One thing about being trans is that I get to come up with my own name. Plenty of non-trans people do this, sure, but to me it sort of feels like a rite of passage for trans folk. I’ve chosen “Sophia” for myself. I wanted to go through my thought process in choosing this name, both for myself and for others, as I found reading other people’s accounts of choosing their name to be quite helpful in choosing mine.
My checklist was something like the following (in approximate order of importance):
- It had to feel right.
- It had to feel feminine.
- None of my close friends have that name.
- It doesn’t stand out too much.
A common approach would be to feminize my current masculine name. So if my parents had named me Henry at birth, I might use Henrietta. This would have been fine, as I’m not personally bothered by deriving my female name from a male name, but it just doesn’t seem to fit. Another common option is to ask my parents what they would have named me if I had arrived as a girl to them. I think my mom has told me I would have been “Lindsey” which, for whatever reason, does not feel right. So back to the drawing board.
Sophia is a name that my wife and I have discussed for years as a potential name for a hypothetical daughter. But since we first started discussing the name, it has become an enormously popular. Rising from around 50th most popular girls name in the 90s, to around 10th in the 00s, to between the 1st and 3rd most popular now. We’ve always wanted to give our children names that fell farther down the list (because of course they will be unique little snowflakes!), so we’re not quite as excited about it as a name for a child now.
But for me, this could be a good thing. The popularity of the name means that “Sophia” is very recognizably feminine but, because it was more rare when I was young, I know essentially no one who has that name. It thus meets the last three criteria very well. It also has a weird personal connection because I’ve envisioned a daughter with that name—which I’m still not sure if that is good or bad.
But outside of all of these practical considerations, Sophia has a certain importance to me. To explain, let’s fire up the flashback machine to 2004 or so. At that time in my life I had just begun to play tabletop role-playing games with friends. It’s the kind of thing where you build a character out of the clay of your imagination and a giant rulebook and then roll dice to see what that character is able to do. You do this with friends who have made characters in a similar way, and try to make the voices the characters would make, et cetera. For me, it presented this strange dilemma: I was quite curious about playing a female character but totally apprehensive of doing so in front of the teenage boys others I played the game with. [I’d be interested to learn more about how these kinds of games impacted other trans people.]
Around that time I started playing what would become my favorite video game, The Knights of the Old Republic. It was a game for Xbox that followed the exact same rules as the pen and paper games I played with my friends. But this was single player on the Xbox. For the first time I got to choose the gender of my character, name her, and play her, all to myself. Sure I might have to explain to my brother or friends why my save game had a chick on it but that was so much less daunting than performing as a female in front of teenage boys.
Anyway, in this game I chose the character who looked most like me: dark hair, light skin, a woman. I named her Sophia after a character in the book I was reading at the time, Sophie Neveu in The Da Vinci Code. I’ve sort of grown out of The Da Vinci Code, though at the time my Dan Brown obsession was burning hot. And, yes, I realize Sophie’s character in The Da Vinci code is problematic for several reasons, but let’s give 14 year old me a break. The important thing is that it all just felt comfortable. And, props to Bioware, Sophia could do everything that any male character could, including pursuing plot-impacting romances with major female Non-Player-Characters. So adolescent me got to try on the skin of a lesbian jedi who always saved the day. And I fucking loved it.
For the next decade-plus, Sophia and I (or, I as Sophia) played so many role playing games: KOTOR 2, Mass Effect 1-3, Jade Empire, Dragon Age, … the list goes on (and certainly includes non-Bioware games, though those are my favorites). By the time I began to appreciate the fact that I am and have always been trans at age 27, I’ve already been trying on Sophia for nearly half of my life. After looking back and just realizing that fact, there is no way I can “choose” anything else. It doesn’t even feel like choosing at that point. I am Sophia and I have been for longer than even I realized.