Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Name Game

By Starla Renee Trimm

“That which we call a rose,” Shakespeare famously wrote, “by any other name would smell as sweet.” Well, perhaps. But if a rose were instead called a “fibbertywhatsis,” I doubt it would have quite the same romantic cachet.

Would John Wayne still be seen as a tough guy if he’d used his birth name of Marion Morrison? Would Cheryl Ladd (the “Shemp” of Charlie’s Angels) have had as successful a career as Cheryl Stoppelmoor? (A name that looks like a typo.) Would Gerald Ford have been more or less respected as President Leslie King?

Names matter. They have power. The wrong name can be an albatross around one’s neck; the right name can be one’s ticket to success.

Rightly or wrongly, we have a history of stereotyping people by their names. Remember when names like Bruce or Percy were associated with gay men? (They sound a bit fey when lisped  and of course, all gay men lisp, right? The malarkey we used to believe.)

Some believe that your birth name is prophetic and can shape the direction your life and career will take. When you think of a woman named Bambi or Brandy or Barbie, do you envision a future CEO or an exotic dancer? Do you think a young lady named Ethel, Gertrude or Hortense is likely to win Miss America? 

Therefore, many people change their name to try to minimize such problems. And not only in the direction you’d assume. In Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Good Country People,” a woman named Joy rebels against her saccharine, polyanna Mother by changing hers to the ugliest name she could think of: Hulga.

Obviously, names are an issue for trans folk. Someone born male and transitioning to female can hardly keep their male birth name unless it happens to be traditionally neuter/unisex. And even then, one might want to change it just to have a clean break with the past. Even if one is not legally changing their name, the right chosen name can be of tremendous significance to one’s self-image, and how others see them.

Many MTF trans people simply take on a feminized form of their male name. Joe beomes Joanne or Joanna; Dennis becomes Denise; Robert becomes Roberta. It’s the simplest path; it’s easy to remember and easier for others who knew you from back when to get used to. I’ve heard some say that their parents told them something like “We named you Brian; if you had been a girl, we would have called you Brianna” and deem it appropriate to take on that name. Those who do have a unisex name may retain it, but change the spelling (Chris to Kris, Kim to Kym, etc.).

On the other hand, there are those who want nothing to do with their birth name, feminized or otherwise. Perhps that name is just too negatively associated with their pre-transition life, so they go in a completely different direction. Some choose a name that seems to fit the image they have of themselves as a female. Others choose a name that has some special meaning or significance. Canary Conn, in her autobiography (the first trans-penned book I ever read – it made quite an impression) relates how she was often mistaken for a girl when very young and how one day a woman heard her singing and exclaimed to her mother, ”She sings like a canary.” 

Myself, I’ve gone down both paths. For a few years when I was working as a female, but had not yet legally changed my name (in fact, I never did), it seemed simpler just to retain my birth name, but ask that it be rendered as just an initial in my work record. So, the people with whom I worked knew me by the femme variant of that name, payroll would issue a check with just the first initial and I could deposit it in my bank account bearing my male name and no one would be the wiser.

But in my non-professional life, I have always been Starla, to myself and later, to others, at least since the age of 14 when I entered high school. There I encountered someone who made a strong impression on me. To paraphrase Francis Pharcellus Church, “Yes, Virginia, there was a Starla.”

She was one grade ahead of me, a Junior to my Sophmore. A baton-twirling majorette during marching band/football season and a clarinetist in concert band. So even though we rarely had an academic class in common, our music-related activities kept her in my sight and on my mind a lot.

Starla was beautiful. Not a garish over-the-top beauty, but a very quiet, understated, natural beauty. She would not have been the first girl that caught your eye when you entered the room, but before long, you’d be hard-pressed to take yout eyes off of her. She was lithe, statuesque (about 5-10), with long silky hair that came right out of a Prell ad and a flawless complexion. (To put makeup on that face would have been a crime.)

No pants for this girl. Except on the coldest Central Florida mornings (meaning maybe 4-5 days a year), she came to school smartly attired in pretty patterned mini-dresses. (The better to show off those long, gorgeous legs.)

Moreover, she had a quiet, but delightful personality. Smiling came easy to her and she showed a kindness towards everyone she met. You could not find one person in school that had anything bad to say about Starla. Needless to say, she was totally out of my league. But I don’t doubt that had I screwed up the courage to ask her on a date, she would have turned me down in the gentlest, sweetest way possible.

Of course, I never even considered asking her out. Not just because she was a goddess and I was a fat little class clown, but because she confused me. Yes, I idolized her, but at that stage of my life, when hormones were starting to rage and I was first beginning to question my gender identity, I found myself constantly vacillating between wanting to be with her and wanting to be her. I’m sure many of you can identify with that.

So, that’s how I came to call myself Starla. I liked the name; it was unusual (still fairly uncommon today) and somewhat exotic without being too hippy-dippy. (It was the 70’s – lot of strange names floating around back then.) 

How about you? Did you choose a femme name that was unrelated to your birth name? If so, how did you come to choose it? Was there a person or incident in your life that made that name significant? Or did it just seem like a name befitting the woman you wanted to be?

P.S. Had this doll and its commercial been around 20 years earlier, I might have chosen another name after all. That doll’s creepy robotic voice would have freaked me out!

Source: ShopBop
Wearing Faithfull The Brand top (Source: ShopBop)

Jerzy Grzechnik
Jerzy Grzechnik femulates Britney Spears on Polish television's Your Face Sounds Familiar.


  1. I mentioned on my blog several years ago that I chose the name Meg, "my" name in a past-life regression.

    Do I believe the whole experience was real or a load of hooey? Dunno. But the name stuck.

  2. I used to consider going by the name of Johanna as a feminized version of John but have dropped that idea. With my figure (DD cup size chest mounds and hips), and hair beyond my shoulders I frequently get ma'amed no matter what I wear, but I'm still John.

  3. Jenna Renee EvansAugust 15, 2018

    My femme name is very different from my birth name. I didn't like any of the feminized variations of my birth name, so I decided to come up with an entirely new name.

    I just thought about what names I liked, after a few days of mulling it over, decided that I liked the name Jenna. Well, most folks have a middle and last name, so Renee seemed like a good middle name, and after a week or so, Evans came to me as a perfect last name.

    So, Jenna Renee Evans is my femme name. Were I to live 24/7 as a woman, that would be what I would change my legal name to. I like it, it is me, and it fits me.

    I've used it for almost 20 years now. I think it is here to stay.



  4. My dead name was so popular and prevalent that there were seven of us with the same first name in my first grade class. When I went about deciding what name I wanted to be called, I chose to retain the first letter of my given name to use as my middle name, making it "Dee." My choice for a first name was predicated on what sounded good in front of "Dee." I also considered my age, and what names might have been given to a girl back then (I always wonder why someone picks a name that was not used when they were born - it just adds to the list of things that might get one read). "Connie Dee" had the right ring to me, and it also worked well for my stage name, as I was performing fairly regularly back then.

    I toyed with actually using "Constance" when I legally changed my name, using "Connie" as a nick name. I decided that it would only lead to having two names - one legal and one social - which is what I had been hassling with already.

    When I went before the judge to change my name, she asked me why I had chosen the name "Connie." She wondered if it had been a family name, or one that belonged to someone I had admired. I replied that it was just the name that seemed to fit me. She said, "It certainly does" and then banged her gavel, announcing to the courtroom - more like the announcement made at a wedding - "Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Connie Dee Ingalls." I even received a round of applause, and it was all I could do to hold back the tears as I exited the courtroom. I did fall apart when, at the outside door, a man went out of his way to open the door for me, wishing me a "wonderful day, ma'm" as I went through. I had planned to go directly to the DMV to change my licence, but I had totally messed up my makeup from the happy tears. In fact, I'm tearing up a little right now, remembering it all.

  5. If I had been born a GG, my parents would have named me Christine. I ended up naming my daughter that name. But when I first thought about a name for an email address, Tina was the name I chose. It's not short for either Christine or Christina, but I've kept it ever since.

  6. Dear Starla,

    I enjoyed your article on femme names for MTF folks. My male name is Ron, so I could have chosen Rhonda or Veronica or just Ronnie. But I chose Sheila because it starts with SHE. It’s neither a rare nor common name, and I like it a lot, and am very happy I chose it.



  7. We all have our Starlas don't we? Loved reading this post.

  8. Julie M ShawAugust 15, 2018

    My male name doesn't translate well into feminine for my tastes (I couldn't call myself Geraldine - as much as I loved Flip Wilson when I was a kid). It took not too much thought to pick Julie - I like the sound and the feel of it. I DID simply feminize my middle name to Michelle. And my family name is HIGHLY unique and thus identifying, so I actually used the first syllable as my new last name.
    Pretty simple, eh?

  9. Dear S.R.T., Great bio. Your choice of name reminds me of a quote from French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan: 'We project our sense of self upon the 'other'.
    Why Flannery O'Connnor? 'Good Country People' is perhaps one of the most strange and mysterious short stories ever written by a disabled person, (she had lupus).
    BTW, my wife is an amputee....? ;-)
    Velma Dinkley, the chunky, nerdy brunette from the Scooby Doo cartoons.

    1. I love O'Connor. I can read her stuff over and over and it never grows old. She was a fascinating person - a quite orthodox Catholic who nonetheless understood the Protestant South better than almost anyone else. I encountered "Good Country People" in college as my first O'Connor short story, and I was hooked. There's a book "Flannery O'Connor: The Habit of Being" that is a collection of her correspondence. I recommend it highly.

  10. My wife used "Damnit Janet" as a good natured, catch-all exclamation like Rats!" or "Darn it!"

    I always thought that it was cute. So when I began my transition I chose Janet as kind of a tribute to her since she has been so extraordinarily supportive.

    1. So sweet! That started off my day with a grin!

      I never heard that expression before (probably a regional thing), but now maybe I finally get that whole "Janet-Dammit" meme/trope in the "Rocky Horror" audience participation. It must have derived from that expression, or else it's a hell of coincidence!

      My mother, when some object was frustrating her and not working right, would mutter "Your sister's no lady" at it. I have never figured out where this bizarre little exclamation came from - almost sounds like the punchline to a joke perhaps. Googling that phrase turns up nothing.