I had my first sort of name change before I was out. Starting when I was a kid, and for a long time afterwards, I’d gone by a nickname of my birth name. Then when I was 19 or 20, I asked people to call me my legal birth name. I had dropped out of high school, and I wanted to go to college and start to change my life. I associated a lot of struggle and stress and pain with the nickname; I wanted to leave a lot of that past behind me. It wasn’t a legal name change, but it was a name change, because people had to get used to it. That was my first part of moving on, of trying to come to a place where I’m more comfortable.
When I came out and was thinking about what I wanted my name to be, I came up with a list of names I liked. I sat with that for several months, and gradually pulled out names that didn’t fit. I liked the name Sophie; it fit my personality. I hear a lot of peoples’ stories about how they named themselves after people that were meaningful to them, but so much of my life had been about other people defining me. I wanted to make my choice, with no other strings attached to it. These name incarnations were gradual steps of processing that.
Another factor was that I had been in a relationship with somebody for six years where I was not out. I was trying to be somebody else for so long, and finally I got to a point where it felt like, “Okay, this is not working; it’s not good.”
There are good things about being externally focused; a lot of it, for me, is the desire to help people. I’ve thought about going into healthcare, and I’ve done a lot of work with community activism. But there were times when I was so incapacitated, I just couldn’t do anything. If you’re not enough of yourself, you’re not really able to function. When I finally came to a point where I was able to focus on myself, I thought, “Holy crap; this feels so good.” I had been waiting to do that my whole life.
After I chose Sophie, I learned that the name means wisdom and reflection. I love that, because it’s taken me a lot of struggle and reflection to come to where I am. My name represents the process that brought me to it, and it reflects the way I interact with the world. It shows me the respect and the love I have for myself.