I spent my childhood looking for a name different than my birth name.
The first name was a variant of one of my paternal great-grandmother’s names. Appropriately enough, Grama didn’t go by the first name given to her at birth. She hated it so much that it took moving her belongings not long before she died for me to learn the name. She went by her middle name, and I was given a different spelling of that middle name for my first name.
The middle name was from my maternal great-grandmother, a woman I never met but my mom assured me I would love. She played with her grandkids on the playground and skinned her knees and sent kids to get her bandages so no adults would see. She was Irish, and I suspect my late grandmother, her daughter, sounded like her.
And then the surname given to me was the one given to most kids in the United States when they’re born: the surname of their father. I didn’t dislike the name on its own, but my relationship with my father is…complicated, at best. His relationship with the man who gave him the last name was probably even more complicated, and one he considered changing, or hyphenating, with one of his stepfather’s last names.
I knew very little of this when I was a kid. Really, the search for something else was subconscious. I just knew, in the back of my mind, that my name was a nice name.
But it wasn’t me.
“If I had a name that wasn’t mine,” I wrote in response to a question for an assignment in elementary school, “it would be (name of one of my friends). She’s so pretty and her name is so nice.”
I remember writing the response with a lot of passion. I remember the way her hair shined in the light, and how much I liked the way she smelled.
That it took me until sixteen to realize I was attracted to women baffles me to this day.
Middle school was a time of change, and I desperately wanted a nickname.
I worked in the cafeteria during breakfast and lunch from the day I started; my older sister had worked there and left the June before, so I walked right into it. The job meant that I didn’t socialize with anyone during the regular appointed lunchtime; I only had the few minutes I spent eating before I got to work.
During one of these times, with the empty cafeteria around us, I asked my fellow student workers for a nickname. I’d never had a nickname; my first name was too short to make one, my middle name was even less me than my first, and I had done nothing that had earned some kind of cutesy name unrelated to what I had crafted.
We mulled for a minute, and they looked at a Babysitters Club necklace I wore and dubbed me BSC. (It was pronounced Bisk.)
The name only lasted a couple days. But to this day, it remains the only nickname I’ve ever had.
High school brought experimentation in a new realm: usernames.
I had shared a username with my sisters as a child in AOL. Adolescence brought emails and LiveJournal and MySpace, all of my very own. Adults told kids my age, as a matter of safety, not to use our birth names. As a nerd, I naturally drifted toward fannish names as a substitute for the one I used in person; I went through more than one Harry Potter nickname, for instance. I finally settled on a generic fandom name so I wouldn’t have to change it every time my interests shifted.
What was interesting about the online spaces I was in during the 2000s was that we didn’t really refer to each other by name. We used usernames, or cute shorthand for our usernames, when we had to, but with our usernames attached to our journals and comments, there was little need to actively use names. And I personally had an easier time identifying people by their default icons than I did by their usernames.
There was something really authentic about the whole thing. Freeing, even.
I continued in these spaces through college. I met queer people there, people who deliberately used their names online because they had deliberately chosen new ones. Ones that fit a gender they hadn’t been assigned at birth.
Ones that fit genders that most people didn’t know about.
A name that works is like a melody line in a song. It’s fun to say, nice to roll around in your head, easy to remember.
My deadname has good name aesthetics. Good initials. But as I realized I wasn’t the gender I was assigned at birth, I realized the name I was given to go with that gender wasn’t mine. It was a good melody in the wrong key.
Once I realized I could pick a new name, a name that fit me and kept the family connections I wanted, I asked people to call me Rory. And that’s what it’s been ever since.
My younger sister’s eldest child was the first person to call me by my new name. He’s never known me any other way, and neither has his younger sibling.
My deadname had an unconventional spelling with a conventional pronunciation. People who heard it first spelled it wrong, and people who read it first pronounced it incorrectly. I knew it, and I couldn’t stand it.
When I met my brother-in-law, who had an even less conventional name and multiple pronunciations, I was baffled that he didn’t seem to care what people went with. He even went with a diminutive form just for when he was in restaurants and he was giving his name for a table, a name he never used anywhere else. Didn’t it sound wrong to him? Didn’t it hurt a little, jangle in the ears?
As it turns out, “Rory” comes out as “Wawwy” when you don’t know how to say r in our version of American English yet. Nibling, the oldest of my sister’s kids, has just solidified Rory in the manner adults are inclined to say it at eight years old. Dosling, the youngest, is four and still says Wawwy.
I came up with a gender-neutral term for aunt/uncle: ankle, pronounced like the body part. The niblings never use it. I’m Rory or Wawwy.
Both are right to me. Both will always be right to me, I think.