name change

Questions from the search terms: “I changed my name but people still call me by my old name”

From my search terms this month: “I changed my name but people still call me by my old name”

Dear searcher,

I am so sorry that is happening to you. I want to be very clear, in case you don’t know, that this is a problem with other people and not with you. But, since they aren’t doing the work to fix it, you’re going to have to take up some of the slack. There are some simple things you can do to (hopefully) help these folks start calling you by the right name.

First, get in touch with the people who are calling you by your old name, and directly remind them of the change. Keep it as simple and direct as possible:

“Hey, you may have forgotten, but I changed my name [x days/weeks/months] ago. As a reminder, my new name is [your new name]. It is important to me that you do not call me by my old name any more.”

Optionally, you might want to add a statement like “I’ll try to remind you right away if you forget again.” This will do a couple of important things: it warns them of your intent not to just let it slide from now on (I don’t know if you’ve already been correcting people every time or not, but even if you have it may be helpful to reiterate that you are going to keep doing so); it sets up your reminders as something you are doing as favour to them, to help them out with this transition; and hopefully it will make them less defensive when you do correct them, because you’ve established that you mean it in a friendly(ish) way.

Step two is to do your best to actively correct people, immediately, when they mess up. If you’re already doing this, great! It’s actually something I am terrible at, so you are doing better than me on this front. If you haven’t been actively correcting people, then they may push back when you start (though this is why I recommend sending a direct message first, since it clarifies your position and sets the stage for the idea that you expect them to be taking your name change seriously, and makes it harder for them fall back on an excuse about how they didn’t realize it was important).

You may get some people (parents are especially prone to this, since they will likely have the strongest attachment to your old name, having chosen it themselves) who will ask for special dispensation not to have to change to your new name. For them, just reiterate that it is important to you that people call you by your new name – if there are specific reasons for this that you are comfortable sharing with them, do so. If it’s relevant, you may also want to point out that it would be confusing for other people to hear them still calling you by your old name, and might send the message that it’s ok for them to do so too. You can even tell them that because they are important in your life, it’s especially important that they call you by the correct name.

If people really are being stubborn about it, you may want to pull out somewhat more overt or aggressive methods. Start wearing a name tag around them. Flat-out ignore them when they call you by the wrong name (this tactic may also go over better if you state your intention explicitly: “Because it is important that you call me [new name], I will no longer be answering to [old name].”)

You can continue to escalate your insistence on people using the correct name as far as you need to, up to and including deciding to start cutting people out of your life if they refuse to respect you by using your new name.

This is really a boundary-setting exercise, and I encourage you to seek out general advice on setting boundaries to get other ideas about how to make this boundary stick. The “boundaries” category on Captain Awkward is a good place to start.

I wish you the best of luck!

What have you done or plan to do to socially transition? 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge part 9

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: What have you done or plan to do to socially transition? Pronouns, name, coming out, etc.

I’ve written about most of this stuff pretty extensively as I’ve gone through the transition process, but here’s the cheat sheet:

The first thing I did when I came out as genderqueer was changing my pronouns to they/them. This was an immediate thing that I did at the same time that I told people I am genderqueer.

My initial coming out wave involved sending out a handful of brief group messages to my closest social circles, that were mostly the same, but tailored in minor ways to the groups themselves.

I started changing my name socially more than a year later – as in, I decided I wanted to be called Kasey, and I changed my facebook name and let people know this was my name now.

It was at this point that I decided I could no longer put off coming out to my parents, and so I also sent them a long email explaining the situation re my identity, pronouns, and name, all together.

It wasn’t until a year after that that I changed my name professionally (and as some of you will remember, this was an absurd debacle), and it was another six months before I finalized the legal name change.

At this point, the only question hanging over my head with respect to social transition is whether I will ever decide to come out at work about my gender, and whether I will ask to be referred to as they.

On the one hand, I am in a very secure position as a union employee in a place that recognizes gender identity and expression as a human right (and explicitly acknowledges non-binary identities under that protection). Even if I have problems if/when I decide to come out, I will have nearly invincible back-up.

On the other hand, I have chosen a career in a very public-facing occupation and a great deal of my workday is spent interacting with strangers or near-strangers. So it is unclear whether the effort of coming out at work would be worth the relatively minor reduction in potential day-to-day dysphoria in my work. So for now I am (mostly) content with things as they are.

So, that’s my social transition process!


Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!

What happens when you tell people you’ve changed you name

With the exception of one person (who happened to be the CEO at my old job, unfortunately), the worst kind of response I’ve gotten from anyone about my name change has been a sort of general incomprehension of why anyone would do that. Some people think it’s a weird thing to do, which it kind of is; it’s certainly not the norm, anyway. So I get it when people respond this way, particularly since it hasn’t stopped them from switching over what they call me.

I did have some interesting responses when I officially changed my name at my retail job though.

I was totally floored by how many people’s initial response was along the lines of “Ok… but can I still call you [birthname] though?” This is actually a question that my partner got a lot when they first changed their name, but it didn’t happen to me in my earlier name change efforts, and I wasn’t expecting it to crop up now either – I had chalked up my partner’s experience to the fact that their chosen name is particularly out-of-the-ordinary, and somewhat whimsical in way that made people feel silly or self-conscious using it. I was surprised when I saw that same self-consciousness repeating itself with many of my current coworkers.

I also realized that in many cases, what people meant with the question isn’t so much “ok, but I don’t actually want to do the work required to call you a different name” so much as it is “ok, but I’m afraid this will be hard and I don’t know if I can do it, but also I want us to be cool.” Most people were satisfied and looked relieved when I made it clear that I didn’t expect them to be 100% perfect right away, and I knew that it would take some time for everyone to adjust to the new name, in a way that made it clear that they really had only meant the latter.

I actually had one coworker who went very brazenly with “So, [someone else] just told me you changed your name. I’m going to keep calling you [birthname] though”. My response was a bemused but equally direct “No, you’re not.” And she immediately switched to standard “ok, but I’m probably going to mess up a lot at first; I hope that’s ok” script and we were fine.

I still found these interactions exhausting, though. The extent to which I am expected to soothe people’s anxieties over my name can be overwhelming at times, and I did lose my ability to compassionately respond to these requests one time, and snapped at the dozenth or so person whose immediate response to my name change was a straight-up “But can I still call you [birthname]?” Though, to be clear, what I mean when I say I snapped is that I said “No. I would prefer if you called me Kasey. I know that it will take a while to get used to that, but I do expect you to try.” I was clearly annoyed, and six or seven other people saw the exchange. I felt a little bad about it; it definitely wasn’t that person’s fault and she didn’t deserve the anger she got. But it did have the impact of making everyone else nearby suddenly start taking their efforts to call me Kasey more seriously, so I can’t say I totally regret it, either.

The other interesting question I had to deal with was the matter of my old nickname, which is derivative of my old given name (and thus, of my current last name) – the people who called my the nickname also wanted to know whether that would still be ok. In general, I had always been fond of the nickname, and it was in keeping with other people’s last-name-based nicknames, so I decided I was actually ok with it.

What I’ve found very interesting as an upshot of this, though, is that those people don’t consistently call me by the old nickname. They sometimes slip up and just call me by my old name, but they’ve also worked on calling me Kasey and – here’s the interesting part – without fail, those same people who nicknamed me in the first place have slowly but surely been very naturally transitioning to just calling me Kase. Which, I love! It makes me happy that my new name is starting to feel natural enough that similarly natural shortening is happening. And I love how clear it is that the anxieties of dealing with my name change haven’t hurt the level of camaraderie or the intimacies that I share with these coworkers.

Now I am just in the weird period of people variously improving and backsliding, but otherwise just generally sincerely working and trying to get my name right, until one day not too long from now I’m sure they’ll all have it down. The best thing of all is this should be just about the last time I will ever have to do this with my name, at least on this scale. I am now Kasey everywhere important, and everything else will just be minor housekeeping :)

Changing my name is exhausting, y’all

I somehow keep forgetting to write about this/keep putting it off but my legal name change came through in the mail last month!

I have actually started and scrapped at least half a dozen posts about my name since I won the name battle against my old library job. I have been having weird feelings because, on the heels of that victory, I went back to a previous job, and didn’t tell anyone there about my new name. I just… never got around to it on the first day, or on the next one, and then after a while it got weirder and weirder and I kept putting it off.

Anyway, eventually, I just decided I would wait until I had the certificate in hand; this decision worked for me on a bunch of levels, because it motivated to get the name change application fixed up and sent in once and for all, and because getting the certificate in the mail was an event that would help me avoid “but why didn’t you tell us before now?/why is this suddenly important?” conversations.

And, true to my word, the day after I got the envelope, I stopped procrastinating on telling folks at my retail gig about the change. As soon as I got in to work the next morning, I popped into the office and let the admin folks know about the change. And then I went about letting my actual coworkers know as they turned (I’m always among the first to arrive in the morning).

I adopted a super positive, “hey guys, I’m so excited, you’ll never guess, my legal name change came through in the mail yesterday!” attitude to letting people know, and people generally picked up on the vibe that this was a happy/momentous/celebratory occasion for me. I also have a really pat answer that effectively satisfies anyone wanting to know why the heck would do this, without having to get into my gender etc (I have, since I was in high school, seriously wanted to change my given first name into my last name; I was given my paternal grandmother’s maiden name to carry it on, and I can better do that if it is my last name.)

People have generally been positive and supportive and curious about the actual process of the legal name change. I actually have a lot of things to say about specific kinds of reactions I’ve gotten, and the transition process that is still ongoing as people get used to the change, and as the news is still trickling through to people in other departments, or folks I work with less regularly, but I’m going to hold those for another post.

The whole process has gone just about as smoothly as I could have reasonably hoped (i.e. everyone didn’t just magically start perfectly calling me Kasey all the time, but everyone is trying). And yet.

The thing is, this process is so exhausting for me. I think that’s why I put it off for so long, honestly; because I am, without a doubt, an introvert. And when I got home from work the first day I started telling everyone about my name change, I crashed harder than I have in a very long time. Despite everyone being positive about it. Despite no problems whatsoever. Simply repeating the same, slightly fraught conversation so many times over the course of a day felt like a lot. In part because it is a strangely intimate sort of conversation, talking about your name and why you chose it. And in part just because it is an extra interaction on top of the ones I am accustomed to and can handle.

Since the first day, I have been pretty passive about making sure everyone knows – I know a bunch of people haven’t been told yet, and I’m inconsistent about correcting people when they call me by my birth name (in part simply because sometimes I don’t want to derail attention from the actual work-related concerns they’re dealing with, and in part because each time I need to evaluate whether I have the energy to have that conversation right now, and that in itself is a tiring mental check-in process), but the information is trickling through at its own pace anyway. I have had a few people come to me and apologize because someone just told them, and they wanted to make sure that the only reason they’d still been calling me by my birthname is they hadn’t known yet (because they are all lovely people, when I get right down to it).

But yeah. It’s not an easy thing for an introvert to do, this name changing game.

Institutional failings: universities and trans folk

Universities in North America are, by and large, massively failing to support and create a safe environment for their trans students, at even the most basic level.

Most universities will only register students under their legal names, and while I’m sure there are some that do, I don’t know of a single one that also records students’ preferred names and has a way of communicating those to the professors. I actually know of at least one university that insists that your university email address must directly reflect you legal name as registered in the school, as if that’s an unproblematic thing to require.

As it stands, if a trans student doesn’t want to go through pain and potential humiliation of explaining that yes, that name that was just called on the roster, which is at clear odds to their gender presentation, does represent them, but also, no it is not their name, they are 100% responsible to reaching out to each of their professors, individually, every semester in the hopes that if they ask the professors to call them by their preferred name, that those professors will actually remember and do so. Sometimes even that doesn’t work.

Let me put this another way: trans students who have not yet legally changed their names have to choose between outing themselves to every professor they ever have, being outed to each of their classes on the first day, or being mis-named throughout their entire time at the school. Starting university is stressful enough as it is; imagine having to take the risk of discovering that one of your professors is anti-trans, by having them attack you personally, before you even go to your first day.

This shit needs to be fixed. By failing to have preferred name policies in place, universities are inflicting violence on trans students.

But it doesn’t even stop there.

My spouse-person changed their name at some point before starting grad school last September, but after they had applied for the program. This means they were initially registered under their birth name and had to try to get their records changed, and we got to witness first hand what a shit-show that turned out to be.

Even with a legal name change certificate in hand, they never managed to get their name completely changed in the system. They informed four different offices/departments who all changed their name in various places, and yet their birth name continued to pop up all over the place, like playing whack-a-mole.

Their name was never changed in Blackboard (a system through which online courses are accessed, and where professors sometimes ask students to post reading responses or discussion forums), which meant they couldn’t post there without revealing their birth name. They was fortunate in that their professors were understanding about this and allowed them to submit those assignments directly via email, but this shouldn’t be something that individual students have to negotiate solutions to. This should be something that the university has a procedure for handling.

For them this simply was frustrating and annoying, but for someone else it could just have easily been painful, humiliating, and even triggering. Nothing about it was ok.

Trans people are, more often than not, made solely responsible for making sure we are called by the correct names and pronouns, but it shouldn’t be that way. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that people are treated with a basic level of respect, and that includes respecting what they want to be called. It is universities’ (and all other institutions’) responsibility to make sure that they have policies and procedures in place to create spaces where their students can attend classes without facing violence from those institutions and the people who work for them.

Universities can’t guarantee that trans students won’t have bigoted classmates, but they sure as shit can make sure that they at least honour those students’ names, consistently and with minimal effort required on the part of the students. All students should be proactively asked if they have a preferred name for class rosters – this would honestly just save time on first roll call, for everyone, but also it takes the burden off of trans students of actively outing themselves at any level or seeking ‘special’ treatment.

This isn’t even difficult. How is it 2015 and this isn’t already standard procedure?

Fuck.

Thoughts on being birth-named

First: updates on where I’m at with changing my name! I actually sent in the application for legal name change back when I was dealing with my work being a giant asshole about calling me by my chosen name. I got the application returned to me about six weeks later (in mid-late July) because I had somehow managed to get my own birthday wrong (oops…)

They were super good about it and sent me blank copies oft he pages I needed to redo (the one with the incorrect info, and a new sheet to get certified at town hall, plus a pre-addressed envelope so I could send it back when it was fixed.

It’s… still sitting waiting for me to get it done and sent back. I no longer feel such a rush to get it done, since I won my battle with work over the name, and there are now no major areas in my life where I am called anything but my chosen name. Things are fine, I am being respected, and I haven’t quite managed to work up the motivation to get myself to city hall.

Anyway.

I was thinking today about what it’s like for me to be called by my birthname (I don’t call it a deadname, possibly because it’s not quite dead yet, but also because I am retaining my old first name as my new last name, so to some extent it still is and always will be my name) at this point.

It’s complicated. I was mostly fine with being called by my birthname at work up until I went ahead and spoke up about it. Once it stopped being a thing that I had chosen, and the folks at work tried to wrest control of something as viscerally personal as my name, it immediately became a major problem. The weeks between me making my original request and finally managing to get the accommodation were extremely tough. I felt at best mildly nauseous when I was at work, and I wanted to be anywhere but there.

I have put an awful lot of work into reshaping my identity and my sense of self, and while changing my name was not a strictly necessary thing for me (in the sense that my birthname never, in and of itself, caused me distress, discomfort or dysphoria), it is one of the things I have chosen to do as a part of navigating my transition. And so, it is inextricably linked now to my sense of myself, who I am, and how I want to be perceived. And this vitally important. So, yes, as I further eliminate the remnants of my old name from my life, it becomes increasingly important to my emotional stability that people respect that effort, and call me by my new name.

Even though I have no bad associations with my birthname, it can still be upsetting to have it turn up unexpectedly.

It is upsetting to be called by my birthname simply because it is a reminder of work that I still have left to do. It is upsetting because I am not tireless, and sometimes I just want everything to be the way I need them to be, and they aren’t, and they might never be.

It is important, even though I don’t fit the standard trans narrative of hating my name and the gender it represents, even though I do not have gender dysphoria related to it. It is important as a symbol of the much larger process I am involved in. It is important because I have expended a lot of energy on it, and I don’t want to feel that was in vain – I don’t have that much energy to spare, after all.

It is important because I say it is. It upsets me because I say it does. It’s not up to others to understand, it is only up to them to respect that.

Changing my name at work, Part 4: My Co-Workers!

[Did you miss the beginning of this saga? Go ahead and read about my initial attempt to get my name changed, getting the union to help me out, and my meeting with the CEO.]

So, once I had achieved my victory, got the new name tag, and the email informing everyone of the change had been sent out, I had to actually, like, interact with the people I work with.

Everyone has been truly wonderful.

I should say, a few people actually knew what was going on before I got administrative approval. I have one queer work friend who I kept up-to-date throughout the process. But also, I had another co-worker midway through the process approach me one morning with genuine concern. She said I really hadn’t seemed like my normal cheery self lately and she was worried about me. I gave her a summary of the situation (at the time, I had already contacted the union, but hadn’t yet had the meeting threatening to grieve.) Her first response was just “Oh! So, do want me to start calling you Kasey?” and then she went on to declare that it as obvious that Kasey suits me much better, and started introducing me to our other co-workers (“This is Kasey! Have you met Kasey?”)

It was absurdly sweet.

Most of the responses since the change has been made official have involved some form or another of “I am really going to try to call you Kasey, but I might mess up sometimes. Will you forgive me?” Which, of course I will! Though honestly, I’ve been really impressed at how rarely anyone does slip up. Pretty much immediately, I was being called Kasey at least 90% of the time, by everyone.

But anyway, an assortment of other interactions I’ve had around my name:

One of my managers crossed my old name out on the schedules and wrote my new name in over it, but then thought to ask me whether that was ok – she could just print a clean copy with my name on it, if I didn’t want so much attention drawn to the change; she’s just very against printing extra copies of things if it’s not necessary. I really didn’t mind, but I super appreciated her asking.

One co-worker was surprised I had kept things so quiet – she thought it would have been awesome hilarious if I had just gotten everyone to call me Kasey even while stuck wearing the name tag with my birth name. I told her I honestly hadn’t been far off of doing that, if it had dragged on any longer.

Another co-worker told me she had also changed both her first and last names, as an adult, probably about a decade ago. She told me why she had chosen the names she did, and asked me why I chose mine. It turns out we both changed our last names to a grandmother’s maiden name!

And I had another person walk over to me, hug me, congratulate me, and thank me for being so strong and “giving us all hope”. Because yeah, that is apparently how bad the general relationship between staff and administration is at my work, y’all. Yikes.

Anyway, this is the end of this story for now! Thanks for reading!