Rose is a Rose is a Rose…Except When it’s Basil

The power of naming is immense in our culture.  Anyone who carries a family name certainly knows this as does anyone named after someone famous or celebrated.

Parents choosing baby names are advised by elders to avoid those which are tied to less respected family members—so the new, innocent baby named after often drunk and obstreperous Aunt Sally doesn’t have to carry that reminder and burden into adulthood.

Some families value carrying on the male lineage by naming the eldest son of the eldest son of the eldest son (you get the picture) the same name with an increasing number, i.e. William I, William II, William III, etc. 

Of course, names also carry gender expectations.  While every generation has a flurry of names that go either way, most names are gender-specific–either boy or girl.  Think about how you approach a parent with a babe in arms–after a first quick check of clothing color. 

Pink or blue?  You’ve got a pretty good chance of being right when you exclaim how cute she or he is.  Yellow, green, brown, orange?  Hmmm…time to ask a clarifying question like “What’s your baby’s name?”

And it is here that behavioral expectations begin. 

“This is my little girl Cassie!”  To which many people say, “Oh, she’s so sweet!”  Or “This is my boy Anthony!”  To which the typical response is “Wow, what a big guy!”

Those assumptions—that girls are sweet (or delicate or quiet or pretty) and boys are big (or strong or active or handsome) begin very, very early.

Okay, so what does this have to with being transgender?

Choosing a new name during transition is an extremely important part of the process.  I often think we should create a naming ritual for transitioning people that allows for separating from the former name, and all of the expectations that went with it, and ‘putting on’ the new name with the new expectations of living life in the (finally) correct gender.

Some fortunate Trans people have family members who help them choose new names, thus evoking a similar experience to the original one of being named as a baby. Others will choose special names with religious, cultural, or ethnic meaning, and those can carry great power as the person moves forward into their new life.

Whatever you choose as your new name to match your identity, the best name is the one that feels right for you…for the rest of your life!

Now for the details: here are some resources for changing your name:

[Thank you to the late Gertrude Stein for the title of this post, a line from her 1913 poem Sacred Emily.]

It All Begins With a Conversation

The University of Michigan Comprehensive Gender Services Program gets hundreds of calls and messages every year. Each morning when I arrive at my desk there are phone and email messages waiting for me. 


We welcome people at all points along the gender spectrum.  There are no pre-requisites for calling us nor do you need a referral.  We can help you no matter where you are in your transition.


Our process begins with a telephone intake, a 20-minute conversation that can be scheduled at your convenience.


The questions I’ll ask you include your demographic information (name, address, phone number, birth date) as well as some information about your life…like who knows of your gender identity and who is supportive of you.  It helps if I can get a feeling for what your journey has been like so far, and what you may need from us in the future.


I’ll also ask about employment (and it’s okay if you’re not employed!) and insurance (if you have it) as well as what services you’re looking for from the Program.


We’ll talk a bit about therapists and doctors you’ve seen in the past as well as any medical conditions you have.  After collecting your current list of medications, we’re done!


Please call us if you’d like to have an intake with us…it is a great chance for you to ask questions about our Program and what interests you!  We’re here from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, but your intake can be scheduled outside of those hours if it is more convenient for you. You may also leave a voice mail message anytime, as well as sending an email to um-cgsp@umich.edu.


I look forward to talking with you!