One of the first things I did as a newly pregnant mama was to think about the names I wanted to consider for my baby. I was pacing back and forth in the bathroom of my parent’s condo, waiting to see if the First Response test would show one line or two. When you are nineteen, three minutes can feel like a life sentence. I passed the time alternating between panicking and trying not to hyperventilate. For the first time in my life, I said a prayer to God to let me fail a test and offered and apology for being such an overachiever.
God has a sense of humor because those two lines were pink. After a few minutes of shock and disbelief, I immediately began a mental list of baby names to consider and ones to rule out. I hadn’t even fully come to terms with the idea that I was about to be a mother, but the desire to give my baby a name felt urgent. From that list, came the names I would eventually give to my two children.
It never occurred to me that my children would not keep those names for the entirety of their lives.
I entertained the idea that someday marriage might come into their lives, and last names might change, but that was it. I didn’t have the word transgender in my vocabulary, nor did I understand how it would come to impact my life.
When my son came out as transgender, he gave us the name he wanted us to call him, as well as the pronouns to use. It was the first time I heard the term “chosen name.” At the time, I didn’t understand it. I remember thinking that morning that I had already chosen his name, and what on earth was he talking about? He didn’t keep that name. It was just a temporary nickname while he sorted out what he wanted his legal name to be.
I feel incredibly lucky because he included me in the process when he decided on his name. He was the one who made the final decision. Still, he asked for my input, and we had a conversation about family names, and he shared with me what he was considering and why. When I first asked him about his name, he even offered me to choose it. After I finished crying, I messaged him back and told him I had already chosen his name once. I thought this time he should choose it, that way it would be more meaningful to him.
I know not all parents aren’t given that same consideration. Some parents find out their child’s name after their child comes out. This is especially true of teens and young adults. Or, sometimes parents ask for the chance to give feedback on their child’s name, and their child denies them that opportunity. I’ve heard of parents whose children have come back from time with other family members and have a new name.
As a result, sometimes it can take a while for parents to get on board with a name change.
This can be due to a multitude of different reasons. Sometimes the new name has a negative association for the parent, and it is hard for them to associate that name with their child. Other times, it can be due to too much change at once. Often, when a child comes out as transgender, especially a teen or young adult, they have been waiting a long time to start moving forward. Once they take that first step, it’s like a train that has left the station. For parents, this can be overwhelming. We are struggling to get our footing, and our kids are off and running. Suddenly there is a new gender to adjust to and new pronouns and a new name. It’s not that the name itself is a problem, it’s just getting used to the idea of it.
Sometimes, there is pain involved. For some parents whose children change their last names as well, they say it felt like their child was divorcing themselves from the family. This is more common in parents of young adult or older children, and especially hard for parents to reconcile with. Some mamas have shared with me that they felt their child was trying to erase the part of their life from before they came out as transgender. By validating the new name, including the last, these mamas felt they agreed to that erasure. For a parent, who their child was before they came out doesn’t go away, even if the outward expression of their child changes.
What do you do when you struggle with your child’s chosen name?
- It’s not about you. It’s okay to have all the thoughts and feelings you need to have about your child’s new name. You might be sad or angry or hurt or all of the above. Process those feelings away from your child, and be supportive in front of them. Use the name they have chosen. Don’t disrespect or speak badly about that name to others.
- You can ask your child for input in choosing their name, but you have to be prepared for a no answer. Check your motivations: why do you want to have a say in the name? Do you have alternative name selections from when they were a baby that you haven’t shared yet? Are you worried your child will pick a name you don’t like? Even if your child agrees to let you share your input, you need to understand that they still may choose something different.
- Names are important to one’s sense of self and identity. Your child has chosen their name for a reason. Hopefully, they have shared that reason with you. This may help you begin to get on board with the new name. Part of the reason why you may be struggling is that the name is new and different. Give it time. Change is hard. Let yourself get used to the idea of the name, without judgments. Eventually, you will begin to associate that name with your child.
Recently, a fellow mama bear shared this bit of wisdom with me, “A name is a gift we give our children. It’s up to them if they want to keep it.”
What has your experience been with your child’s name change? Did you find it easy to adapt to, or did you struggle? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.