Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Rose by Any Other Name

Names are important things. They are generally the first thing we tell others about ourself. They give us a sense of identity and individuality. Ever work at a place that has multiple people with the same name? Or with the same name as you? Watch as everyone tries to retain their own name, while making it unique enough to discern who is who.

I've known a lot of people who have gone through name changes (some legal, some just as "nicknames"), and everyone does it for different reasons. Each name change is unique and personal. Technically I could include just about every marriage I know of in this category even (or at least half of my married friends... stupid patriarchy). Some people change their name early in life, as soon as they can apply for it without a gaurdian/parent's permission. Others wait until later in life. Whatever the reasons, names change.

My own name has changed, although not for the reasons most guess. Legal name changes are common in the trans* world, because names, just as much as clothing, are categorized into "male" or "female." Sure there are some "unisex" names, just as there are some unisex t-shirts out there, but even if the tag claims it's unisex, we all know that society still interprets it to be either "male" or "female." My legal name change has nothing to do with my gender. Well, actually that's not entirely true, as my legal name change was a result of me not wanting to take my spouse's name at our wedding...

Thomas (my latest internet name) was my surname, and actually has been since birth. When I was 17, I joined the military and it became more of how I was known than my first name. As I became friends with the guys in my unit, many of them simply called me Tommy when we weren't on official business. They really didn't care that I was female, they simply cared if I could do the job. Strange as it seems, my time with the Canadian military was when I saw the most and the least differences in how men and women were treated. And a large part of that was how the women approached their own gender. I didn't want or expect special treatment. I wanted to be one of the guys. I wanted to be held to the same standards they held themselves. And so my detatchment (the team of 7 I worked in), ignored the fact that I was female, and simply treated me as a teammate.

After I got out of the military, I began performing as a drag king in the Vancouver scene. My drag identity became how I was known to many of my new friends in the queer community. And you guessed it, Tommy stuck around. My given name is extremely feminine. I have never heard of a masculine version of it, so I simply adopted my masculine surname as my name.

Flash forward a few years, and I'm getting married. My spouse is the most amazing man I've ever met. I explain that I can't give up Thomas as my surname, due to my own personal history with it (sure one could argue I got it only out of patriarchy in the first place, from my father, but I've claimed it as my own through my own personal history). I would rather give up my given name than give up Thomas. I've fallen out of touch with most of my old army buddies, and I've gotten out of the drag king scene because the petty soap opera drama was too much for me, so nobody calls me Tommy or Thomas anymore, but I can't give it up. I cannot simply take my spouse's last name.

But I can't ask  him to give up his name for me. That's not fair. I refuse to ask him to do anything I'm unwilling to do. And we wanted to show that WE are together, a family, a partnership, all that lovey dovey commitment stuff that goes along with a marriage. So we were at an impasse. I can't give up Thomas, I can't ask him to give up his surname to take mine.

And thus the legal name change. We hyphenated. In Canada, with a marriage, you can legally take your spouse's name (the law is gender neutral, so he could've taken mine), or you can keep your existing name. That's it. In order to hyphenate it requires a legal name change. So we did. We both took each other's name, and now we "match."

But I still identify most with Thomas, the surname I had at birth.

And just because most of you don't know- Rose is one of my names given to me at birth. By far my least favourite, but as my given names were a gift from my grandmother, I can't justify changing them. I'll just stick with going by Thomas online, and my first initial in real life. So now you're in on the joke of the title of this post- this Rose is still technically called Rose....

Have you ever considered or had a name change? What inspired you to choose the name you did?


  1. I think it's great that both of you took the hyphenated name! That's awesome.

    I have always wanted to change my name. First and last. I can tolerate my first name now, but does it go with a lot of last names? No. I can't wait to get rid of my last name though. I don't want that association anymore.

    1. I never knew you hated your name. I'm curious what you would prefer.

  2. Wow, there are so many levels to you! The more I read about your identity and beliefs, the more respect I have for my cousin, who also must have a whole bunch of levels that I never knew of. (hope that makes sense and doesn't come across as narrow-minded). I assumed my husband's last name when we got married. Part of me still regrets it. I was young and not terribly assertive. I heard, from several people of the older generation, that I 'have to' take my husband's name. I even had my future father-in-law call me by my husband's last name before we got married. It annoyed me at first, but I gave in. My future husband seemed hurt that I didn't automatically want to take his name. So I stopped arguing the point and I just did it. It seemed easier to give in than argue. It feels natural now that I have children who share the name with me. But at 20, newly engaged, and told "you have to take his name!" it felt wrong. Live and Learn, I guess!

    1. Lol, all I can think of now is Shrek "Ogres are like onions!"
      A friend of mine kept her own name when she got hitched, and now her son has a different name from her. I wonder if that bothers her as much as you changing yours does.
      I like the concept of family having the same name. I don't like the current patriarchal system of doing it.

  3. The only fight me and my spouse have is whose name will come first in the hyphen!

    Now your only dilemma if you change it is you'd be Thomas Thomas-Something, which might seem strange. You can always change your first name to something you like (male or female or androgynous) and still have people call you Thomas. Also, anytime you doubt it, just ask yourself "why not?"

    1. My spouse and I tried it both ways with our names, and Thomas-HisName rolled off the tongue easier than HisName-Thomas. We also contemplated mashing them into one name, as in take the first few letters of mine with the last few of his (and vice versa) but none of those combos worked.

      And I have no plans on making Thomas my first name (at least not legally), but I have considered it. Somehow I just don't see why I can't just be called by my last name.