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Tomorrow it will be three months since I changed my name, and I’ve now had ninety days of responses to my letting people know of the change.
And from the point of view of the changer I can now tell you what the correct response is to someone who has changed their name.
First, a bit of background…
Whether the name changer is trans and changing the gender of their name, or simply changing to fit better into their own identity, the first thing to recognise is that their name change is important to them, and has very likely not come about as a spontaneous decision. It may look like it to you… “Oh, they’ve suddenly decided they want to be called George”, but there’s a very good chance they’ve been thinking about it for a good while, choosing a name in the first place, mocking up drivers licences or passports to see if the new name might fit, confiding in, and seeking counsel from their closest friends…
Most people who change their name don’t do so for fun. It is for a very meaningful reason, even if you can’t see it (and they may not choose to share their reason, even if you ask… see point #2 below!)
It’s also a big deal emotionally. If you think you have trouble remembering their new name, it’s ten times worse from their point of view. They have just picked up their entire identity and given it a good shake. It’s like a snow-globe. There are little bits flying all over the place from an emotional and existential point of view, and that’s not to mention all the paperwork needed in the countless bureaucracies and corporations where they have a presence.
So with that in mind, and before we go onto the correct response, let’s have a look at the “best of the worst” responses I’ve received.
I’m in the fortunate position of having done enough inner work that I haven’t taken any of these personally, I know it’s all about their stuff, but it still doesn’t help with what is actually a pretty difficult transition emotionally…
Writing this I realise I’ve actually had very few negative responses, for which I am grateful and comforted.
The very best responses I’ve had are accepting, positive, celebratory and uplifting. One person gave me a high-five and said “well done!”, another said that she was inspired because she’d been thinking of changing her own name but lacked the courage. We had a good chat about it all, and I think there’s a good chance she will go ahead. I said to her “If and when I hear you’ve done it, I will be the first to celebrate with you!”
But I’ll now share best response I’ve had, and I’ve had this from multiple people. Maybe it’s an archetypal thing because I’m pretty sure they haven’t been to the same classes to learn how to deal with name changes, and they probably haven’t met many people who have changed their name… but from my point of view, as a name changer—and recognising this is only my set of values, desires and boundaries at play—this is the absolute best response to someone who has changed their name:
Offer a handshake and say “Nice to meet you, [New Name]”
This really has a feeling of a new beginning. They accept the new name, and any new identity that may come along with it. They are drawing a line under the ‘old’ you and starting a fresh relationship with the new you. Whenever I’ve received this response, I have truly felt seen and accepted. In fact, each occasion is vividly burnt into my memory.
I realise that if you’re reading this you’ve probably already interacted with someone who has changed their name, but just on the off chance it catches you before you meet them, I hope it has been helpful. Or if you’re just browsing through, maybe this is just a little hack to drop into your toolbox should you ever need it in the future.
What do you think? Have you changed your name, or know someone who has? Any other ‘worst’ responses? Any other positive responses? Please let me know in the comments! And if you’re thinking of changing your name but have questions, hit me up in the comments or by email.
Tags: Name Change
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