Singer/songwriter Jim Croce recorded an album with that name one week before he died in a plane crash while on concert tour at age 30. The title song was one of five Top Ten hits on the U.S. pop charts for the fast-rising musician who first reached the charts a little over a year earlier. His didn’t live to see the last two reach that lofty perch. But in his short lifetime, he made a respected name for himself. His widow, Ingrid, used this song title as part of the biography she wrote about Jim.
Another song about names became famous when the TV show, Cheers, borrowed it for its theme song. As a result, millions of Americans recognized Cheers as the bar “where everybody knows your name” and could sing or hum the theme song.
Trivia buffs might remember that some verses of “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” were omitted at the opening of the show. The omitted third verse culminated in the line, “And your husband wants to be a girl.” Of course, those of you who read my post of December 11, 2013 know that this is a serious problem, for there is a big difference between knowing you’re a girl and wanting to be one.
That songwriter may not have realized it, but names are very important to those of us in the transgender community. Sooner or later, most of us find it important to rename ourselves to correspond with our target gender, whether we are totally in the closet, only attend TG events, are part-time or have gone full-time.
In a world where we still have a lot of strikes against us, being able to rename ourselves is one of the perks. Yes, most women still change their last names upon marriage and a few men also do the same. But you are really choosing the partner, not the name. Sometimes people Americanized their names when they arrived in this country to fit in better. And then there are celebrities who changed their names for a variety of reasons. Examples are Rodney Dangerfield (nee Jacob Cohen) and Whoopi Goldberg (nee Caryn Johnson). Renaming in these other cases is an option. For us, it is a necessity that can be very pleasing.
In the Bible, names are often rich with meaning, whether it describes the physical appearance of the child, a foretelling of the child’s future or the mother’s feelings at the time of birth. And on occasion, God renames someone to highlight their special role in His plan: Jacob becoming Israel and Simon becoming Peter, for example.
These days, much less thought seems to go into the naming of children. Names are picked because they sound pleasing to us. Other times, children are named after a favorite relative or celebrity (or in Jewish custom, after a recently departed relative). Still others try to pick something unique or with an alternate spelling to a familiar name.
I suspect that many of us in the transgender community give a lot more thought to choosing our new names. Some choose new first and last names, while others just change the first name. One MTF transsexual told me that she would have changed her last name, but it would have made it harder for her to deal with her children’s schools and other parts of their lives while they were minors.
Some of us choose new first names similar to our birth names: John becomes Joan or Jane, Robert becomes Roberta and so on. Others take a while to settle on a name. That is indicative of a desire that many of us have to choose a name that reflects our real female personality and the self-image we aspire to.
So how did Lois get her name? Good question, if I do say so myself!
My first awareness of my true gender identity came at the age of seven. I have very clear memories of the trigger for that awareness and my response to it. But I saw no need for a new name at the time.
For over three years, the disparity between my internal and external gender identities did not cause a problem. As I recall, that changed during sixth grade. That was the year I went from public grammar school to a private day school that included grades six through twelve at the time. In retrospect, I believe I was confronted head on with my future on a daily basis and deep down, I didn’t like it. My need to name myself, probably to reinforce my hold on my target gender, occurred around this time.
With the logic of a 10-11 year old, I saw boy and girl as opposites. (So much for the gender spectrum!) Continuing that logic, if my prayers to go from boy to girl would be answered, I needed to also reverse my name. No, I didn’t switch first and last name. Lois was based on my birth first name spelled backwards and Simmons is the result of the same treatment for my last name.
The first permutation was a meaningless mess. I played around with both names until I came up with something that sounded intelligible. Then I made minor modifications to both names. I changed the last name because I wasn’t quite sure if it was a real last name. (I since learned that there are people with that last name, but I am very happy with my final choice). I moved past the closest first name because it didn’t suit me. In my mind at the time, it was an old lady name.
But Lois suited me just fine. I knew one person named Lois. She was the 14-year old girlfriend of one of my cousins. She treated me wonderfully. In fact, it made my cousin jealous that she was paying more attention to me than him. So at least one person thought I was irresistibly cute, when I was four years old anyway.
There is also a Superman connection to my story, so Lois fits in there, too. Although Lois Lane did not appear in this particular story, it was a Jimmy Olsen comic book that was the trigger. Ironically, a few years before he became famous as Superman, Christopher Reeve and I were in the same graduating class at Cornell. However, I never met him, and my name had come along years before he starred as Superman in the movies.
For years, a middle name was not particularly important. But when I added Elizabeth it was definitely not an afterthought. In fact, the addition is one of my better moments.
It started with a cousin on my mother’s side who took a great deal of interest in learning about our family’s history. A few years before I came out to her, she happened to mention that every line of our family going back to our grandmother had an Elizabeth or some variation of the name (and there are many variations). The Hungarian version of Elizabeth was the name of that grandmother.
My youngest aunt was obvious. She was known as Betty and her daughter was Donna Beth. The eldest, my Uncle Ernie, had a daughter called Beth. My other uncle, Joe (also my godparent), had only one child and she was named after him. But his daughter had one more child after she thought that part of her life was over. She was named Martha Elizabeth, but prefers Liz.
The line was continued in an even more amazing way through my Aunt Ethel. She was something of a black sheep of the family. While married to one man, she had a child by another man. She gave that child up for adoption. This is the cousin who was so interested in our family history. She wasn’t able to find us until after both of her own children, a son and a daughter, were born. Without knowing anything about her birth family history, she named her daughter Sarah Lisa. Lisa is another variant of Elizabeth.
But wait, there was one line missing. That was my mom. As far as she knew, she gave birth to two sons. She passed away without knowing of my transition. I can only hope she would have been proud that I carried on the matrilineal first name.
Even after nearly fifty years, after I thought my chance to transition had passed, I never lost my connection to the name I gave myself. It feels very comfortable and I have never failed to respond to it, while I hardly give a glance if someone with my birth first name is addressed nearby.
In retrospect, I am also pleased with many things about my name, things I had not even considered originally. First of all, I am almost 100% certain that you cannot back form my female name into my birth name. The multiple permutations took care of that. Thus, only those people who knew me before or those I choose to tell will know both of my names.
Also, I like the meaning of my first name. I didn’t know about that when I was a child. But when I got older, I found out there was one Lois in the Bible. She was the grandmother of Timothy and the first in their family to be saved. Various suggested meanings of the name are “agreeable”, “desirable”, “good” or “pleasing”.
Being so happy with my name, it makes me wonder about one set of Jewish parents in the Old Testament. They named their child “Nabal”. The name means “fool”. Talk about negative reinforcement! Somehow, he had managed to acquire large herds despite that handicap. But he certainly lived down to his name when he chose to show disrespect to the future King David in the days when David and his soldiers were contending with King Saul. When he found out how close he came to David killing him until his wife, Abigail, interceded for him (1st Samuel 25:25), he suffered a stroke and died. Then David, recognizing a woman of great value, made Abigail one of his wives.
Finally, a reminder of what the angel told Joseph regarding the name to be given to the child to be born to his betrothed, Mary:
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. – Matthew 1:21
This is the Christ child, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.
Lois Elizabeth Simmons