Name Choosing for transgender Women

Choosing a new name is a very personal decision, and it's one you should think about carefully. The name you choose will have an effect on how people relate to you, and in some cases, can even affect your ability to assimilate . I've included some of the things you might want to consider as you choose a name and commit to it legally.

If you or someone you know was teased because of a name like Ima Nidiot or Jean Poole, then you know that a bad name can influence how people treat you. I knew someone whose name is from the Hebrew word meaning "gazelle." Her name is Dorcas. I guess her parents didn't anticipate her being called Dork-Ass her entire life. I had a swim coach whose first name was Seemann. I cannot imagine what the hell his parents were thinking.

Some famous women who changed their names:

Lauren Bacall     (Betty Joan Perski)
Judy Garland     (Frances Gumm)
Marilyn Monroe   (Norma Jean Baker)
Jane Seymour     (Joyce Frankenberg)
Tammy Wynette  (Wynette Pugh)
Shelley Winters  (Shirley Schrift)
Doris Day         (Doris Kappelhoff)
Sophia Loren     (Sophia Scicolone)
Greta Garbo      (Greta Gustafsson)
Anne Bancroft    (Anne Italiano)
Twiggy           (Leslie Hornby)
Natalie Wood     (Natasha Gurdin)
Lucille Ball       (Dianne Belmont)
Joan Crawford   (Lucille Le Sueur)
Demi Moore     (Demetria Guynes)

As you can see, a different name can bring up a very different impression of someone.


Decision one: common or unusual?

If being accepted as female is your goal, you may want to consider a fairly common name. Just as with appearance in general, the more non-descript and ordinary your name looks, the less attention you will get for it. However, for some, an interesting or eccentric name is the statement they want to make. This can be a good conversation starter or a chance to express their individuality. You'll have to decide what direction you want to go with this.

Decision two: Last name

Some prefer to keep their last name:

  • To maintain a link to their loved ones and friends
  • It avoids having to explain why you have a different name than your parents or relatives
  • For business/legal/financial reasons
  • They just like it

For some, transition is a chance to change their last name for any of several reasons:

  • To distance themselves from their male past, such as a former career or marriage
  • To create more of a distinction between old and new selves
  • To have a nicer-sounding last name

If you are considering the option of stealth, you should give extra consideration to the option of changing your last name. You should also consider a fairly common last name. This can make it more difficult for people to track down information about your past.A friend of mine transposed two letters in her old last name and made it a common name. Another changed the spelling of her last name so that it's harder to directly link her to her old name.

Below is a letter I got from a reader who transitioned in her mid-twenties who regrets having kept her last name:

The one thing I wish I had done differently, and which goes with your thoughts on internet security, is change my last name as well as my first name. In order to maintain family support and support at work, I had pressure not to change my surname--people couldn't understand why I would want to just because I changed my gender--I wasn't a different person after all, they'd say, etc. etc. Unfortunately, in the world of the internet, no information truly disappears. As my last name is somewhat uncommon, I've run into a few situations where people have searched on my last name and then, using what they know about me already (school graduation, date I was licensed for my job where I live, old newspaper clippings from my hometown from high school of old things) were able to find out lots more info about me than I thought was available. This is not something everyone does--in truth, I'm lucky that my appearance does not raise many questions--but it's happened twice in the last two years (including one romantic situation, which became difficult as a result and could have proved disastrous). So anyone transitioning young and hoping for true stealth would be well-advised to change both of their names, even if their parents or friends or work colleagues recommend against it or don't understand why they are doing it.

I got this from a reader in August 2003 who regrets keeping her last name:

On the issue of stealth:

The section of your web-site that covers "stealth" and "Choosing a name" should be taken with all seriousness. Innocently enough, in 1999 when I had my name legally changed I decided to keep my last name given at birth. Being an only child from a single parent household, it was a decision I made in order to show respect to my mother. It was done with the purest of intentions, but I know now it was a mistake. I had lived in stealth for almost three years with my new identity, and assumed that the hardest parts of my transition were over. My success was due in part to completely changing careers and going into a field where no one knew me, even by association. I had gone through the difficult "on the job transition" at my previous job before landing a very promising career in the law industry.

Everything in my life seemed perfect; a loving boyfriend, a great career, a beautiful home. But this year my dreams of remaining stealth were shattered. A mean spirited attorney did a Lexis/Nexis and Google search on my last name, did a cut and paste of all of the data he collected on me into an email, and sent it around to his buddies in the firm. The header read: "I guess this confirms what we've suspected all along. What a freak." The evidence was especially damning, given he included my Petition for Name Change. By the time friends of mine (who up until that point didn't know I was transsexual) took their complaints of slander discrimination to Administration, the damage had already been done. Imagine my humiliation when I met with the Director of Personnel and the Director of Administration to discuss the situation. FYI - amazingly he wasn't fired.

My advice to your readers: Use this web-site and the suggestions contained within like you would sage advice from an older sister. You can spend years trying to do things your own way and buck the system, and get nowhere fast. But a more constructive use of your energy would be spent learning from the mistakes of others, using this web-site as it is intended, and paving the way for younger women like yourselves with the stones of wisdom. The choice is yours.

For more on this common problem and how to avoid it, see my section on internet safety and the option of stealth.

If you decide to change your last name, there are several options:

Make your old first name your last name (not recommended)

I know several people who have done this. Many male names can also be last names, like Thomas or Charles. Some are made into last names with an "-s" or "-son": Michaels, Daniels, Jackson, Williamson, etc. This can make for a good, non-descript last name. One possible drawback is that a male first name for your last name might cause confusion. If you make a reservation under Charles, the reservationist could say "Is that the last name or first?" if they happen to clock you. In addition, you have to consider if you're OK with people calling you by your old first name all the time, just now as your last name.

Take a different family name as a new last name

I have a friend who changed her last name to a beloved grandmother's maiden name. This can be a nice gesture that maintains a family connection without the direct link to your former last name.

Choose a totally new last name

If you do this, I'd recommend avoiding a famous last name, since you never know when a celebrity might do something crazy, and since people may draw a favorable or unfavorable connection with you and the famous-named person.

Whatever last name you choose, I recommend looking up other well-known people who have the same last name. For instance, you may like the last name Thomas because of the poet Dylan Thomas or feminist Martha Thomas, but remember it's also the last name of fat homophobe Wendy's founder Dave Thomas and Supreme Court civil-rights crusher Clarence Thomas. You get the idea. I'd especially avoid the following last names: Hitler, Manson, Oswald, Dahmer, and Nixon.

If you're choosing a new last name, the suggestions about first names below also apply.

Decision three: First name

Is the name easy to spell and pronounce?

For instance, people pronounce my name one of three ways: ANN-dree-uh, AHN-dree-uh, or ahn-DRAY-uh. While I don't care which one they use, I prefer the first one. Vowels are the usual culprit for alternate pronunciation.

If you go by Cindy but insist on spelling it SynnDee, you can pretty much count on it getting misspelled every time. A woman I know spelled her name Joan, which she pronounced Jo-Anne. If it's gonna bug you that people mispronounce your name, you might consider a name that is pronounced just one way. Sometimes an idiosyncratic spelling can be fun or interesting, but it could add to pronunciation confusion or look pretentious or ridiculous.

Does it have non-American characters? Umlauts, accents, etc. might make your name interesting, but will it make it harder for people to spell and pronounce?

Will the name have bad connotations for others you know?

Will using your dead mother's or your ex-wife's name cause tensions? Will some other name evoke bad memories? You might want to choose a name that has no strong connection with anyone you or loved ones know.

Angela writes of her decision:

I came across "Angela" very easily - if I had been born genetically a girl, I'd have been "Angela."

My parents are ok with this. For me there was never any question about using any other name, at least as far as a first name goes. I usually don't worry about the middle name - although it would be nice to find something that keeps my initials the same (need a "C" name to do that). My male first name is also an "A," so that's not an issue.

Of course, anyone considering this should, in no particular order, make sure that they like the name, and if parents or other family members are still important parts of their lives, make sure that they are ok with it. Also probably if the name you would have gotten was given to another sibling later. I didn't have any real concerns about my parents' reaction to "Angela." Besides, I think they made a good choice and I like it and it's pretty and I've told them so. It actually works out to be a compliment to them.

Going by initials only

I've known people who did this during transition before legally changing their name. Going by initials is essentially gendered male, and the assumption is probably that you're male if a reader of your name had only your initials to go by. However, it can be convenient in helping people make the switch to a new name, and you can switch to your initials at any time without doing any legal change. Some have found it a nice way to ease people into using a new name (or at least not using an old one).

Feminizing your male name

This is another common decision. Dennis becomes Denise, etc. However, because this is fairly common, a lot of people might think your boy name must have been Dennis if you choose the name Denise.

Appropriate for your age?

Names go in and out of fashion. The rankings of this decade's popular baby names are not applicable for when you were born.

Diane writes:

It occurred to me that the best way to find a name is to go to your high school yearbook and select a name that from a survey of the girls you went to school with. The advantage is, you can see the names that were popular during the time and place you grew up. In my case, Tiffany might have been a great name, but no one was naming their child that when I was born.

Check the phone book

The phone book can be a good place to choose a name. It's also a good idea to check if there's anyone else listed by the name you're considering.

Androgynous names

Names will have certain connotations for people. If you choose a name used by both men and women, you will face certain possibilities. If you have an androgynous name and appear androgynous, there's a greater likelihood you'll be taken as male, simply because of your name. For instance, if you don't pass well, but you introduce yourself as Daisy, there won't be much confusion as far as cues from your name. If you are androgynous and say, "Hi, I'm Jo," and the person was trying to figure out how to address you, the name Jo won't be doing you any favors.

Some names are used for both girls and boys, though rarely is a name split 50/50. I've known men named Kelly, but many more women with that name. I've known a woman named Michael, but many more male Michaels. I was recently corresponding with someone considering the name Dale or possibly Laura. I wrote: "I've known both men and women with that name. I'd say Dale is generally better known as a male name, but that shouldn't preclude you from using it. It's very nice. It's a personal decision, but since you asked for my thoughts, there they are." She's now considering Laura Dale. Nice compromise, no?

Who has that name?

You also should think through any pop culture associations people might have with names. Taking the Dale/Laura example above, I wrote:

Dale evokes Chip's acorn-hoarding compadre from Disney cartoons, is the name of Hank Hill's beer-swilling neighbor on King of the Hill, associated in the south with Mr. Earnhardt's NASCAR pursuits, reminds me of motivational speaker Dale Carnegie and western cutie Dale Evans, off the top of my head. Laura was the name of the author of the Little House on the Prairie series, the name of a wildly popular soap star in the 80's, hot yet kinda creepy actress daughter of Bruce Dern, the name of Rob Petrie's wife on the Dick Van Dyke show... you get the idea.

Ask others who comes into their minds when they hear your potential name. It can give you a sense of the connotations.

Nicknames

A lot of female names have male nicknames. For instance, people with my name sometimes go by Andi or Andie. I know someone named Melissa who bristles when people call her Mel. Patricia becomes Pat, Alexandra becomes Alex, Samantha becomes Sam... are you OK with being called a male nickname? If you think it will bug you a lot, you might consider a name that can't be "nicknamed" into a boy name.

How does it look when written?

Try typing it as well as hand-printing and cursive. Karen writes: "One ought to try writing each candidate name as a signature. When I did my initial selection, I narrowed the options to a small set. Then I wrote each as a signature and spoke each out loud. My signature as Karen flowed naturally. None of the others did. In just a few minutes, I knew I'd picked the right name."

Type, hand-print and write out in cursive your chosen name and initials the following ways:

  • Jane Anne Doe
  • Jane A. Doe
  • Jane Doe
  • Ms. Doe
  • Ms. Jane Doe (if you have another title, try that, too)
  • Doe, Jane
  • J.A. Doe
  • JAD

Initial impression

Do the initials spell something unfortunate like P.I.G. or A.S.S.? If so, you might not want any monogrammed scarves as gifts.

How does it sound when spoken?

Is the rhythm nice? Does it run together and form a word? For instance, "Amanda Lynn" sounds like "a mandolin" when spoken.

Say it out loud in the ways listed above.


Names sometimes associated with transgenderism

There are not a ton of names that have seeped into the popular psyche as connected with transgender issues, but there are a few which some people might connect to our community. Use these with that in mind.

  • Bree (name of Felicity Huffman character in Transamerica)
  • Buffy   (name of Tom Hanks character on sitcom Bosom Buddies)
  • Canary   (once-famous popular singer Canary Conn)
  • Candy   (Andy Warhol companion Candy Darling)
  • Christine   (first publicized U.S. Christine Jorgensen)
  • Dil   (heroine from The Crying Game)
  • Divine   (drag queen actress appearing in numerous John Waters films)
  • Geraldine   (comedian Flip Wilson's drag persona)
  • Glenda   (heroine of Ed Wood camp film Glen or Glenda)
  • Hildegarde   (name of Peter Scolari character on sitcom Bosom Buddies)
  • Jan   (famous travel writer and author Jan Morris)
  • Jaye   (Jaye Davidson starred as Dil in The Crying Game)
  • Lola   (from the Kinks' song about a woman by that name)
  • Myra   (character in Gore Vidal's Myra Breckenridge)
  • Pat   (androgynous character from Saturday Night Live)
  • Priscilla  (name of the bus in the movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert)
  • Renee   (well-known ophthalmologist and tennis player Renee Richards)
  • Roberta  (name of the ex-linebacker in John Irving's The World According to Garp)
  • RuPaul   (Self-explanatory)
  • Shannon   (porn star)
  • Stasha   (porn star)
  • Tootsie   (as in the film)
  • Tula   (professional name of model/actress Caroline Cossey)
  • Victoria   (film Victor/Victoria and crossdresser store fave Victoria's Secret)
  • Wendy   (well-known synthesizer pioneer and composer Wendy Carlos)

Types of names which are more common among transgender women

I've noticed that TGs and strippers often gravitate toward similar naming patterns... I'm not exactly sure of the significance of that generalization. They often seem to do with notions of hyperfeminine glamor and skew toward certain socioeconomic groups.

Puns: Anita Drink, Amber Waves, Amanda B. Reckonedwith, you get the idea.
Divas: Bette, Whitney, Barbra, Liza, etc.
Minerals and gems: Jade, Sapphire, Amber, Crystal, etc. Generally more popular with strippers than trans women, I think.
French-sounding names: -ique, -ette, La- etc. which seems linked to...
Fashion and luxury names: CoCo, Chloe, Chanel, Tiffany, Lexus, etc.
 
Pet names: Sasha, Ginger, Fifi, etc. In fact, there's a TG game where you can come up with your drag name by taking a family pet name and either your street name or mother's maiden name.
 
Soap-opera names: Lexie, Reena, Drucilla, the sorts of names you've probably never heard used for real people.
 
Alliterative: Repeating beginning letters in a name. For instance, two famous Chicago showgirls are Mimi Marks and Monica Munro.
Hyper-feminine endings: -elle -ette -a -ee, -ita, -ique, -i, -ie.

Fun name links

Name use tips for getting accustomed to your new name

BehindTheName has great etymology and background of common names.

Baby name sites can also be helpful for surveying your choices: Notable ones include BellyBallot, babynames, BabyZone, BabyNamesWorld, Babyhold, ThinkBabyNames , BabyNamesGarden, BabyNameTrain and YourBabysName. The Baby Name Wizard on iVillage is an interesting look at naming trends.

This Social Security Administration site shows the popularity of a name for a given time period: http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/