Every name has a story.
I was born with a different name than the one I carry now, in an Ohio suburb that I only vaguely remember. Growing up wild and mischievous, the intensely feminine name that I had been given made me uncomfortable. It never felt right.
That wrongness was something I thought about more and more over the years. I don’t think my parents ever noticed the discomfort, but then again, I don’t think I ever talked about it. It was just one of those things that there weren’t set words for, or at least words I knew how to express. I’m only finding them now, at 25, sitting at the computer in a body that often feels like it belongs to someone else.
As I got into high school, I started thinking very seriously about what name I’d pick, if I only got the choice. It was a hard battle, hampered by unacknowledged discomforts with my body and orientation, and I didn’t manage to settle on anything concrete during those four tumultuous years.
Time continued to pass, and what the right name for me (the one I just hadn’t found yet) was remained a mystery. Then, in this past year, I began intensive research on what two names would label my soul in a concrete, accurate way. I couldn’t keep walking in a name that made me cringe. It was bad enough being trapped in this body when the dysphoria hit. A false start or two later, I finally settled on James Avery.
James, to me, has always been confident, extroverted, and a little mischievous. James can stride into a room and join a conversation without fear. James radiates calm and humor. James is the best parts of me and the things I want most to be. James is me at my fullest potential. Every time I am called James, I am reminded of my best self and pushed to continue striving for it.
Is it any wonder I chose the name?
How about Avery, then? I like Avery because it reminds me where I came from, and to never forget the inequality women face. As a gender-neutral name, it reinforces the message that though I am leaving behind my birth sex, I shouldn’t forget what I have been through, and what women go through every day. It also keeps me from forgetting that I don’t have to always be masculine to be male.
When I pick a name with that much meaning, is it strange that I want to be called by it? And yet every day I get comments like, “You’ll always be Kim to me,” or “I’m sorry, but you don’t look like a James.” Yet if I had gotten married and changed my last name, there would be very little problem.
Why do some people refuse to call someone by a name that has meaning to them and instead insist on one arbitrarily assigned at birth? It takes people time to get used to a new name, but why do some completely reject a person’s right to define their own identity?
I think it’s because, unconsciously or consciously, the people who insist upon misnaming others realize that calling someone by a name that they chose, a name that means something to them and describes them, requires you to acknowledge their humanity. Misnaming is a way of denying someone’s personhood, and that is the worst kind of crime.