We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life
- Let's Go Crazy, Prince
There are so many reasons that people change their names. There are some cultures where this is actually a coming of age ritual. Sometimes the individual can choose their name, while sometimes the elders will anoint an appropriate name as they get to know who the individual truly is.
By the age of nine, I myself had three different names. With my own struggle with gender identity, this just added to my internal confusion. I never understood all of this and I never liked any of them. My parents never were known by their "real" names either. Just more and more confusion for me.
My "given" name was Larnie. Truly this was not a common name, and more often than not, I remember other kids making fun of it. I think it was pretty much because it was so unusual. Also they did not really know if it was boy's name or a girl's name. Parts of me were not sure either but there were those parts that knew they had to fight being perceived as a girl....they just knew they had to.
I was named after my grandfather who I never knew. My parents needed a name that started with the letter "L." My grandfather was named Louis Eddie Goldstein or was it Eddie Louis Goldstein? No one was ever certain, and I have some cousins whose name started with an E and some with an L. Just more confusion for everyone.
I was given my Jewish/Yiddish name of Label, and when I was nine, and went to Hebrew school, I was "assigned" the name Areyeh, which I was told meant lion.
I did not care for any of these names.
Also when I was nine, and in the third grade, all the boys changed my surname to make it easier and reduce the syllable count. Somehow overnight I went from Rabinowitz to Rabitch. It caught on quickly. Yes, I now belonged to the group, but it still felt pretty uncomforting. This name lasted until I moved and changed schools in the sixth grade. Although I never really knew him, I had an uncle who when he moved to California changed his name to Rayburn. I always wondered why my father did not do the same. I thought it would have been so much easier.
My mother hated her given name of Rebecca, and always went by the name Bea. My father never used his given name of Hyman, and was known everywhere as Blackie. When he was a young man he lived under and even served in the Army under a different name - Joe Gorell.
No wonder names were confusing to me. I always dreamed of the day I might just change mine.
You may have read my story in my book. I was married for 25 years and have three kids and 2 grandchildren. They all have my old surname. I am not sure if they have had any of the issues with their name that I have had. I shared the story of my BFF given me the name Grace. It was a gift - in many ways, as it has so many meanings for me to aspire to. When she suggested it, I froze! Dare I even take this name on? How arrogant of me to claim this!
Today I am comfortable with introducing myself. Hi, I am Grace Stevens. (Oh Steven was my given middle name, so I kept a little something from my birth certificate.) I pretty much changed my name completely, but there was never the intention to hide my past. Yes, I was formerly known as Larnie Steven Rabinowitz. I am a transgender woman. I never changed my birth certificate. The idea of "dead names" just never resonated with me. That was my history and I am OK with it. I know each person feels his or her own way about that, and I am OK with that also.
Yes, I've had many times feeling like I have been going crazy trying to get through this thing called life. I suspect each and every one of you has also been on that path of crazy times too.
Prince continued his song:
'Cause in this life
Things are much harder than in the after world
In this life
You're on your own
I learned that I am on my own, but I need not be alone. I learned that each day, each minute has been real and is part of my history and if there is such a thing, my legacy. I can never, nor do I desire to re-write any of it.
You can have any name you want, in any moment. You can choose it, you can be it, and you can live it. Prince was right; it will be much harder to be your true self in the after world. Do your best to be just who you are and perhaps you will get through this thing called life as the best you, you can be.
Grace Stevens transitioned at the age of 64 and holds a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology. She is the author of No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth, an intimate memoir of her journey to live authentically. Grace is available for speaking with Live Your Truth: Discover Paths to Improved Performance. If you have a topic that you would like Grace to think and perhaps write about, let her know. Visit her website at: http://www.graceannestevens.com/. Follow Grace on Twitter: www.twitter.com/graceonboard .