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Partnering through transition: feeling pain about a name change

The passage below is excerpted from the Your Emotions are Valid section of Reaching for Hope: Strategies and support for the partners of transgender people.

Feeling Pain About a Name Change

Names are deep and powerful things. We’re not always crazy about the ones our parents give us, and for transgender people, gendered name assignments are often downright painful. As your loved one moves forward in transition, they’re likely to choose a name to fit their identity. This change can be painful for you. And even though there is excitement in using a name that reflects who they are, letting go of a gendered name can be painful for a trans person too, especially when it was given in honor of a grandparent or other cherished family member.

Pain associated with the name change of your loved one often relates to its connection to memories. If you dated as teenagers, you may have written your names entwined in a heart or carved them on a tree. You might recall moments when seeing their name appear on your phone made your heart go pit-a-pat. You might have a wedding gift inscribed with your names. Your children’s birth certificates include them. All of these things are touchstones of how your relationship progressed, so it’s logical to feel pain associated with the shift.

Nicknames can carry similar emotional weight.

To manage that pain, it can be helpful to remember that the events occurred with the person themselves, in all their extravagant detail. They happened with the wholeness of your beloved: the way they embraced and loved, the way they worried and suffered, the way they snored and laughed. Your memories aren’t really about the name you were used to calling them. That person is still with you. Those experiences remain. The new name is simply a better manifestation of their true wholeness, and an opportunity to give them the gift of acknowledgement and understanding.

It can take a bit of practice and self-correction, but you’ll grow used to their chosen name. You’ll come up with new nicknames that better reflect the truth of their being, and establish new memories and touchstones using this truer reflection.

Name changes can hurt. But you’ll be okay.

There’s power in naming yourself, in proclaiming to the world that this is who you are. Wielding this power is often a difficult step for many transgender people because it’s also a very visible one.

Janet Mock


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