When our child comes out as transgender, they may change their name as part of a social transition. They might feel their birth name is too masculine or feminine or no longer fits their identity. Changing their name helps them to feel more like themself and to be able to express themself to the world.
Some people have a hard time adjusting to using a new name.
As parents, we may have an emotional attachment to the name we chose to give our child at birth. Adjusting to a new name can be challenging because our brains have created muscle memories surrounding the old name. We have to create new associations with our child and a new name, which takes a lot of time and practice.
Friends and relatives may also need time and practice adjusting to a new name. The longer someone has known a person before they change their name, the longer they may need to adjust to a new one.
For other people, the new name isn't the problem; it's that the person with the new name is transgender. People hide transphobic behavior in various ways, and refusing to use a person's new name is one of them.
Whatever the reason people have for not being able to use a transgender person's new name right away, the simple truth is we use people's new names all the time with less trouble.
When someone gets married, one person in the partnership often takes the other person's last name. Even before the marriage, people begin to call the person by that last name and then revert to using it right away after the wedding.
There is very little time spent "getting used to" a married person's last name, and you don't often hear someone say, "It's just too hard," as the reason they got it wrong.
One could argue that you spend less time using a last name than a first, but that's precisely why adjusting to a new last name should be more challenging. And yet, people do it every day without complication.
You already know how you use a transgender person's new name. You just need to think about it like any other name change.
What catches us up is the emotional aspect of the process. When you separate yourself from the fact that your child, or the person you know, is transgender, it makes it easier.
Here are some tips for adjusting to a new name:
- Practice, and practice some more. The more you use your child's new name, the easier it will be.
- Use it in different ways. The more ways you use your child's new name, the quicker your brain will create new muscle memory surrounding it. Write it, say it out loud, type it, and use it when looking at photos of your child. Say out loud, "This is Peter when he was three," and "This is Peter when he first learned to ride a bike." Looking at older photos will help you to practice how to associate your child's new name and pronouns with them in the time before they came out as transgender, as well as to make those new muscle memories.
- Use it right away. It may feel uncomfortable to talk to other people using your child's new name, especially if you aren't sure how they will react to your child being transgender. But the more you talk about your child and use their new name, the easier it gets. However, if you aren't sure if someone is safe to share about your child with, don't.
- Update your contacts. You'll want to change your child's name in your phone, email, social media, and anywhere else you have it listed. This will not only help you adjust to using it, but it will also ensure the correct name appears when you interact with your child.
A name change is an adjustment, but it's a transformational time in your child's life and should be celebrated. The easier it is for you to use your child's name, the happier they will be.
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