The struggle of names
Names. They say a lot about people. While you can’t reliably tell anything about a person by their name, their relationship with it can tell you their life story. Sometimes people feel defined by their names; Others redefine what a name is.
Names are immense tools both of oppression and in the fight against it. Women’s names are frequently infantilizing or shortened to be cutesy, whereas men’s names are meant to be the opposite. People of color can oftn be outed and discriminated against using their names- a employer, sometimes even subconsciously, may discriminate against Lateesha over Leticia, for instance- and many people of color with “foreign sounding” names can tell you of the struggle to just get people to pronounce them right. And, of course, we have the store-brand-racist “Names that I associate with non-whiteness are weird because they have too many weird letters and syllables!” who conveniently forgets names like Elizabeth and Zachary.
Then you have trans people. Trans people have wildly varying relationships with their names. There are roughly a billion different angles that have been taken on the names and naming process for trans people, and they’ve all been talked about ad infinitum.
And I want to talk about my angle. I’ll start with an open question:
What’s my name?
Some of you may say Grimalkin. Others Kit.
Some people who know me a bit more personally but not too much may say my birth name,
People who know me even more closely may come up with other names.
If you asked my oldest friend, she might respond with an old name, one I no longer use but that is a relic of the time of my life when I met her. If you asked my boyfriend, he might tell you one unique to him.
But which one is my name?
I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you. i know what to tell you when I’m filling out documents, there I use my birth name and call it done. But for most of my life, if you ever asked me and really wanted to know what my name was, what I go by… I wouldn’t know.
I’ve had pseudonyms almost my entire life. From the first time I got into internetting I’ve had them. When I was ten I was Wolfie. I had a lounge chair with that name embroidered on it. Then I ditched that after I realized that it had the creativity of a brick wall. Then I came up with Okasen. I was Oka for a very long time. I thought seriously about making it my legal name. Even now when I type it I feel a sort of warmth, a recognition I can’t describe. You can find that name lingering in my email and various usernames. When I joined the Atheosphere, I wanted an even more anonymous pseudonym, one that none of my family knew of so I could be more entirely anonymous. I care less about that now, but when I did I came up with Grimalkin.
These were not just usernames. These were me. That warmth, that feeling I feel when I type the names Okasen or Grimalkin, the recognition when I hear the name, isn’t there for my birth name. Of course if I hear it in a crowd I turn around, because I’m used to responding to it, but I don’t- I can’t- identify with it. As such I’ve searched for something I do identify with. I found Okasen, but I outgrew it, though it lingers in my heart as a part of me that is not invalid, just outdated. I have Grimalkin, but while it defines a specific part of me, the part of me that is an Atheist Feminist on the internet, it is not all of me.
Then I realized I was trans. This threw the entire name game into a whole new playing field. Not only could I not identify with my birth name, but it served to out me to anybody who knew it. Now I couldn’t just get by with internet pseudonyms. I needed a name.
It took me a long time to find Kit. It’s genderqueer, technically. I don’t know what gender people think when they hear it, actually, though in person I come off as female (my assigned gender) consistently enough that people conflate the two together easily.
In a way it’s fantastic name for me, as we are so similar. defaulting to female despite our best efforts, trying to be male but not being sure we want. Drifting, lost, on spectra of where we are, where we want to be and what people see us as.
But it’s still not me. While it serves its purpose I can’t feel myself identifying with it. But at the moment, where all of my other names are bound to the internet, it is my name for myself in the real world. Like many trans people do I will probably change it, try something new.
So ask me. What is my name? I could tell you that my name is Grimalkin, and let the air of pseudonymity linger around it. I could say Kit, all while knowing that in the future it could be no longer valid. I’m not going to say my birth name unless you need it for a legal document.
But what happens when my name changes, almost inevitably? Do I go around and tell everyone who knew me as one thing that I am now another thing? Well, yes,
I am an artist, though, I like to sign my artwork. I want to make a name for myself that people can recognize and associate with my work. Yet there is work by me signed by Okasen, work signed by Kit, and I’m sure in the future there will be work signed by another me. Blogging and writing comes with the same problem. What happens when someone wants to know who wrote this post? Will the name at the bottom still be valid?
I have to argue that the answer is yes. Time passing and changing things does not make things that no longer exist into things that never existed. Things that are no longer valid are not lesser.
I could also argue that there’s a certain beauty to the way that names change. I have a habit of putting a rough date on my artwork, but in a way it isn’t necessary because I can tell you when I made it by not only how it looks, but who signed it. I can tell you all about how I felt at the time I wrote a blog post by the name at the bottom. Sometimes by the pronouns used as well, if applicable, but that’s a whole different topic.
In the end though, it’s a very confusing thing to live through, not having a single name (or a name period.) And beyond all the thoughts and questions and tangents, all I can do in this struggle with my name is try to keep everyone around me as non-confused as possible. Which I can do.
For everyone except myself.
Featured image courtesy of Natalie Maynor on Flickr