Monday, May 08, 2006

we three Eli's

I went to a party and naming ritual on Saturday for my friend Elliot who's being ordained as a rabbi next weekend, and there were three of us there (including Elliot, who also goes by Eli regularly!) named Eli. Someone mentioned that they thought that Eli was becoming the new Jake for the transmasculine community...I don't know that I like the sound of that. I don't want my name to be trendy. Someone else pointed out the prevalence of girl names that start with E, and how many of us want to maintain a connection to our pasts, or continue to honor the family members that we may have been named for. I certainly made it my number one priority to keep my first intial when I was deciding on a new name.

It was a very moving experience on Saturday- Elliot talk to all of us about the process of choosing a new name, and what it means to have a name, and how naming is a powerful thing in Jewish traidition. There was a point in the ceremony when we all went around the circle and acknowledged Elliot and Elliot's new by one we all said "I see you, Elliot." It was wonderful to be a part of such positive and respectful energy, and be a part of a ritual to honor a new but very close friend. I feel like Elliot and I have a lot in common, beyond just our shared name of Eli/Elliot(t) and our love of Canada and sweatervests. I feel a bit like Elliot is my genderqueer role model- someone who's creating the postbinary revolution in so many different ways and spaces that I really respect.

It was very personally moving for me to be there, too, given that I've been wrestling so thoroughly with my own name lately. Not Eli/Elliott- that I'm very comfortable and happy with. But I'm having a lot of trouble choosing a middle name.

I know that on some level, middle names are not the most important thing in the world- they're not used daily, or anything. But I think for me, a middle name is a very intimate thing...I keep it protected as just an initial most of the time, and it's something I share with people I'm close to, and it's a chance for me to honor my family and my history.

So I want to choose something that's a good fit for me, something that sounds like me....Elliott sounded right the moment that I heard it, and I think it fits me very well. Eli, too, I've grown in to, though I had some misgivings for a while about the low consonant to vowel ratio- that's why I got Elliott to lean back on!

Now I'm trying to decide on a middle name, so I can get the ball rolling with getting a legal name change and new ID, and it's taking me a long time. I've got a couple of contenders that have been kicking around for a while, and a few dark horse candidates that have recently emerged, and I'm not having the epiphanous moment I was hoping for.

For a long time, I've been considering Michael. It was my first thought when I was thinking of a new name- it's my father's name, and it also would give me the initials E.M. I like the Forster, literay-homo allusion, and at first I also liked that it was EM...for a while, the people closest to me called me Em as a more gender-neutral way of being close to me, and I came to associate someone calling me Em with that person being respectful of my gender. Also, I had the thought that if people for whatever reason couldn't get a handle on Eli, they could start with Em, and it would be like calling me by my initials, so it wouldn't be too bad.
Those very reasons that I like it, however, are also the reasons I'm not totally comfortable with it. I'm not sure that I want to name myself after my father. I'm not so close to him that it's an automatic thought. I don't even know if he likes his own name. Also, where EM was once a comfort because of its ties to my past, now it's starting to feel a little too close for comfort. I'm no longer so sure that I want a name that's tied to my time of when my gender hadn't been fully realized, and I'm certainly not very interested anymore in making things easier for other people. My name needs to make me comfortable, not everyone else.

There are very similar reasons for why I've been considering and wavering on Emlyn. It's the masculine version of my given name- in fact, it's what my dad wanted to name me until my mother pointed out that (as far as they knew at the time!) they were having a daughter, and giving her an unusual Welshman's name might not be the best plan. Now, I like it, because of those very reasons- it's definitely a name that sounds like me. Unusual, old fashioned, rather effeminate. And it's got close ties to my past, and Elliott E. is rather a distinguished name. But it also makes me flinch just a little when I hear it, sometimes, because it's so close to my old name, and reminds me very strongly of "being" a girl, or being seen as a girl, or what have you. Those are memories that I'm not particularly comfortable with yet, and, while it's possible that I'll get over this flinching business and so I don't want to discard a good name prematurely, I'm also not so comfortable with it right now.

So I've also been thinking about Charles, which is has none of the possibly feminizing connotations of the other two options. It was the name of a couple of grandfathers, one on either side, so that's nice, and it's one of the names my mom was considering when the doctors told her that the first ultrasoune indicated that she was probably having two boys. (Peter and Charles, Pete and Charlie. Katherine and Emmalyn, Kate and Emma. Clearly, I was going to be Charlie.) Also, my current middle initial is C, so there'd be some nice continuity there in continuing to be E.C. On the other hand, I don't have any particularly close ties to the name Charles. It doesn't really feel like me.

Those three have been the big contenders of late, but there have also been a couple of dark horse candidates to emerge recently. Namely, Theodore, just because I like it, and I like Teddy, and Theodore Roosevelt was my favorite president, after all. Carry a big stick! But I have a bit of a lisp, so a th name might not be the best. Also, there's no familial/historical connection.

And then just very recently, I've been thinking about John. There's a strong family history of Johns (two of 'em with the same last name, even! one from each side!), and it's a strong, masculine name with a good solid history behind it, and don't I seem like I'd be Eli Jack, when I'm not Elliott John? It's a rather pedestrian name, true, but it's firmly entwined in my family lore, and that's important to me.

So, that's my Big Gender Thought at the moment. Renaming oneself is a powerful, special chance, and I don't want to muck it up. Not too many folks get a chance to name themselves...though, as Ro pointed out, Catholics do it all the time...and I want to take full advantage of my opportunity. Also, I don't intend to change my name again, so this one's going to be it for the long haul. Think wisely, young Eli!

In the meantime, I leave you with a portrait of the three Eli's from the other night. A gaggle of Eli's, a bunch of Eli's, a pod, a herd, a flock of Eli's? In any case, ain't we a handsome trio?


CaptLex said...

I wrestled with the name thing for a while too. I finally chose one that represented to me a quality that I wished I had (and which I now believe I do). Good luck with it. I'm sure when you do decide, it will be the right one.

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