Two years ago I changed my name, and with my new passport in my new name, the process finally feels done. It was the last big thing that needed changing. And while I am non-binary, my gender actually has little to do with why I changed my name. It certainly played a part in me choosing a gender-neutral name.
Changing your name is an intensely personal thing for many people. And for some it’s the same as any other accessory, to be changed as many times as they want. I know as many cis people who have changed their name or go exclusively by another name as I do trans people I think. My dad’s cousin has had five different names. One of my mum’s oldest friends changed her name, then changed it back forty years later.
It’s common in Wales, especially among the older generation to go by your middle name. I have had many conversations while working for the pharmacy that involved the phrase, “and what’s your full name?”.
So name changes are not foreign to me. Hell, my stepdad goes by a male version of his middle name, I guess it just took me almost forty years to figure out what name I actually wanted.
I realised I liked being called something different when I was 18 and in college. I had left a note on my room door saying I was going to Coventry for the weekend (I was at college in Leicester at the time) and signed my name at the bottom.
Except, my signature made it look like my name was Brian. My housemates, four lads, latched onto this and proceeded to call me Brian for months afterwards. And I didn’t mind, I wasn’t bothered. I was apathetic more than anything, I didn’t mind that they didn’t use my birthname, but called me this daft nickname instead. It didn’t roll over into my next flat and group of housemates, so I was only ‘Brian’ for a year.
At one point in my early 20s, my dad stalked me, and this lead me to a dislike of my hearing my birthname, something I hadn’t really had an opinion of before.
He called a lot, over and over and left voicemails. Lots and lots and lots of voicemails. And they all started the same.
“Deadname,” (pause), “it’s your dad,” (really long pause). Then he would go on and ramble about something or other. He would come to my house and then wait at the pub and the bottom of the street and wait for me. I always went the back way anyway, because my uni was in the other direction. It contributed to me not leaving the house for six months at one point.
It started when I was 21, and went on for nine months before he gave up and left me alone. I didn’t speak to him again until my 24th birthday when my well-meaning but daft uncle (my mum’s brother) drove him to see me. I’ve spoken had a strained relationship with him since then, though I’ve only spoken to him once in the last year and 3 months.
It’s been nearly twenty years and I still feel dread when he calls and leaves an answerphone message. It’s only in the last couple of years – since my toddler got cancer – that I started listening to voicemails again. And now she’s in remission, I no longer listen to them all, or right away, or even the full message.
Therapy and Bread
When I left my ex I went into therapy and by this point online I was only using a shortened version of my name. I went to therapy with someone who had the same name as me. My birthname is Welsh, very welsh, and while living in Leicester I had met two other people with the same name as me. We became the other ‘name’ as a joke, that’s what we called each other. I was in therapy for a year before moving home.
While there I stopped self-harming, stopped drinking to excess and stopped trying to kill myself. The whole place is a post unto itself I may write one day. I lost as many friends as I made.
When I moved home, I was still using my birthname and still trying to figure out my place in the world (and my family) when I met my wife. That’s when I got the nickname Bread.
The short version is a friend of mine, who was at the same gay night as me and my now wife, was drunk and giving everyone food names. mine is the only one that really stuck. Mostly because it meant that no one was calling me Rhi and everyone was calling, me Bread. And everyone called me bread. Many people still call me bread.
I realised at some point over the years I was bBead, that I really liked being Bread. And it wasn’t that I like the nickname, it was that I liked not being called by my birthname.
I started playing around with new names online, mostly as pennames. I wanted something that still used the same initials – r.l.w but didn’t cause me the same gut-wrenching fear my birthname induced in me, even 15 years later.
I had a chicken called Renfield. We named her after the character in Dracula. It’s a great film, I love it, though it’s been many years since I read the book. But I quite liked that it would work as a penname, that I could still use my initials. And then I started using it more and more, changing online profiles to Ren and then I changed jobs.
I changed my CV to read Ren, and changed applications to read the same but when I started at the charity I currently work for, I panicked. I didn’t use the name I wanted and liked, I didn’t tell anyone I usually go by Ren – which I had done in interviews and at work, I was my birthname for about a month and I hated it. I realised just how important it was to change my name, and how much better I had felt not being called by my birthname.
Then I decided to bite the bullet and change it. I told my boss, announced it at the team meeting and did not have a single issue at work. Even though I didn’t officially change my name for another few months.
But it was liberating. And no one called me by my birthname. For months I was either, Ren, Bread or Bow (what my kids call me). No panic, no dread, I was comfortable in my name for the first time ever.
I had my two good friends sign my deedpoll. I changed my middle name to, to match, and I took my wife’s name when we married almost 11 years ago. I still use my birth surname online however. For privacy and consistency.
There are a few people who call me by my birthname. My mum has dementia, I changed my name during the early stages of that and it’s not a change that has been remembered, and to be fair, most of the time she called me ‘munchie’.
My nephew still calls me by my birthname, but he’s my best man (still, a decade after the wedding in which he was my actual best man). My niece asked if she could call me ‘Aunty birthname’ still, and I said yes because I love her but it didn’t last long. She calls me Ren now and she usually skips the aunty bit too, but I don’t mind. I love her more than my name, my titles.
My dad still calls me by my birthname. Though not often, and we don’t talk much. And those few and far-between instances, mean I am less exposed to something that causes me so much pain and panic.
So there you have it. Being trans isn’t why I changed my name. And I don’t mind the association that being trans = changing your name, but I think we do a disservice to both trans and cis people by assuming changing your name = being trans.