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How I Chose My Own Name

June 7, 2015 Linda Rosenkrantz

By Sparrow Atwater

Choosing names can be tough, whether it’s for a baby, a pet, or the main character in your next short story. But what about when you have to choose a name for yourself? Where do you even start? As a transgender person, I was faced with this very problem.

When I was born my mother had carefully bestowed upon me the most popular girl’s name of the year – of the decade, even – and seemed to be very pleased with herself for doing so. I remember as a kid hearing her say, “I don’t like it when people legally change their name. It seems insulting to the parents! They chose that name for them and they should respect their parents enough to keep it.” Since I had never liked my name and had already considered changing it when I was older, this was discouraging to hear.

When I was little, I always wanted to play the boy in games with my cousins and growing up always wanted my hair to be shorter and my voice to be deeper. I was called a tomboy in elementary school and somewhat nastier things in high school. But even after I had heard of being trans, I didn’t think it fit. I didn’t want to identify as a boy or a girl. It was very confusing. Thankfully, I eventually learned that some people just aren’t either! There is a whole spectrum of nonbinary (not male or female) genders. I identified with this the minute I heard it explained.

Figuring out how to describe the way I experience gender felt very liberating. But the problem that quickly came to mind was: what did I want people to call me? It felt wrong using the valley-girl style name I was born with. I knew I wanted to change it, but to what? Fortunately I had been collecting names I liked from a young age, so I had quite a list to work with, but how would I narrow it down? How would I get used to going by a new name? How would I get other people to make the switch?

The name I ended up leaning towards the most was Sparrow. It was gender-neutral, it was a name from my family history, and it had an independent but soft feel to it – things I think reflect my personality. I was still having doubts though, so I posted about it in the Nameberry forums. I was a bit nervous that people would be unsupportive online, but instead everyone wished me luck and told me they liked my choice. I decided to keep my middle name, Lynn, but change the spelling to Linn in honour of an actor I really admire.

My brother immediately started calling me Sparrow and using neutral pronouns (they/them) when I asked him to, and my cousin forgets sometimes but is working on it. Most of my friends made the switch easily. I was pleasantly surprised! My parents still insist on calling me by my birth name, and probably always will, but I’ve managed to accept that. Overall my name transition has gone as smoothly as I could have asked for.

Since then I’ve been a part of nonbinary and transgender communities, and people have come to me for advice on choosing their new names. I am always happy to help! For some people, like me, having a meaningful name is important. For some, the sound and rhythm of the name is the top priority. Some people just want it to be unique! All of these are valid – the important thing is you are comfortable with your own name. After all, a name is your primary form of identity, and changing your name is a second chance at defining yourself. So make it as “you” as possible!

To any and all trans and nonbinary readers out there, if you do decide to choose your own name, I wish you much luck and support.

Sparrow is 20 years old and has been collecting and studying names since they were about six, when they wanted to find unique names for their stuffed animals. They also have a passion for media in almost all forms a currently attempting to write both a novel and a webcomic, and hope to someday start an independent film production company. 

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