What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

Romeo and Juliet, Act II. Scene II.
William Shakespeare

“A rose by any other name?! Yeah, right!” I’m pretty sure that’s the sentiment you’d get from transgender folks about names. Names can be a critical part of one’s identity and can serve as a way to affirm your gender identity to yourself and have others affirm it back to you (p.s. don’t deadname people).

At the same time, the truism derived from Shakespeare holds, well… true. The person you know and love, who has come out and identifies as a gender other than what you thought they were – they’re the same person you know and love, just with a different name! And now, you can show your love by using their new, chosen name!

Is this just a transgender thing, you ask? Nope. Does this apply to non-binary people, too? It sure does! A fair number of genderqueer/non-binary individuals choose to change their names to reflect their “less/non-gendered” identity – especially if they have particularly “feminine” or “masculine” names.

A recent episode of the Gender Reveal podcast (“Gender 202” September 24, 2018) featured listener questions. Two of those questions were about choosing a new name. The first one was about choosing a name with heritage that isn’t yours (definitely worth exploring, and Molly and Z did a fantastic job of addressing it). Next up was “How to pick a name?!” I love a good right-to-the-point query. Z talked about how their name was already a nickname that they decided to legalize – a simple, elegant, easy-peasy solution! Molly offered several factors to consider when choosing a new name:

  • Do you want it to be related in some way to your deadname?
  • Do you want to keep your initials (or have them spell out something cool)?
  • If you’re comfortable with it, ask your parent(s) if they’d picked out another name for you in the event you’d been assigned the “other” gender at birth
  • Look at family names (try back a few generations for fun, unusual names)
  • Peruse baby name lists or books
  • Think about your favorite characters from books, movies, etc.
  • Ask your friends!
  • Try out names (have your friends use a name you’re thinking of)

I have had a long fascination with changing my name and it’s become a running joke with my spouse, “I’m changing my name! I want you to call me ‘The Captain!’” But seriously, I actually really like my name, it’s nature-y (yay trees!) and not too “girly,” which I think I’d rankle against. Plus, “Laurel” is just unusual enough, but not too out there that it’s a hindrance. Though getting people to spell it correctly or to NOT call me “Lauren” is an ongoing challenge and I often use the name “Jo” at places like Starbucks. Jo is a nickname for my middle name and is easy to say and spell, “Jo; J-O.” Plus, it’s like my early TV crush, Jo from The Facts of Life! Which beats my other early TV crush for an alias: Gopher (from The Love Boat). Who was your early TV or movie crush? Leave a comment!

Nancy McKeon as Jo on The Facts of Life
Nancy McKeon as Jo on The Facts of Life. Isn’t she adorable?
Fred Grandy as Gopher on The Love Boat
Fred Grandy as Gopher on The Love Boat. Adorbs!

But I digress…

I’ve really only had a couple of nicknames in my life: Lo-Lo (and the variation “Lo”) and Buzz. Buzz is pretty specific to the friends who gave it to me and Lo/Lo-Lo seem like something out of my past (I mean, they are from my past, but you know what I mean).

When I was a baby, after a waitress mistook me for a boy (my first experience being misgendered – foreshadowing?!) my family called me “Laurence” now and then for years. And I think I was “Lamont” once on a video game that didn’t have “Laurel” as an option – does that ring a bell to anyone?

I have a clear memory, from maybe the 3rd grade, of walking to school with my dad and pondering outloud a name change to “Alberta” or “Albertina.” This was 100% to do with wanting to feel close to my dad and special – his name is Albert – rather than being a gender-related thing. (Lord knows what he thought of the whole thing!) My grandfather’s name was Albert, as was my great grandfather’s (though they didn’t do the Jr., or II thing). This was on my mind recently and I had a chance to ask my father whether if one of his children had been a boy, would he have named him Albert. The answer: “Probably.”

Black and white photo of an 11 month old bloned baby held by a bearded dad.
Me and my dad (Albert), October 1972 (I was 11 months old).

I wonder if there would’ve been pressure from my grandfather to use the name had there been a grand-baby boy (and had he been around – he passed away before all but his oldest grandchild (my oldest sister) was born). In any case, there’s a whole suitcase of baggage one could unpack about taking on one’s passed-down family name (what kind of a man was Grandpa? Do I want to be the kind of Albert my dad has been?). But I do like the notion of a name with a family connection, and Albie or Allie are pretty good gender-neutral-sh nicknames.

Laurel with short hair, black round glasses, and a black and blue striped shirt.
I think I look like an “Albert” in this picture

For a little bit of time in elementary school I was quite taken with the name “Elizabeth.” No idea why. I think I liked the sort of old fashioned-ness of it. All in all, changing my name isn’t something I am considering, Laurel still feels like me. But I do like playing with names – it’s fun!

If you had to change my name to something more “masculine,” what would it be? Anyone have a name they’ve dreamed of changing to (regardless of gender identity)?

2 thoughts on “What’s In a Name?

  1. Ah, that cutie Gopher. I had a crush on him too.

    You had short hair and were wearing a gender-neutral outfit when you were mistaken for a little boy. It was red and blue and plaid. I also remember Lamont!

    I am happy with my name. Though it seems plain and common, I like that Susan (and its many variations) come from the Hebrew name Shoshana, which means lily or rose.

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