How do people who change gender choose a name?
- 23 August 2013
Bradley Manning wants to begin hormone therapy and live as a woman named Chelsea. So how do people who change gender go about finding a name that's right, asks Tom Geoghegan.
Not many people have to pick their own name. Your parents do it for you. You can grumble about it, you can hate it but you have two people to blame.
Adults who switch do so for many reasons, but for those changing gender, the name is an expression of something more profound - a new identity. And that means the stakes are higher.
Krista Whipple didn't get it right first time. Her first chosen name, Kaitlyn Taylor, reflected two things - the pressure to get away from her birth name, Benjamin Whipple, and a desire to be one of the masses.
"I researched common baby names from around the time I was born because I felt I could 'hide' easier if I was one of tens, hundreds or even thousands."
That name became a "safety net" for her, used online in forums and social media. She was still known as her birth name to people she knew. But years later, when she began therapy and started telling friends about it, she came across a more suitable name, in a sudden and unexpected way.
"The time came for me to tell my father, who I feared rejection from the most," says Krista, president of the Gender Identity Center of Colorado. "We had the conversation and an apparent miracle occurred - my dad not only supported me, but he surprised me a step further when he told me, had I been born a girl, my name would have been Krista.
"It was at that point that the second name revolution occurred and that name has stuck with me ever since. I truly believed it was my name by right as I had been born a girl, albeit not in the physical sense."
The relief was indescribable, she says, and it became apparent how forced and unnatural her first chosen name had been, although there were also bitter moments because she felt her true name had been given 33 years late.
Some people choose by instinct - they know who they want to be and who they feel they are, says Joan King of The Gender Trust in the UK. But others agonise about what's right for them. Very masculine or feminine names are popular for those who want to make a strong statement.
An undergraduate project in Boston that looked into transgender names found that some people made very subtle changes that did not depart radically from their past - Charlotte became Charlie and Thaylor became Taylor.