What’s in a Name?

Every time I meet new people a fear beholds me- What if they ask me my name?


As a Pre-T Trans guy, things are pretty complicated. I would hate to tell them my legal name which I haven’t changed yet. That’s a name I can’t bear to say or hear referring to me anymore. The mere sound of it hurts. I can’t tell them my new preferred name as they might ask me how come I have a male name in case they perceive me as female because of my voice or the small stature and lack of facial hair. It’s really difficult in the University situation when I feel afraid to speak up in the class for the fear of the professors asking for my name. I don’t interact with my classmates and just put on my headphones and cower in a corner. The name dilemma affects my confidence beyond imagination. Some days I just wish I could borrow Harry Potter’s Invisibility cloak so no one would notice me at all. I wish I had been born in the right body. Being Trans is not something I chose, it’s my truth, a part of my identity and I can’t deny it. So whenever someone asks me my name I try to figure out the context and their perception of me and then offer either my preferred name or my legal name or just my initials, whatever I feel safe with at the moment.

The discomfort I experience when someone calls me by my legal name is often shrugged aside by my friends by saying “What’s in a name?” But they don’t get it. It’s the same discomfort that one experiences when someone bullies you by name calling. Twisting someone’s name and calling them “fatso” or “nerd” affects a person’s confidence and self-worth and makes them question their identity. It also affects their mental health. It’s the same mental distress that a trans person undergoes when they are not referred by there preferred name and pronouns. It’s no less than bullying.

Although it sure does depend upon a person’s disposition as to how they choose to react in that situation, whether they let their self-confidence take a hit or not, but sometimes it just gets unbearable to deal with that. That is why support and acceptance are so important. Some days all it takes is one negative instance to cause severe anxiety and distress while other days just one positive instance can cheer up one’s mood. Having healthy support systems comprising of friends who respect your identity is extremely important as it can help boost your confidence and deal with situations over which you have no control.

When in Romeo & Juliet, Juliet says “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” Shakespeare meant that a thing or a person can have any name at random, and that would not affect the individual’s essence. Romeo Montague could have been known by any other name at random and that would not affect his essence. You could have had any other name, I could have chosen any other name. But while giving this reasoning to calm transgender people, other people miss out on a really important feature of how our names are linked with our identity. Because, you see, a name provides a lot of information about a person- the place they belong to, their family roots, their age depending on whether the name is contemporary or old fashioned and the key feature that is of importance here- their gender. Most names are gendered, by just hearing a name you can make out whether it belongs to a man or a woman. There are very few names which are gender neutral and can thus be used by trans and gender queer folks.

When a trans person changes their name it’s because they no longer identify with the gender identity of their old name. They don’t see themselves as the girl/boy who identified with that old name anymore.  When we use a fond nickname for a near and dear one we must make sure that it does not make them uncomfortable or hurt them. Using someone’s preferred name is a sign of respect. And respect is mutual. If you respect someone then chances are that they will respect you as well.

A person can surely have any other name instead of the name they have but they must first be able to identify themselves with it. And that depends entirely upon the individual. No one, with whatsoever reasons can try to make a person identify with a name that they are not comfortable with.


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