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What’s in a name? Members of the LGBTQ+ discuss finding new identities – and the impact it has on their self-acceptance

By Andrew Henderson

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For a lot of people, their name is something that they might never question. For others, it is a symbol of new beginnings.

When someone who is gender non-conforming begins to socially transition, their name is a core facet of their identity.

Deciding to change their name is one of the first major steps someone can take outside of coming out to themselves, and crucially in a world where that person will be waiting years for any sort of medical treatment, it is something they have control over.

With that in mind, where do people look to find a new name? Prospective parents can look to baby name books for inspiration, but there are no resources specifically targeted at adults trying to find a new identity that fits them.

How do LGBTQ+ people go about picking new names? Picture: Wikimedia Commons
How do LGBTQ+ people go about picking new names? Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Well, some look to their interests and personalities – but even that does not always make it an easy process.

Take Casper for example, who resonated with the cartoon friendly ghost growing up and adopted the name for himself when it came time to choose.

“I not only loved the name but really related to the feeling of not fitting in and people seeing me negatively just because I'm different,” he said.

“I actually first changed my name legally when I was 18 to Ray. I wanted something unisex because I didn't believe I could actually transition with how long NHS waiting lists are, as well as to ease people into the idea I'm not a girl, which I regret.

“I should have just stuck with my gut. I know who I am, it doesn't matter what others think.

“Starting to use Casper took a huge weight off my chest and made me feel like I can finally be me. It felt like Casper was finally able to breathe.”

Similarly, Roz also went through multiple name changes before settling on her current moniker. For her, it helped to find something that would tie in with her Nordic religion and her hobby of Viking reenactments.

She said: “When I realised I was trans in my teens, I called myself Anne, because it rhymed with my birth-name.

“When I changed that​ name to something more in line with my religion, I changed my feminine one as well, again to something that rhymed – although this time it served a further purpose in that when you're on a battlefield reenactments, you need to react when someone is yelling at you!

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“Names can reflect a great deal about a person; given names can shape and mould a society's expectations of someone carrying it, whether we recognise that pressure or not, so I was always aware of the importance of names.

“I don't think I'd be the rounded, complex person I think I am now without having something I could refer to my true self as.”

Another who went through multiple names before landing on one was Toni, who looked to Greek legend for inspiration for middle names in particular.

“I think some of the ones I tried early on were just too feminine for me – I am a non-binary trans woman, so I needed something a little femme, but not too femme,” Toni explained.

“Before transition I hit on Toni, as a feminine contraction of my deadname. Before I came out I spent a year or so getting everyone used to calling me Tony, so the name change wasn't explicitly linked to my transition. At first it felt a bit lazy, but the longer I have used it the more comfortable it has felt.

“My choice of middle names, 'Aphrodite Urania' is a little more interesting though. The goddess Aphrodite appears as a fully adult goddess after the castration of Uranus, and that particular myth struck a chord.

“Aphrodite entered Greek culture via Sparta, as a goddess of Love and War. The Athenians weren't exactly happy with this so divided Aphrodite up into Aphrodite Pandemos (of the people) and Aphrodite Urania (of the heavens). Uranus means 'heavens'.

“In my case it is a play on words. The appellation Urania wasn't intended to reference the origin of Aphrodite in Uranus' castration, but I absolutely do intend it to reference that.”

Most people may never think about their name, but plenty of LGBTQ+ people do. Picture: Callum Mackay (generated by AI)
Most people may never think about their name, but plenty of LGBTQ+ people do. Picture: Callum Mackay (generated by AI)

While some can very specifically pinpoint where their names came from, others take multiple sources of inspiration.

Already having an idea of what personality traits she wanted to represent with her name, Fae also looked towards family as a source of ideas.

“I wanted something more connected to nature,” she reasoned.

“The fae is a collective name for faeries, and Rosalia is a contraction of Rose and Julia.

“My mother’s name was Julie. So I wanted to link it back to her somehow. So there are connections to my mother, nature and faeries – three things that shape the kind of woman I want to become.

“I thought about it for a few months, because I wanted to capture everything that was important to me and to be true to myself. I can be the person I am inside.

“Initially I got some dysphoria – I just didn’t feel like I deserved to carve my own niche in the world – but after some reflection, and especially after being referred to by my new name, it took off. Since then, I really feel like I can be happy.”

Family seems to be a common place to find identity, which makes sense as – in many ways – they can be formative to an individual’s experiences.

Amanda explained: “I used two female names that I liked, which had the same initials as my given names, and my surname is my late father’s middle name.”

Kate continued: “My grandma told me once that she always wanted a grandchild or great-grandchild called Kate, so that's why I picked it. Unfortunately my grandma has passed away but I keep her in my heart all the time.

“I felt so much more settled once I picked my name, and still do. That kind of surprised me, because I knew that some names have meaning to some people but I didn't have that about my first name. It just takes time, and when it happens it will make you happy.”

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Scott openly discussed options with family, adding: “It was a hard decision for me. Scott was my grandfather’s middle name, and my other name that I was choosing between was Vincent, which mom would have chosen if I was born a dude.

“I landed on Scott mostly because it fit better, and also mom said I suit a Scott more than a Vincent. My mom did throw out Andrew as a name too since it was my grandfather’s first name, but I just didn't suit it. I am also planning on having my stepdad’s name as one of my middle names.

“It was like a new beginning, a new journey where I am finally beginning to be myself after years of people not believing me. It's almost like a rebirth in a sense. It's something I truly never thought about until changing my name, the power of it is really something that's special.”

Ealas had a slightly different family influence – their children, and in particular their children’s Gaelic school.

That, and a coffee cup misunderstanding that reads like something out of a sitcom, led to landing on Ealas.

“My birth name was Elizabeth, then my kids started attending one of the Gaelic schools and I was taking classes myself which tended to use the Gaelic name for Elizabeth: Ealasaid,” they said.

“A year or so before that, I basically had a version of that ("Ellis") written erroneously on a coffee cup, and it actually seemed like an interesting option I hadn't considered before. The "coffee cup misinterpretation" seems to be a strangely common way for people to rename themselves.

“It didn’t really matter to me to have a connection to my birth name. I always felt weird about my name, like it didn't quite fit or like I was wearing a shirt inside out. It was like I was trying it out, even when I was a very young kid, and I couldn't explain why.

“Now it just feels normal. It wasn't necessarily a big, cathartic, gender-affirming experience – just like I'd finally been given the chance to stop and flip my shirt around properly and carry on. I don't feel like it doesn't fit anymore.”

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