Category: name change
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.
I’d always hated my name. When I was fourteen, I found a book in the library called “The History of Names.” I looked up my given name, Margaret, and was stunned by its derivations. Pages and pages of them, well over 100 versions, often three variations of it for a single country including nicknames like the one I got stuck with…Peggy.
I ran my finger down the endless list until one of them, Greta, stopped me cold. It was a perfect switch: it’s used in England, Sweden, and Germany (a nod to Dad); it was a natural nickname for Margaret (especially if spelled Margret); it ended in “a,” making it feel exotic; with my last name, Goss, it was alliteration and, as for personal stationery, this was a name with graphic sex appeal!
Cradling the book in my hands, leaning back in contentment, my attention strayed to the cover of the book at the top of that day’s heap: a smoldering photograph of Greta Garbo. That did it. I’d found the right answer to my name game. I’d tapped utopia.
Walking home, I thought about how I was going to tell my mother. We’re talking a woman who went wild over every Margaret or Peggy she’d ever met. We’re talking a woman with roots in Massachusetts, a state where they sing “Peg ‘O My Heart” by their first birthday. We’re talking a woman who graduated from college with a class composed entirely of Margarets nicknamed Peggy. This meant I grew up surrounded by a legion of women I called “Aunt Peggy” – which didn’t even include numerous blood relations named Margaret (also called Peggy). Not a Megan, Marge, Maggie or Margo in the bunch. The walk home was uphill. A steep one. I grew less confident with every step.
Family names was the subject of a recent nameberry poll, in which you voted overwhelmingly –70%–in favor of using family names for your baby. Where to look for great family names? In your own family records, of course, as well as in nameberry for ideas of historic names that sound appropriate for modern life. Another great idea: you can hunt for original family names through genealogy sources — and build a family tree for your baby in the process.
The largest number of people who took our poll–46%–were comfortable with taking lots of liberties with Grandpa Wilbur or Grandma Enid‘s name to make them more modern-baby friendly. We’re happy to help. The following are some possible updates for those fusty, musty family names.
Wilma –> WILLA
How have YOU modernized a family name for your child? Tell us here!
Before I was born, my mother had two names picked out for me–I was going to be either Lydia or Laurel. She liked them because they were slightly unusual and, being an artist herself, saw them as having a creative feel–plus she was also following the Jewish tradition of using the first initial of a deceased relative. In this case, it was my father’s mother, Rose, who had recently died, and whose first and middle initials were R and L.
But once I actually made my appearance, Lydia and Laurel were never heard of again. (Might I have become bolder as a Lydia? Quieter as a Laurel?) In any case, whatever transpired that day in the hospital I’ll never know–probably something to do with pressure from my Dad’s two sisters for names closer to their mother’s–but in any case, I arrived home a couple of days later with a birth certificate reading Ruth Leila. To confuse matters further, I was never ever called Ruth. Instead I was known to one and all by my Jewish name, Laila.
So little Laila became who I was– until the fateful day when I started kindergarten and my teacher, looking at my records, naturally called me Ruth. Ruth? What? Who is this Ruth? In one fell swoop, my was shattered. (Obviously, I’m not the ideal person to come to for advice on changing a child’s name post-toddlerhood.)
I returned home from school that day completely confused and distraught, no longer sure quite who I was. Sympathetic mommy came up with a solution: ‘OK, dear, if it would make you feel any better, how about starting from scratch and picking a totally new name for yourself?’ Not having a name book handy, she proceeded to make lists of names starting with those two letters (again Lydia and Laurel went missing)–Leah, Leslie, Louise, Rachel, Roxanne, etc. I picked Linda, which at the time sounded appealingly bright and shinier than the other options to me. But choosing a new name at the age of five doesn’t mean you necessarily instantly internalize it and make your own–which is something I never really did.
But I have no doubt that what the experience did do, though, was trigger my lifelong fascination with names and set me on the path that eventually would lead to Beyond Jennifer & Jason and Nameberry –as well as to my becoming a compulsive, lifelong list-maker.
Through the years I’ve accumulated a number of nicknames–perhaps because my friends also sensed that I wasn’t quite a Linda. My family often shortened it to Lin, while others came up with Linnie, Lindy, Linneth, Linden, Linsy, and even–in the internet era–my own self-created email tag of Lindro. Lately, though, with the growing popularity of so many pretty double-L names, like Lola and Lila and Lilo and Lily and Leyla, I’ve started to really miss Laila. As a matter of fact, one new acquaintance, upon hearing my name saga, has started to call me that.
Not that I think I could ever commit to it wholeheartedly, but I have to admit that in a certain way, it does feel like the more authentic me.
Does anyone else have a story about a name change that didn’t take, or of not feeling comfortable with your own name for some other reason?