The Business of Changing Your Birth Name During Transition
Many transgender people feel a need to change their birth name as part of their transition, usually as part of their social transition. It forms part of their journey to their true selves and aims as a form of closure on a likely painful and uncertain past. How people go about changing their names differs wildly and seems to be a very individualistic and personal journey.
If you are thinking about changing your name, but you have not made a hard decision yet and want to make sure that you have covered all options and considered all consequences, then this article is for you. We give a brief overview of possibilities, options, and outcomes to changing one name, all names, a surname, etc.
Some people choose not to legally change their name but end up going by their initials or a nickname instead. Others go so far as to have their first name and surname legally changed and have their birth record changed through a court order, which often involves court fees and a lengthy legal process.
Between these two extremes, there are many different variations of what people prefer when it comes to their name.
The Issue of the Official Birth Record
An official name change is relatively complex and requires a lengthy legal process with legal documents, legally changing birth records, navigating bureaucratic institutions, having to pay court fees, and jumping through several legal hoops to obtain a court order for a legal name change that is, even assuming your country or area allows for such a change in the first place.
Needless to say, this is a stressful and often exhausting process that many people find too daunting. Still, today there are some areas where this sort of thing is not legal for transgender people as yet, which further complicates matters.
When changing a surname, you might need to consider that you will likely need to explain why your surname differs from the rest of your family, but the pros might outweigh the cons for you in this case, and it is essential that you are comfortable with whatever you have decided to do. It might also be more expensive to change your full name as opposed to only a first name. And if your last name is changed, it is likely that you will have to pay extra to change the last name in records as well.
However, if you really want to change your surname as well, we do suggest doing it all at once, just because of how lengthy and expensive the process can be. It would be much better to do it all together than to have to jump through the same hoops and pay the same fees twice.
The Names of Trans People During Social Transition
Some transgender people start going by nicknames or different names reasonably early in life before transitioning socially; others will change their names once they have begun socially transitioning. There are countless different processes and options available; let's look at some popular options.
Sometimes when a person has a gender-neutral name, they might choose not to make a change at all. Other times they might keep their first name as a middle name and choose a new first name. Some people find themselves identifying very strongly with a fictional character whose name they eventually will adopt as their own.
Occasionally a person chooses to name themselves after supportive or well-loved family members, whereas others prefer to have their own name that is uniquely theirs. Many scour websites or books with baby names where others choose a shortened version of their birth name or a family name that they might like.
Finding the perfect name seems to be an unattainable goal for anyone, not only the transgender community but there might be a handful of lucky people who feel that their name is perfect.
Whatever you end up choosing, do not be alarmed if the journey is harder than you expected and if there are some people in your family or among your friends who have issues with your choice. Remember that ultimately, you will be the one living with the name, so listen to what they have to say, but let your final selection be yours and yours alone.
Gender Neutral Names
It is pretty standard for someone who struggles with gender identity to want to change their name when they transition to their true gender. It can help cement the change and help them feel more at ease with a new name to fit their true identity. They might also have bad memories connected to their old name.
Others might feel sentimentally attached to an old name and want to, at least, preserve some of its essence. This becomes easier if your first name is gender-neutral, to begin with. If you are looking for a gender-neutral name but do not know where to start, try to do a google search for baby name websites. This is often where you can find extensive lists with name meanings included.
It might be good to discuss names with friends just in case there is something about your new name that you did not think of. For example, how it sounds when said out loud in total, possible embarrassing nicknames that people can come up with, or the meaning of the name being unfavorable.
Choosing a Middle Name
Many transgender people who change the name that their parents gave them will also want to get a middle name, either one from the family or a new name entirely. You might want a neutral new name with a more masculine name as a middle name if you are a trans guy or the opposite for trans women.
You might want to choose a name that is reminiscent of your previous name, or you want to pay tribute to a person who made a significant impact on your life. If you have not decided as yet, it could be a good point to look up the meaning of the name that you are considering. Some names have an unexpected meaning, for example, Tristan, which is a fairly gender-neutral name that means 'sorrowful', and Mara, which is a common female name, means 'bitter'.
Making a Short List
In the search for the perfect name or surname, it might be good to make a list of several names that you identify with. You might notice that you prefer common names or something more exotic. It will also show you whether you are actually looking for something specifically feminine or masculine or whether you are leaning more towards something neutral.
Many people choose to also change their last name because it can be easy for strangers to find information on them that they might want to keep secret. It is harder to decide to change a last name, though, because it often has a deeper meaning in a person's life. It helps them to stay connected to their parents and the rest of the family, so they might not want a new last name.
Regardless though, a list can be very helpful for the sake of perspective. If you are someone who has strict rules that your new name would need to adhere to, then a list can also help you determine whether you have met the mark or not.
Previous Name and Dysphoria
For many individuals, their given name from birth can cause a lot of distress, so when they take on a chosen name, it can be very important for them that they are called by their chosen name and not their given name. People calling them by the wrong name can be pretty distressing.
Others will purposefully use a nickname while people get used to a new name in order to avoid mistakes and confusion. This type of dysphoria can be especially problematic for several reasons, like, for example if you are a trans guy but you have a distinctly feminine name.
Although it might be hard, we do need to remember that some people will make honest mistakes, not because they want to hurt us, but because people tend to get used to rhythm and repetition, and because of that, it can be challenging to get out of the rhythm of calling someone a certain name and probably having done so for many many years. It might take people a while to get used to, and it is important to try and be patient.
There are quite a few internet jokes related to name choices made by trans guys and there are various memes about trans guy names, so for all the trans men who might be reading this, if this is something that might bother you and you are looking for a male name it might be a good idea to look this up. There are so many male names to choose from and it should be fairly easy to avoid these should it be a concern for you.
It is also not necessarily uncommon for a person to go through a few names or nicknames during the course of their early transition, so if you find that you are not happy with your choice, you can still change your mind, however, if you have already legally changed your name, then this will be more difficult. So it might be a good point to make to actually wait a while before you legally change your name.
While we do not want someone's opinion to influence your choice, speaking seriously to a friend about what you want to be called for the rest of your life could be very helpful. If you are deciding on your actual name that you will be called for the rest of your life it is an important choice to make, and having a serious party who wants to help you, if not a friend, then a family member like perhaps an older sister, could end up being really valuable in helping you to make a more informed decision about your name.