Before I understood exactly who I was, I was given the name Vann by people who were close to me. They called me Vann because there was another person in our small community who shared my given name.
Since my name was given to me by community members, I shopped around other names for a while; I wanted to take charge of naming myself. This was one of the first times in my life I’d had total say over me, myself, and I. However, using anything other than Vann felt forced. It felt like when you try on a pair of shoes, and you think, “These shoes are so nice…but my toe is hitting the front.” You could buy those shoes, but you know deep down they aren’t the right shoes. Even though I ended up deciding upon the name my community had given me, I had to walk into Vann; that is an ongoing process.
As a society—and especially within gender variant-communities—we should consider the sacredness of the naming process. In some cultures, a baby isn’t named until seven days out. There are rituals and rites performed around names. Names are pictures, messages, healing mechanisms, teachers, living organisms. The fact that we can name our real, emerging selves after experiencing some of life is an amazing privilege. I read somewhere that we, all of us, should go through about three names in our lifetimes. Think about it this way: from childhood, you could be nicknamed Tinker Tinker or something, then you grow up and you get another nickname, and later you get a different nickname. If we’re growing and transitioning as people, it is natural for us to outgrow names.
The name I was given at birth means “butterfly”. The process caterpillars go through to become butterflies was something I learned in early childhood; but recently I learned something new about butterflies that really resonated with me. Even after they have emerged physically, butterflies are not able to fly. They have to wait.
When I was choosing a name, the process actually slowed me down—and it was then I realized that my community members were giving me a gift. Hearing an assigned name all your life, and then hearing something else given to you, you have to say: “Do I accept this?” “Does this resonate with my Spirit?” And when I say “spirit”, I’m not talking about it in the traditional church sense. The word church is also a name; it is attached to certain things. What I am referring to is the spiritual process that creates my own ‘church’, my own institution, and my own self, for me to erect and to stand strong in. This is the spiritual process.
I used to wonder why I felt the way I felt; now I understand. Vann says everything that is real about me, everything that I’ve hidden or was in denial about throughout my life. Telling the story of my name validates all of those experiences. It encourages me to look at my lessons and heal my pains, so I can finally say, “Yep, here I am.”