Your name is often the first thing people learn about you, but most of us don't choose our own. This is not the case for many trans and gender-nonconforming people, who often choose new names that better reflect their inner selves.
We asked for trans and gender-nonconforming people to share the unique stories behind their chosen names.
"I started going by Loma three years ago. I was traveling the country and settled for a bit on a queer commune in the woods of Tennessee. That was the first place where I asked people to call me Loma, instead of my government name, Christopher Soto. As a child, friends used to call me Soto. During college, the predominately white community around me decided to start calling me Chris. I felt like 'Soto' (the name of my childhood) was dead and 'Chris' was a name that I never asked to be called — it wasn't mine.
I made up Loma instead in an attempt to reclaim myself and reclaim my gender and ethnicity. I like the a and a sounds in the word. It feels balanced in gender. Loma means 'hill' in Spanish. I grew up at the foothills of the San Bernandino Mountains in California. I feel like a hill just starting to grow into a mountain."
"I originally chose my name in order to respect my father's choice to name all the men in the family after biblical figures, hoping it would make my transition easier for him. It didn't.
After I chose 'Mark' I found out that is means 'rebellious,' which, as one of my high school teachers pointed out to me, is 'kind of fitting for everything you've had to go through in order to be your true self.'"
"The funny thing about changing my name was that I was the only one between my mother, (biological) father, and brother with a gender-specific name. My younger brother hated his name (Kelley Lee) growing up and so did my father (Adrian Lauren) because they both thought their names were a girl's name growing up. My mother (Pat) always liked hers. There simply wasn't a feminine version of my birth, first, or middle name. So I had to come up with a totally new name and I wanted one that no one I was friends with had.
Initially I liked the name Samantha because I love the show Bewitched as a child, but decided that it just didn't seem to fit. I went online and searched the U.S. Census for the top female baby names around the year I was born. I found Sydney and it just clicked. I still hadn't picked a middle name so I decided to talk to my supportive mother about my name choice. I asked her what she would have named me if I had been assigned female at birth and her second choice was Sydney.
I asked her about my middle name and she suggested 'Madison' — that was also my great grandfather's first name. As a young child, he was the only male figure who got me (I was a somewhat feminine child, as you can imagine) and let me be me until later my mother met my stepfather who has also been very supportive — so, Sydney Madison was reborn.
"It has been a joke in our family for as long as I can remember. Any man in my mother's life is called Chuck. It started back when my dad first shaved his head and she said he looked like Charlie Brown — it only escalated from there. Her father started buying the same wine brand, one we affectionately called 'three-buck Chuck' (the brand name was Charles something, and it was obscenely cheap for the quality). So he was therefore inducted into the joke, along with her best friend, Greg.
It was that day I realized that I was a man in my mother's life, so I would eventually be called Chuck, too. I had always loved the name Charlie, so eventually it stuck."
"My parents were really supportive and great, so I asked them to be involved in the process with me. They named me after my great-grandfather. I liked the idea of having my parents name me again."
"When I realized that I was transgender, it was in a pretty dark time in my life and I had a tough time coming to terms with my trans identity as well. Finally I got to a place where I had accepted myself enough to start thinking about coming out to people. The first couple of people I told were really accepting, which was hugely encouraging and something I definitely needed, and they wanted to know what pronouns I wanted to use and what name. I suddenly realized that I hadn't even thought of a name and it seemed such a huge responsibility to pick one that suited me. I tried subtly, because I wasn't out to them at that point, asking my parents what they would have called me if I was born a boy, but, unhelpfully, they couldn't remember. Eventually I decided that I wanted a name that reflected the pain and struggle it had taken to get to that point and the hope that coming out meant to me and therefore chose 'Phoenix.'
About six months later I realized that I would be known by my first name for my entire working life and an unusual first name would make me stand out — which was the opposite of what I wanted. I chose a more common first name and Phoenix got booted down to a middle name. But, for me, it will always be the one that counts because it encapsulates everything about me: past, present, and future."
"I use to hate my name because it wasn't common and in many cultures names that end in 'O' are for masculine persons. But now I love my name. It has a ring. And, in case there is ever any doubt, I introduce myself as Ms. BIKO. Often people struggle to pronounce it so I'm known for asking audiences IRL and on social media to let me hear you say, 'Hey Ms. BIKO!'"
"When I was young my nickname was Tee. It didn't bother me because I liked the character Mr. T from The A Team. My family pretty much just said 'Tee.'
One day while I was walking past my aunt and uncle they noticed a swish in my hips. I was about 9 years old. My aunt jokingly said, 'Tee, yeah right, it seems more like Tela to me.' My uncle laughed hysterically. Tela became a name to taunt my femininity.
At that same time, I was crazy about a character from He-Man named Tela who was a strong fearless woman who could fight like nobody's business. Secretly I embraced the name that was meant to shame me. It stuck and everyone started to call me Tela. I tried on many 'drag names' as I grew up — T'erica , Andranice, Kiki, Keshunna, Cleopatra — but for some reason, even though I knew Tela was meant to shame me, it always felt real. It made me feel connected to family. I felt like it was my name changed by God like in the Bible, so when the time came to legally change it I wanted it to be Tela.
I thought it would be easier for everyone to take but the funny thing was, the moment I physically and legally became Tela, my uncle who used that name to tease me for years would now call me only Antwoyne. Along my journey to Tela, I learned that it's the very thing that was meant to shame us that holds the most power. I took a name that was meant to shame me, and used it to empower myself."
"For years before I transitioned I played computer role playing games with female characters. One game in particular, Icewind Dale, allowed me to create six female characters that would work together. The game is set in a quasi-Scandanavian setting and my family on my father's side is from Finland. I gave all of my characters appropriate names for Scandinavia: Dagmar, Marta, Tuulikki. I knew that there was a name that I used in one of my many saved games that would be perfect for me. I eventually found the saved file and opened it up in a text editor to find the missing name. GRETA!
For hundreds of years my families gave the name Gustav to all of the male children. My grandfather was the first to break with tradition, giving my father the middle name Herbert, his first name. When my son was born, I revived the tradition, giving him the middle name Gustav. When choosing my middle name, I went with Gustava, the feminine form of Gustav, the middle name I felt that I should have had.
My grandfather passed down folklore about our surname. The story goes that during one of the many times that Sweden was occupying the area that is now Finland, many Finnish families changed their last names to be more Swedish. My grandfather told us that the families 'real' surname was Martela, which meant 'of the forest.'
Before deciding to adopt this surname I did a Google search on Greta Martela. The only hit I got was on an immigration record from the late 1800s of a Finnish woman emigrating to the United States. That sealed the deal for me."
"Fairly early in my gender questioning I realized that my given name had the same first and middle initials as Bach. Both of my parents are very into classical music so I just kind of adopted his name.
I hesitated a little about picking something so unusual but I already have a German last name and I never really came up with a different option. I know a lot of trans guys end up picking really fashionable names from baby name websites but I can't imagine answering to 'Parker' or something."
"When I was younger, I was in a writing group on Tumblr and had a character named Chevrolet. People started calling me Charlie based off of that (I don't remember why or how) but I asked them to go to Chevy, and they did.
After that group ended, I went by an alias of 'Mitchell' for a while and didn't think about Chevy again until I started questioning things about myself maybe a year later. That year at summer camp I asked my friends to call me Chevy. I told my family after that summer the feelings I was having, and now (four years later) I'm known as Chevy at school, by family, and by all of my friends online.
I get people confused on if it's Chevy like the car or the actor, so I just tell them that my family was really into cars."
"For a few months after I started presenting as a woman I just called myself 'M' because I knew I wanted to keep my initials, but didn't know what name I wanted to give myself and I wanted to take my time. A lot of people started writing it as 'Em' and assuming it's short for Emily, which was cute but wasn't right. Then one day, I was looking up names online and came upon Meredith, which I vaguely knew was a name that was used for men in England sometimes.
I found out that Meredith is a Welsh name that used to be exclusively used for men, but then when it traveled to the U.S. it ended up becoming a woman's name. That appealed to me as an immigrant, who grew up in the Philippines as male, then moved to the States and ended up living my life as a woman. The name means 'warrior from the sea,' which is awesome and badass."
"When I first began my transition I asked a friend to help me pick a new name, yet after sitting together for almost two hours we still couldn't find anything that fit. I went home later and typed into google 'LGBT names.' One of the first results the popped up was the story of Matthew Shepard.
I was heartbroken to hear about the hate that led to his death, but then I read about his parents. These extraordinary people who overcame the biggest loss any parent could face and in reaction created a place that would spread a message of love and acceptance for all. Dennis Shepard talks about how he loved and accepted his son never thinking that God had made a mistake. My dad, a man who was born and raised in Wyoming with strong faith, reminded me of Mr. Shepard. The resemblance of the two also gave me hope that my dad would be able to accept me as trans once I came out to him.
I learned that Matthew Shepard was born in Casper, Wyoming, just like I was and the year of his horrific accident was the same year I was born. Matthew's last name Shepard began with the letter S — the letter my previous name began with. I didn't pick the name Matthew because I wanted to associated with a violent hate crime. I took the name because I know that if just even one person can keep the memory of his life then maybe his story can continue to change the world.
As of last week, only two people knew why I picked the name: a close friend of mine and my therapist. This past weekend, however, recently I met Judy and Dennis Shepard and I told Mr. Shepard, 'My name is Matthew'."
"I am agender. I am not fully 'out,' and therefore my family-known emails and social media still all mostly reflect this. I still have chosen and use a new name with people as much as I can, and luckily for me, this name is part of my actual birth-given name and an actual nickname that people have been known to use — which makes it less awkward to explain to people I'm not out to.
I'm 'Am.' It is the name my father gave to me, and without him around anymore it is something I can cling to that was from him and can never be lost. Secondly, it reminds me of something extremely important.
I exist. Not only as Am, but I am. I'm here. I matter. I'm Am and I am. That's all. It's silly, but it's true, and it helps."