5 Tips For Navigating Your Name Change

Taking on a new name is one of the most important steps in transition. But naming oneself is a strange activity. Most people inherit their names and take them for granted–that’s just what they’ve always been called. How on earth does a grown person choose a new name for themself? Here are some ideas about how to select a new moniker.

1. Narrow it down. With zillions of names out there in the world, it’s pretty tough to settle on one. So a good place to start is by narrowing the field. Think about what’s important to you in a name, and come up with a few criteria. Some trans people want a name with a certain meaning, a name from their religious tradition, a family name, a name that was common the year they were born, or a name that is unique or unconventional.

When I was changing my name, I chose two criteria that helped narrow it down. I decided I wanted to keep my initials–so my new first and middle names would start with the same letters as my given first and middle names. I also decided I wanted to keep the format in terms of the significance of my names. My first name is a Hebrew name, and my middle name was given to honor a dear friend of my mother’s who died. So I knew I wanted a Hebrew male name beginning with the letter R and then a male name beginning with the letter P (not my real initials but you get the idea).

This was so helpful. Instead of wading through thousands and thousands of possibilities, I was dealing with a much smaller field. I came up with a rather short list of male Hebrew names beginning with R and quickly settled on one that fit. My mom suggested a male name beginning with P to be my new middle name, and I really liked it, so I went with that.

If you know a few things you want in a name, you can cut down the options from nearly infinite to a manageable range.

2. Try it out. Find some safe spaces to try on your new name and see how it feels. This could be at home with your partner, with a few close friends, in one organization you belong to, or on the internet. It’s a good idea to test-drive the name, see if it feels right, and get a taste of what it will be like to be called that name for the rest of your life. Don’t be afraid to try out a few different options.

3. What does the name say? Give some thought to what the name will communicate to others. For example, I have a very ethnically marked first name. People are often confused at first, many people mispronounce it, and I constantly get comments like “So are you Jewish?” and “What does your name mean?” This is totally fine by me–but it’s important to consider how this new name will affect your experience of the world. Do you care about having a name others find easy to spell and pronounce? How do you feel about what the name might say about your ethnic, racial or religious background?

Another thing to consider is what a name suggests about your age. We’re in the odd position of naming ourselves at the age of 20, 30, 50 or beyond–decades after our first name was selected. So we make our choice in a different cultural climate than our parents did. Do you care about whether your name creates any kind of anachronism?

4. Just pick something. There is no one true perfect name. There are a range of names that fit, some better than others. At the end of the day, you just have to pick one. A name is like a pair of jeans–you break it in over time. We grow into our names; they shape us and we shape them. We’ve probably all known a few people who share the same name, yet wear it very differently. Over time, you’ll grow into your name and your name will grow on you.

So take your time, think it through, try on different names. But at some point, give yourself permission to just choose one. Trust yourself to make a good call. Allow the name to settle in over time.

5. Have fun with the paperwork. A legal name change is a pretty serious pain in the ass. Depending on where you live, your name change may involve numerous packets of paperwork, hundreds of dollars in fees, notices in legal papers, appearances before a judge, and updating records at your job, school, bank, with various government agencies, etc.

In my state, I picked up a packet from the courthouse to fill out, took out an ad in a legal notices paper, and appeared once before a judge. Then, I took my name change order to the Social Security office, MVD, bank, university, and so on. All in all it cost about $150 for the name change itself, plus the costs to get a new ID. Google the process in your jurisdiction to find details.

Give yourself rewards and incentives to make this process enjoyable. If you’re intimated by the paperwork, break it into very small chunks and do a tiny bit each day, followed by something you enjoy. Acknowledge your progress along the way. When you’re finally finished, celebrate! A new name is a happy occasion and a major accomplishment

Readers–how did you settle on a new name? If you’re currently changing your name, what’s challenging about the process?

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11 comments

  1. janitorqueer

    I’m in the process of socially changing my name, and that’s going really well. I can’t yet envision the hassles of legally changing it – at some point I definitely will, but it feels super daunting…

    • rimonim

      You know, it is a pain, but it’s not that bad. It’s a little googling, a lot of paperwork, and a bit of carting oneself around town. It is SO worth it to see that correct name on your ID, credit card, and all the other places names appear.

  2. Jamie Ray

    I had a name that I used for myself as a kid (Paul) but I wanted a new name – I had a lot of trouble picking one out. I was very close to choosing Charlie, and then the barista at Starbucks called my drink out for “Jamie” instead of “Amy” and I knew as soon as I heard it. Interestingly, several people have said that Jamie isn’t a Jewish name (hello? neither is Amy) and I accidentally picked the same initials as my older brother (JRB).

  3. butchcountry67

    I was fortunate enough to be given a unisex name at birth ( Leslie) , just had to change my middle name (anne) the choice for me was very simple, I chose my Father’s first name as my middle name , my initials went from L.A.B. to L.W.B. , I got my name and gender changed on my driver’s licence for free ( had a close friend at the dmv) , just had to change my sin card(social insurance number card ) and my birth certificate, also got my health card name change without hassle, the lady simply said the original name and gender must have been a clerical error as she looked at my drivers licence , she issued me a new health card with my new name and gender on it on the spot , the total cost for me to change the name and gender on my sin card and birth certificate and all other government documents was about $150 – $200 , some parts took quite awhile, I also had to run my name and gender changes in the legal papers and give notice in the local city paper.

  4. Tea With Ess

    I knew I didn’t want a Christian name, wich ruled out 70% of Swedish names. It should be pronounsable in Swedish, not associated to people I don’t like and a name that fit my age. No wonder I just found one name… As my middle name I have choosen my grandfathers name.
    The cost has been between $165 in total and very little hassle.

  5. liamanthony2014

    I chose a gender neutral name at first and tried it out online. It felt wrong, so I decided to heck with it, I’ll go for a male name. At first I chose the name Liam, which is still my online name. I love it, and (in sound, though not in meaning) it’s close to the name my parents gave me. I was really going to keep that name, but one of my daughters objected. She really, really hates that name and I didn’t want to do that to her. So I started looking for yet another name. I decided on the name of my great-great-grandfather. Because it’s a beautiful name, it runs in the family and it just fits me. I’m happy with my name.
    My second name will be a male form of what used to be my third name. I’m not using that as my first name because it’s also my nephew’s name. (Otherwise I’d probably have chosen that one for my first name.) My third name is yet another name that runs in the family.
    I haven’t got a legal name change yet, though. I need to jump through some hoops first.

  6. johnmitchk

    I liked my feminine names so I simply picked the masculine versions of them. I would have liked to take neutral third name, but couldn’t find one that felt right.

    I officially changed my name last month but I still have to get the information everywhere. I suppose the hardest thing is to figure out all those places and not to be daunted by the amount.

  7. burnseleanor21

    I picked mine fairly impulsively, but in the knowledge that both my mother and my mother-in-law admire Eleanor of Aquitaine, so slightly hoping that might smooth the waters… not to mention she is a genuinely badass role model for any woman. :)

  8. sebastianlewispod

    I Chose a name that my mum had mentioned before in the past, it felt more comfortable and “homely” from the start that way… and I liked it too! Middle name was strangely the hardest, took me twice as long.
    Change of name is free here in the UK, just need a deed poll which you can DIY at home with two witnesses. It’s other stuff that costs though..lots of changing photos on cards, signed special delivery etc soon adds up. Not as much as others have mentioned here though! Oh, and hours of time finding contact details and writing up/calling up companies!

  9. Samuel

    At first I wanted a neutral name, but neutral names (as anything neutral really) are a tricky thing in brazilian. The only one I could find and like was Eli, but even then it souded more like a nickname than anything else.
    Then I thought, well, I could as well embrace my masculine side, even though I’m not sure if I’m a trans dude or neutrois/agender. So I started looking for a masculine name that were brazilian and had a nice meaning.
    After endless lists and cutting off several names I had considered, Samuel was the only one that still felt quite right, in a way no other name had felt, so I choose it.
    It’s still a fairly new thing (getting used to a new name is weird and wonderful at the same time!) and brazilian law sucks (You have to do SRS and hormone therapy and even then you are dependent on the acceptance of the not-so-trans-friendly judges) so I don’t think I’m making it legal in the near future, but it’s nice to have a name nonethless.

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