Posted by: Emily | 5 June 2012

On names and power

The single most powerful act I have ever committed was to give myself a name. It was not simply an act of self-love, but of creation and affirmation. I am just now catching up to just how powerful it made me feel at the time. Every day I still have to deal with my old name in some form or another, and I realize that this is not going to go away. But I have also realized that the act of naming myself is an affirmative deed, a political act, that I can look to for strength when I have to confront my old name, or anything else from my past.

When I changed my name, I was still in a life situation where I needed to speak, read, and write my old name dozens of times a day—but as soon as I could, I dropped using that name completely. I was actually kind of shocked at how quickly I dropped it, and how unpleasant it became to have to confront it. This past weekend, I was dealing with some stuff that required me to speak my old name out loud a few times, for the first time in a while. It felt awful. I actually felt dirty, like I needed to go take a shower or something, when I uttered it.

Things finally broke for me last night, when I ran into a stray usage of my old name as an alias for an old instant message handle. I stared at it and felt the single most intense surge of emotion I’d felt in weeks. The moment lasted a split second, but I could immediately recognize its importance. In that second, I finally fully recognized how powerful I had become when I changed my name. I grokked how powerful my name makes me.

In contrast to my own speech acts, the constant misnamings and mispronounings I get from strangers and friends haven’t really bothered me much, at least not yet. I know this is awful self-policing bullshit, but I wonder if the fact that I don’t get as riled up about these things happening to me as most other trans individuals I know means that I’m somehow Less Serious than them, that it means I’m not a Good or Real Trans Person, or that I’m somehow letting the side down. I don’t know if or how this attitude towards myself may change as my transition goes further along, but this is where I am right now, at least as far as other people go. And I feel more confident than ever in my own identity, and the name that goes along with it, that I can look to that confidence for strength and reassurance when I have to confront my past.

I can look at myself and know my name is Emily, in a way that I never felt about my old name, or any nickname I ever used. I don’t feel like an impostor when I introduce myself that way to people; I know I’m not playing a part. I am affirmed when someone calls me by my name. I can feel the power that names bestow, and can recognize the self-love which is the source of that power.

I am a powerful person, and my name proves it.



  1. Hi there my friend. I had a thought today, that I wish I’d asked you about this weekend. In my humble and cis-biased opinion, I think you should take your story, who you are as a trans woman, what triggers you and doesn’t bother you, how that changes, those commonalities and contrasts with other trans women: take it and share it as a powerful statement of human experience. An example to other trans women, to show another way they allowed to be just as trans as everybody else. Then hopefully the first person who benefits from this example will be you–ahh mind tricks, how we love them… 🙂

    (I also think that’s exactly what you are doing with this blog, you and your partner who should really make her intro post already, and that you deserve congratulations for it. That is, it’s part of the purpose, right?)

    I started off having a bad day and feeling very disempowered. This post has loosened some anxiety I had. Thank you.

  2. I was doing the same self-policing until I was confronted by my family in person for the first time in years, who all uniformly denied me my chosen name. I’ve never slammed the door so hard in my entire life, and damn, did it feel fucking good to do it.

  3. Hello there, I heard of you from Natalie’s blog. Names definitely have power and I can see that choosing your own is an immensely empowering thing to do. Plus, I am an Emily too and frankly, we rock. Yes we do.

    I’m interested to read more of your thoughts and hope all goes well.

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