Tuesday, 14 July 2015

So what is in a name?

This is not something that always requires much thought. Maybe when naming your cat or kid or car. And some of you may even have thoughts about your own name - do you like it or love it. But I expect that generally it is not something you have thought on so much. 

Recently I had to think on my name a lot and in a few different ways as I sent off my legal name change. Is my new name right for me? Is it the right time to change it? Am I ready? What title do I use? And can I let go of my old name?

I always disliked the name Paul. Not that I particularly dislike it, it just never felt like it suited me. I didn't know why I felt that way, but I always did. My name always felt a little alien to me. Kinda obvious now of course!

As I come to send off my deed poll I suddenly start to worry. I have had this name a long time. In some ways it has defined me - having used my name to build a scientific reputation in my field meaning that many people may know me by name only. But then, I was only so worried about that.

For some reason I felt that by signing away my name, which you do with a deep poll - you agree to actually give up your name -- I would also be signing away my history. My mother gave me the name. It was the first thing she gave me. I may feel like the name does not suit me, but it has been me. 

Of course, the idea that I am giving away my history is crazy. My memories remain, why would they change? I know they will not go away. But it does somehow feel like changing your name is somehow going to make you a different you. I guess that is why so many trans* folk are so keen to change their names as soon as they can. They feel the disconnect with the name they have, like I had, but also want to become a different person. I understand that, but I like my history. I like who I am and I don't plan to change all that much. However, I did need to change my name and it did feel like a big, positive step as part of my transition. So I did it with the same feeling as when I started my hormones - a here we go attitude. Turns out that it is pretty easy to do.

So, what about the actual name? Well, my mother had provided my first name and I felt that she should have a large input into my new name. 

Funny story. So I have been going out ‘en femme’ as it were for years. I have had a trans* online presence for ages. When I started, I had to choose a name. I had this notion that my mother had planned to call me Sally had I been born, well - obviously and biologically born - a girl. So I used this name online and in clubs for years. You know, that secret life I had that none of you knew about!

But, in truth, I never really felt the name suited me. I used it because, even though she did not know about me at the time, I wanted to keep my mother's involvement in my name present. When I came out to her, I said I had to decide on a name. I told her that I was known as Sally as I knew she was going to call me that. Turns out, somehow I had made that fact up. Totally. No idea how or why but there you go. And as a result I got the 'oh god no, I really don't see you as a Sally'. haha. Oh well. 

So that was kind of nice. Not only was I changing my name from my male name, but also from what I now see as my transvestite name. I was no longer either of those things, officially, so a new name felt right.

And what goes into the choice? Well - I really did not want a name a friend or family member has. That would have felt weird for me. Then you have to take into consideration film, comic and cartoon characters. Not wanting to be named after a jerk! Not too girly. Not too male. Paula and Pauline just are not for me. And once you have a name, you need to check it online to find it's root, find out what it means. So lots to consider.

And as I say, I wanted my mother's input. So I gave her suggestions and let her have a think. She came back with Clara and I loved it. I had had very similar ideas and a quick google (verb) shows it to mean 'light' from the Greek which is really pretty cool. So Clara it is. It helps that it is also the name of a kick ass Dr Who companion, but that is not why!

A middle name was easy. Michael was quite important to my identity as a kid as it differentiated me from the lad that sat next to me at school, Paul James Barker. It is funny how important that middle name became to me. And I like the female version, Michelle. It gives me a link to the original name chosen for me by my mother and I wanted to have that link if I could.

So there we go, the choosing of the name. But the using of it, well, that takes getting used to. 

Even in a dress and makeup, for some reason I have, until recently, always said Paul when asked in Starbucks. That important temple. No idea why but there ya go. I did manage to change that though, and once the cycle was broken I stuck with it!

I even did it at a bra fitting a while back. Muppet! But now I use it when I order things online, I applied for jobs as Clara. It really helps that in my new job and home I am only known as Clara. That is legal now. No one makes a mistake because they do not know any different. I am introduced as Clara, my badge says Clara, my work email is Clara. And the way friends have taken to it - that is awesome. I have noticed, those I talk to on Facebook often have taken to it easier - presumably because they see it before every message so that when we meet, it is something they have seen a lot. For others it is taking longer, and understandably so - they know me as Paul and have little 'practice', I guess you could say, getting used to the new name. But they try and they improve. I am now even Auntie Clara to my niece which is amazing. 
My name is becoming much more natural to me, and I love it - it is becoming 'mine' as well as just being legally mine. I even have my new signature down - something I had not even thought about till recently! 

One final pause for consideration, for me at least. When you fill out a deed poll to change your name, you can also change the title you have. And this was very confusing for me. Because I am not going from Mr to Miss - I have the title Dr. I worked bloody hard for that title and it is something I am proud of. I want people to recognise it - there is nothing more annoying when I send an official email or letter as Dr. Barker and then I get a reply to Mr. Barker. Jerks. 

But for so much longer, I have wanted to be recognised as female. And yes, I have worked hard at that too. It is harder for society to accept me as female than a Dr (although folk do struggle when they see me with that too...). So I have the chance to put Miss on a passport and driving license. This forces people to recognise me as female. Hopefully stops them from mis-gendering me. I am She, Her, Hers. And I VERY much do not want people to be under any confusion about that. I was so happy in the MAC store to be asked "Miss or Mrs”. It grates me when I wear make-up and people call me sir or mate or dude. Note, I do not mind when my friends slip, it is to be expected. But strangers doing it out of ignorance - or on purpose. Yep. They can get stuffed. 

So yes. My gender, and how it is acknowledged is so important to me. But at the same time I have also achieved the title Dr. It does give me an air of respectability given that I am a goth and goths are not taken seriously. Such a hard choice. What would you do?