What Is In A Name?

It is a decision almost all of us in the trans* community eventually make, the choice to change our name. Some of us base it off of a role model. Some of us simply take the closest gender “appropriate” equivalent of the name we were assigned. For some it is an arbitrary choice. Maybe someone else chose your name for you. Maybe they did not know they were doing so. Here is the story of my names.

I was born John David Noble Jr. in Brockport, NY. I apparently came very close to being named Ulysses as my dad was enamored of the name. Fortunately my mother said “no, you can get a dog and name it Ulysses” (which he did and which my mother nicknamed Useless, hopefully driving home her wise choice.) I was happy being Johnny for years, even as I realized, slowly that something was a bit different about me (well, lots of things really, and more than a bit, but one thing that is relevant to this discussion.)

Every year my dad would play the Beatles’ “It’s Johnny’s Birthday” to wake me up for my big day. I was happy to carry my dad’s name. It connected us somehow. I had various nicknames over the years. I shared the nickname Duke with my uncle for a while, though never among family. That was only in high school due to my wearing a cowboy hat for “hat” day once, and I was OK with it because I really was, and still am, a John Wayne fan. For a very long time I was Uncle Bubba, and that was very special to me. Sometimes I wish I could be Aunt Bubba, but I’m not sure how that would go over.

There came the time, though, that I knew it would have to change in a big way. When I finally came out I already knew what I wanted to be called, and why. You see, I never really realized what was up with me until I took a class on feminism and philosophy in college.  Once I understood, it still took time to work up the nerve, and I did not have it until my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I could not drop that bombshell on my family then.

So I delayed, not out of fear, but out of compassion. I knew there was time. I just had to wait until mom got better. The thing is, mom never got better. For a year I helped take care of her while wondering what to do. I explored my identity in private. I tip-toed into it, being open about cross dressing, but not about what I really felt inside. All the while I watched my mom slip away. I watched this once vibrant and sometimes intimidating woman wither until she was frailer than a baby. Her once razor-sharp wit was stolen by the pain medication. Then she was gone. She was gone and I never once told her who I really was.

It took a little more time after that. Grieving will do that. I had help, from a good friend, and my little sister. In all that time though I decided I wanted mom to name me, but she was not around anymore. Then I remembered a conversation we had when I was sixteen. Out of the blue one day she mentioned that if she had another daughter she thought Christine would be a nice name for her. I did not know what to think at the time. Dad had a vasectomy, and while they had marital problems in the past, it was just that, the past. Still, I did not reflect on that much in years, and when I did, I decided mom had named me, she just did not know it. Or so I thought.

A couple of years ago something occurred to me. Sixteen was the age I was when I first secretly tried on women’s clothes. It was the year I was using her make up. It was the time I was putting runs in her new stockings. It was then that I was ruining her heels. I think maybe she knew, and she was trying to tell me something. I can never know, but I think she knew, and in her way was telling me it was alright.

So now I am Christine, or Tina (and that is a whole, different story.) At work I have to be Chris for now, because passing is expensive and sometimes does not work the way I want to, and my employers are great people who rely a lot on family oriented business and unfortunately we live in society where some people view people like me as a threat to “family values.” I am pretty sure my bosses wish the world were not like that too, but as I was coming out to them when they interviewed me, I promised not to put them in that awkward position. It sucks, but that’s the way it is.

It does not matter though. Because I know who I am. The people I know and love the best know who I am. For now, I can let others call me what they must, because I know what my real name is. My mom gave it to me and it was the best thing she ever did for me, and goodness knows I have not always been the best daughter. She gave it to me and I will cherish it always, even through the dark times I have to keep it to myself. I am Christine Jennifer Noble, and always will be, and a woman by any other name…


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