How to Choose a Name for Yourself
Choosing a name for yourself can be a daunting decision. But oftentimes, transgender people find it necessary to fit comfortably in their gender identity. Still, with so many options out there, where do you start? This guide will suggest different ways of choosing a name for yourself and how to run new names for “test drives.”
Why Transgender People Change their Names
When transgender people realize their trans identity, they often decide to transition. “Transition” can refer to many different things, but primarily for trans people, it means becoming who you are.
When cisgender people think of transitioning as it relates to the trans community, they likely think of gender-affirming surgeries or hormone-replacement therapy, like testosterone and estrogen. But many aspects of transition are much simpler than that, like choosing a new name.
Social transitioning is a valid, important part of transition that requires zero medical intervention. With social transition, transgender people often change their pronouns, dress in a gender-affirming way, change their hair style, and go by a new name. Many trans people–adults and children–start transition here.
Social transition lets trans people become who they are. Often, that comes with a new name. When names are gendered, it’s no surprise that many trans people feel uncomfortable with a name given to them at birth.
How I Chose a Name for Myself (transmasc non-binary)
I am a transmasculine non-binary person. (I was assigned female at birth). I am not on any hormones; I have not had any gender-affirming surgeries (though I plan to have a mastectomy in the future). I have a curly bowl-cut hairstyle. I dress masculine of center. I bind my chest regularly.
I was born with the name Jessica, with an equally feminine middle name.
As a child, I don’t remember feeling discomfort with my name at all. However, I do recall feeling thrilled at everyone using my nickname, Jesse. During K-12, all my peers, teachers, and family used this nickname for me. Jessica felt less and less like me before realizing my gender identity.
As I got my bachelor’s degree, I went by “Jess” more and more. (And I still do.) Making the transition from a given name I rarely used anymore to introducing myself with a nickname I preferred instead was simple and easy. After coming out as non-binary, I made it clear that when I get a legal name change after marriage, I’d change my name to Jess, officially. (It’s been almost a year since I got married, and I still haven’t picked a middle name yet.)
A quick, comfortable shift from given name to nickname is lucky. Many trans people don’t feel comfortable keeping pieces of their given names. Some need whole, fresh starts. I turned to my trans friends and online trans community for some insight on the many ways trans people choose a new name for themselves.
How to Choose a Name for Yourself: Where to start
There are many ways to choose a name for yourself. The only real rule to picking a new name is that you pick something you like! But in addition to that, here are some questions you might ask yourself to start the name-choosing journey:
Do you want to keep a namesake from your given name?
Keeping a piece of your given name might play a role in choosing a new name for yourself. Obviously, when I swapped Jessica for Jess, I kept a lot of the given name. But that’s not the only kind of tokens you can keep.
A few people I talked to wanted to keep their initials the same. I’m in the same boat! It’s part of the reason picking a new middle name has been challenging. (Androgynous B names are sparse.) I don’t feel particularly attached to my initials, but I do sign my name using them. Keeping that the same felt important to me.
A friend of mine chose the name “Mikey” because the “E-Y” sound ending remained from his given name. Keeping a token like that eased the transition into using a new name. The goal is to consider what you do like about your given name and see how that can influence choosing a new one.
How does the name compare to others’ in your lives?
Although choosing a name for yourself is about you first and foremost, considering how it sounds with others might help rule some things out.
For example, maybe you don’t want to pick a name that sounds too similar to your partner’s name. (Or maybe you do. My name is Jess; my wife’s name is Jas. All of our Eastern European friends pronounce our names the same.)
A friend of mine considered the name “Joey,” but his mom pointed out how close it sounded to his sister’s name, “Chloe.” Not that twin-level rhyming names with your sibling is a make-it-or-break-it level problem, but it’s worth considering.
How does the name sound with your last name?
This question doesn’t need much of an explanation. But, I have a friend who’s full, given name often leads people to automatically nicknaming her Ally, making her Ally McNally, which sounds like the name of a children’s cartoon. It’s worth checking the vibe!
How to Choose a Name for Yourself: Where to find the perfect name
Here’s a list of name-choosing ideas that I’ve gathered from trans friends who’ve shared their name-choosing journey.
Get inspiration from baby name lists
Using baby name lists for inspiration is a great place to start. It’s where I’ve been looking for my new middle name; it’s where many of my trans friends turned to start their naming journey. Make a list of the names you like and try whittling it down from there.
Using a name from an old acquaintance
Surprisingly, I’m finding this is more common than not. Plenty of my trans friends confessed to adopting the name of someone they used to know–old internet friend, a former classmate, etc.
Taking inspiration from favorite characters
Your favorite characters are another great source of new name inspo. I’ve heard people testing names from their favorite films and TV shows, books, video games–you name it.
Asking close friends or family what names they think suit you
Lastly, try turning to others for some ideas. Did your parents have a “backup name” reserved for you? Maybe your friends have some stellar suggestions. I’ve even heard of people posting a selfie online and asking followers to reply with what name(s) come to mind.
Running New Names for a Test Drive
After you picked a name you like, it’s time to start using it to see how it fits! Of course, you can ask friends and family to use your new chosen name. But if you want to try it out a little bit beforehand, I have some tips from the trans community to share.
Use your chosen name at cafés
Give your new name to the barista with your coffee order. An overwhelming number of trans people I spoke with shared this tip.
Test the name online
Building a community of friends online is typical of LGBTQ+ people. It makes connecting to other queer people simple. So, if you’re already in an online queer community, that’s a great place to test a new name. Other queer people are likely to understand the significance of name change and do their best to help you along this journey.
Use close friends, family, or other safe people
Alternatively, think of those you trust. Who make you feel safe in your identity already? It may be worth talking to those you are close to about your journey so far. Cluing them in to your desire for a name change can help when you are ready to make that transition.
Sharing a new chosen name with a few closest to you can familiarize yourself with the name to see if it’s a good fit before fully committing to it.
Changing Your Name
When it comes to choosing a name for yourself and changing it, your comfort and joy are most important. Use those two key outcomes to guide the journey. And remember:
- It might take time to get used to your new name, even if you like the way it feels.
- It’s okay to change your mind; you can pick a new name if you find the first one doesn’t fit.
- You don’t need to explain yourself.
- Follow your trans joy.