What’s in a Name

By Tammy Plunkett

We are at the stage of my son’s transition where we are making an application for a new birth certificate and passport with male gender markers. Up to now, we have used his birth name, which happened to be unisex, we simply used the masculine spelling for unofficial documents in our daily life.

One afternoon over the Christmas break, a year into using male pronouns, he and I sat down side by side on the stairs with a baby name book and went through its pages trying to find a name that suited his personality. I am grateful and lucky and that I had a say in this at all. It is often the case that a transgender person chooses their own name without consulting their parents. But I have a wonderfully sensitive child who could sense my grief around letting go of a name I diligently chose 12 years prior.

I personally still felt resistance to changing his name and took my sweet time with filling the paperwork (it’s been 5 months since the day we sat on those stairs). I didn’t see why it was so important to him. But I went through the motions, eventually, and went along with what I felt was just another step on our journey.

This past week, while I was away on a spiritual retreat one of the attendees asked the teacher why he changed his name after he went through his spiritual awakening. There was something in his answer that clicked in me, referring to leaving behind an old identity that was marred in pain and suffering and choosing a new name that reflected his transformed identity.

My son is leaving behind an identity that never felt right to him, like an ill-fitting pair of shoes with a pebble in each one. He is also leaving behind the couple of years he spent battling anxiety and depression before he even realized what was wrong—only that he knew something was very wrong.

I know I felt changed after I took my husband’s name when we got married. I was so proud to be Mrs. Plunkett! I also have a friend who is longing to regain her maiden name after a divorce. In this way, I can understand my son’s desire as well.

What is in a name? An identity, a history, often a gender, sometimes an ethnicity, always a label. Essentially, letting go of my child’s birth name is one more step to letting go of that child as I knew them at birth. And in the same heartbeat, calling my son his new name is so fitting and so right. I love this new son of mine, and we have a lifetime ahead of us to create new memories with this new name.

If you were to change your name, what name would you choose?