In A Name

One of the classic questions to ask any transperson is how they got their name.

I remember one woman, who was on her own quest, telling me about her name, and then she gave the second name she chose, Sophia.

“Ah,” I said.  “That makes sense.   Sophia, the feminine of divine wisdom, like St. Sophia church in Istanbul.”

I could almost see her blanch over the chat connection.  We choose names and we find meaning.

As I have said, I used my birth name when I first came out.  I was a guy in a dress.

Eventually, though, that didn’t feel right or representative to me, so I started writing down names on sheets of paper, trying them out.  I grew up in Boston, so I had lots of powerful friends named Ann, and I liked that name, but I wanted something gender neutral.  This alone set me apart from crossdressers who wanted as girly as name as possible for their “second self,”  usually two together, like Penelope Leigh.    I remember one large woman born female who worked with transwomen who had a very gender neutral name.  She laughed when people mistook her for a CD.  “If I had chosen my own crossdresser name it would have been a lot frillier than the one my parents gave me!”

It has always been rude and disrespectful in the gender world to ask for someone’s “real” name. Part of that is allowing some privacy, but more than that it is an honoring of the reality of the calling we each feel inside of us.  The name our family gave us is just our family name, not the only real name for us, who have worked so hard to discover and claim our own reality.  We open the space for our own transformation by finding another name for what many wanted to make invisible.  And when someone who is on a gender journey does choose to share their birth name with me, I know it is always a gift of trust, with them knowing I will respect their story and that I won’t assume that just because I know what their parents called them I know some essential truth about them.

The first time I used Callan was at my first Southern Comfort.  I felt a bit uncomfortable, because my transgender journey was a search for truth.  I spent a long time trying to work out the challenge of people deciding that I was telling the truth when I lied about my trans nature, and deciding I was lying when I told the truth.  I wrote a lot about that.

I still have to use my legal name some, but I tend to use just my initials, so it is more gender neutral.

The name Callan is something I have grown into.   The web wasn’t so easy in the early 1990s when I chose it, so I didn’t do the whole baby name thing.  Since then, I have found pages like this: which made me blanch.

The Celtic for Callan?  A feminine name meaning “Flowing Water.”

Why yes, I do that.

The Scandinavian?  A feminine name meaning “Powerful In Battle.”

Why yes, I do that.

And as I have grown into the name, people use the diminutive.  First that was Callie, but it evolved to Cali.

Cali?  The Hindu goddess associated with empowerment?  The destroyer and creator of worlds?

Why yes, I do that.

Name something and you own it.  And for me it is owning wisdom I didn’t know I had.

We know things we don’t know we know, but if we trust that knowledge it can lead to enlightenment.

And that’s what’s in my name.