What's In a Name?
Updated: Jul 13, 2021
This will probably come as a surprise to many, including my sister, as I’ve told very few people, but I hate my name. Adrienne. There’s nothing wrong with the name per se and I don’t want other Adriennes in the world thinking I hate their names, too. I don’t. It just doesn’t suit me and never has. It feels like an itchy, woolen sweater. Adrienne. A tall, svelte, French fashion model should be named Adrienne. An actor of great prominence and prestige should be named Adrienne. Take, for example, Adrienne Lecouvreur. She was a French actor—although in her day was referred to as an “actress”—born April 5, 1692 (261 years and one day before me!), and was considered to be the best female actor of her time. She also seems to have died a mysterious death—poisoned by a rival, it is believed! Now she’s an Adrienne!
Then there was (Marie) Adrienne Françoise de Noailles, Marquise de Lafayette. This Adrienne was a French marchioness! Oh yeah! A marquis or marchioness according to chivalric ranks in Europe was higher than a countess although several notches below an Archduchess and many notches below an Empress. Who knew? In 1795, the Marquise Lafayette was imprisoned and about to be executed but Elizabeth Monroe, wife of diplomat James Monroe—later POTUS 5—intervened and saved her.
Of course there is Adrienne Rich, whose poetry and essays highlighted feminist issues including injustice towards women and lesbians. Her voice was powerful and necessary. I hope she felt comfortable in her name.
There is no easy nickname for Adrienne that I’ve ever come across. I used to call myself “Adey” pronounced like the number 80 except with a “d” in place of the “t.” It’s not like Tom for Thomas or Rick for Richard or Jenny for Jennifer. I had to explain it to people and spell it. A friend of mine got to calling me “86” as if I could ever compete with the eccentrically rational Agent Maxwell Smart!
So what does this have to do with anything?
One of my closest friends has a secret. He had been trying to keep it to himself but he just can’t help expressing who he really is. Titan St. Pierre first hinted at his true nature when Miss Edna took the class to the beach. Just before going down to the beach Miss Edna suggested we use some very nice bushes—girls to the right and boys to the left—to pee or poop if we needed to. So Titan followed Tuna and me to the girls’ bathroom. And then, instead of lifting his leg, he squatted like us. Of course, Carter and King were all over him! I love Carter and King but I was angry with them for teasing my friend. Fortunately, Miss Edna told Titan to use whatever bathroom he thought was right for him. Tuna and I didn’t care! Months later, on the camping trip, Titan slept in the girls’ tent with Tuna, Molly Q, and me. Finally, on the bus ride home, Titan’s secret came out although it wasn’t much of a secret anymore. Everyone already knew. Titan wants to transition to female. And you know what! No one cares!
He’s been very concerned about changing his name to one that fits him better but I told him not to rush into anything. He needs to get it right. I gave him some brilliant suggestions! I think he should change his name to Iphigenia. It means “born to strength.” And you have to be strong to change your gender. Titan nixed it. He would prefer a name that begins with a “T” to link him to his past but one that projects a bright new future for him. I suggested Tetley, but he thought it sounded too much like a tea bag. Then I thought of Tilly, but he said it’s too much like “Silly.” Silver suggested he drop the second “t” in Titan, flip the “a” and the “n” and become Tina. Titan liked that but Tuna objected. She thought it sounded too much like her name. So, for now it’s still Titan. And starting now, Titan’s pronouns are she/her.
I think Roxanne is right about the strength it takes to change one’s gender. Many people feel enraged or perplexed or they just freak out at the idea of transgenderism. And these feelings are understandable. For most of us, changing one’s gender is something that even the most visionary among us can barely even imagine. But I’ve often thought that my own sense of feeling out of sorts because my name didn’t fit me might capture a bit—and I really mean just a bit—of what someone who believes they were born into the wrong gender feels. The only other thing I can relate it to is the way I feel when I don’t like how I’m dressed. When I can’t pull an outfit together.
Before I retired, when I used to go to an office every day, I used to decide what I would wear each night before going to bed. I didn’t take the clothes out of the closet but I at least made the choice which saved me from having to think about it when I was hurrying the next morning. Sometimes, however, I didn’t realize there was a stain on my suit jacket. So I’d go to Plan B. Then I’d realize that Plan B required ironing something and I didn’t have the time. So, I’d put Plan C into action and it was usually a dismal failure. A shirt I pulled from the back of my closet, put there in the first place because I didn’t like it. A pair of slacks that didn’t fit me quite right. A scarf that didn’t precisely match but that I figured I could get away with. And off I went. And, I felt awkward and not quite myself all day long. At least I had the benefit of coming home and changing into clothing that made me feel more like me. Someone who believes they were born into the wrong gender does not have as easy a time shedding their gender as I did my clothes.
I’ve worked with several college students who were in the process of transitioning, some to male and some to female. Two students I knew were quite open about it. Others not so much. Over the course of an academic year, one transgender female student grew her hair, became more artful at applying makeup, and bought some skirts and other more feminine clothing. And a very cool pair of boots! And she blossomed as a person, became involved in student activities, began to have a circle of friends she trusted.
I have great admiration for people who can confront themselves about who they are and who they want to be and make the change they feel is necessary. My understanding is that such changes take a long time, are complex, and frequently painful—physically and emotionally. I also have great admiration for my students at Middlesex Community College and others who understand that people need to be their best selves, whatever gender or non gender that is, and whatever that entails.
I couldn’t imagine why anyone would be upset with Titan for changing her gender. She is a wonderful friend to all. She is caring and loyal, she’s probably the deepest thinker of our group, and she can still play a mean game of ping pong! So what’s the problem?
As for my name, I can’t imagine changing it at this point in my life. But I can’t help but think I would have grown to be a different person if I had a name that was more fun, something with more bounce. Something that suited an athlete’s personality. Something that appealed to the tomboy in me. Something that fit someone with a short hairstyle. When I was pregnant with my son, my Dad asked me what we were thinking of naming him. I knew where the question was coming from. My Dad wanted us to name him after my mother whose name was Selma. In the Jewish tradition we memorialize a deceased person by using the first letter of their name to create a name for a new baby, hence, an “S” name. Just to pull my Dad’s chain a bit I told him that for the first five years we would call him “baby.” For the next eight he would be “kid.” When he hit 13 we would call him “teen boy,” and at age 18, before starting college, he could choose his own name. It was all said in good fun but there is a logic to choosing a name based on the person you believe yourself to be. So be accepting of the person whose body doesn’t suit them; it is far more difficult to change one’s gender than it is to change one’s name.