It was jarring when they used my old name. I was startled every time they said it—and they did, frequently that Thanksgiving and Christmas and a little less often in the months that followed. I don’t think they even meant to, necessarily—it was just a habit they hadn’t broken yet, but also probably a habit they weren’t all that interested in fighting.
I would be more likely to understand if Lindsay meant something special, but it doesn’t. It’s not as if my parents picked it because it would connote hope, or courage, or brilliance. Lindsay just happened to be popular the year I was born. It was, in fact, the 49th most popular girls’ name, which means that 6,530 American girls were named Lindsay in 1987. Two were in my class from kindergarten to 12th grade. My parents simply heard it somewhere—they don’t remember where exactly—and decided they liked it, and that it sounded good alongside my brother’s name, Michael.
And yet, they picked it. They gave it to me. They thought long and hard about what would sound good with our last name, about what name they could picture themselves yelling across a crowded playground. The very fact that they called their only daughter that for 24 years makes it mean something, to them at least. And I gave it up. I threw it away.
When I first started talking to my friends about being transgender, I told them I was thinking about a name for myself—a new name, a boy’s name—and people told me, “But Lindsay is a boy’s name. Or it can be anyway.” They suggested I keep it, or at least change it to something similar. Or something with the same nicknames. Or keep it as a middle name.
But the connotation of the name for me, growing up in the ’90’s, is female. It makes me feel female when people call me that. It makes me feel as if I should have been someone completely different, someone I can never be. I see Lindsay as a cheerleader. I always picture girls with names that end in y (or worse, in i) as cheerleaders, as bottle-blondes. Lindsay, Courtney, Stacy, Nikki. They’re too cutesy. Lindsay is a teenager who goes to football games on Friday nights with her friends, watches romantic comedies, has an athletic boyfriend with a one-syllable name like Joe or Rob or Steve. (I think a lot about names. When friends tell me they’re pregnant, I’m the first person to suggest names. When they have their kids and announce what they’ve picked, I secretly grade them: A for Eliza, B+ for Daniel, F for Pheonix spelled eo instead of oe.)
When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a Lindsay. I never have, even when I still called myself that, still told other people to call me that. I always felt like I was a fraud, like the name didn’t belong to me—it belonged to someone else, and I needed to give it back. I needed to get rid of it.
I thought for a while that I might pick the name Andrew. I thought for a long time, that that was who I was. I’d look in the mirror and think, that could be me. I hate the name Andy because of my brother’s weird friend from high school, and I don’t like Drew, either—it just doesn’t sound like a real name to me—but Andrew. It’s undoubtedly masculine, without question, and yet there’s a softness to it in that last syllable. It’s a name I felt like I could live up to.
A few months before I chose my name, though, I moved to Ohio for graduate school and met two more Andrews. Two guys whose company, it turns out, I enjoy immensely, but who are just two more additions to a long list of Andrews who are nothing like me. Now, when I hear the name Andrew, I picture specific people—my friend Andrew the Ph.D. student, my friend Andrew the fiction writer. I couldn’t see myself as an Andrew anymore; I would have to change too much of myself to become one. Just like with Lindsay, it felt like a name I was borrowing, one I had to give back.
So I started looking again.
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