and one of the “golden rules” taught is “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” This is an interesting rule, and for most people it is true. For many of us, however, the name we were given at birth may not be the sweetest sound. While I know this from the perspective of a trans person, there are many reasons why someone may not feel that the name they were given at birth is the sweetest sound. Many people change their names for reasons other than transition. My experience talking to people is that when they do choose a new name, for whatever reason, it is so that their name matches who they are as a person and reflects their journey in life.
When I look back at my life pre-transition and reflect on my old name and how I felt about it I recognize that it was never the sweetest sound. Indeed, when I was taking the Dale Carnegie course and this rule was discussed my thought was, “no it isn’t.” The reason for this was that the name wasn’t really me. It was a mask, an identifier for a person who was not living an authentic life and trying to be someone she wasn’t. The name was as uncomfortable to me as my body was, but I didn’t really let myself understand why. When I went through the excersise and reflection involved with choosing my name when I transitioned I was able to take the time to find a name that fit who I am, and who I will be. Each of us who chooses a new name, regardless of why, chooses it intentionally and it is not an accident. Some people change their name more than once to reflect who they are at various points in their life.
Changing names can be, and often is, a tad confusing to a person’s friends and family. There is a period of adjustment that even the most supportive friends and family go through in getting used to one’s new name. There are also those who will use one’s old name as a weapon, as a means to hurt and inflict abuse. This is not acceptable. For those of us with friends and family who have chosen to adopt a new name it is incumbent upon us to work to accept the new name and address the person by their chosen name – their REAL NAME. The name that they were given at birth is no longer, and may never have been their real name. We may choose to respect this, or we may choose to be hostile and reject this. If we reject a person’s chosen name we are, in a very real way, telling them that we are rejecting them as a person with the right to make their own decisions. If we happen to know a person’s previous name we do not have the right to share that with others without express, explicit permission.
A person’s chosen, real name, can be the best sound in the world for them and it is critical that we recognize that it is in our interactions.