What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
~ William Shakespeare
The following is an excerpt from my book, Living with Crossdressing: Defining a New Normal:
During Savannah’s roaring 1990s, several things occurred. I accepted who I was, I struggled with my sexual identity, and, last but not least, I discovered my name…
… Like the genesis of any good stripper or drag name, you usually use the formula of your first pet’s name plus the street you grew up on. Well, I surely wasn’t going to answer to the name Shaggy.
And don’t call me Shirley.
I wanted something exotic, but accessible. I wanted a name that didn’t sound like a stripper moniker or used an “I” in place of a “y”. And I didn’t want a name that made me sound like a spinster. I didn’t have any ideas. My den mothers and my wife’s girlfriend threw out names but none sounded right. Then, the name came to me out of the southern blue.
Savannah was now my name, and it represented my identity as a woman. It completed me as a person, even if I still had years to go to perfect my presentation and confidence.
What’s in a name? It is the first piece of information we are given about a person before meeting them. Like seeing a person from across the room, a person’s name is the same as a person’s physical appearance. How they look carries a lot of weight in shaping another’s opinion of them. A name could carry with it a positive or negative connotation, as well. Whether a reminder of exotic locations, specific cultures, or famous historical figures, a name says a lot about a person before they are ever seen or heard from. I am fairly certain that Adolph is still not on any top ten names for baby boys.
Most crossdressing men and women select a name for their alternative identities. A few do not. The more developed the persona, the more likely that masculine or feminine form will have an appropriate gender name attached to that form. I was a male to female crossdresser long before I had ever contemplated giving myself a name, but having a name provides an identity that may eventually lead to something more substantial. The name grounds the identity and serves as one of the persona’s building blocks.
Interesting enough, I have met two transgender women who decided to keep traditionally male labels while they plan to take on more semi-permanent feminine presentation in their lives. The first is a very public orchestra conductor and composer. She has a loving wife and two daughters. Her male name is angelic and is sometimes used in Europe as a woman’s name (although not as prevalent here in the United States). The second woman is a crossdresser who I have chatted with online through Facebook. She also has little interest in updating her chosen masculine-slanted name in favor of a more “accepted” feminine moniker. While I don’t think that my male name would serve me well as part of my female presentation (it is a very “hard” and “abrupt” name, without any soft flow to it), I can rally behind the notion that the name is just a name—just another label to help us connect with each other instead of serving as a something that brings judgement with it.
If I was named Terry, Chris, Toni, Christian, Pat, or any other gender-neutral name, there wouldn’t be a need to change names each time I changed personas. Only their written forms would cause any confusion or stir, as the spoken versions would be generally accepted with either form. There is a time-honored tradition that most names have an inherent form to it—masculine or feminine. Maybe we should all move to a number designation like Robert Duvall as the title character in THX 1138 but, of course, I am sure that even in that universe the alphanumeric designations would still become masculine or feminine based on how the numbers and letters sound verbally or how they are shaped visually. Hard sounds are typically accepted as masculine; soft and sweeping sounds are feminine. The stereotypes of masculinity and femininity, even when spoken, still run very deep.