“A Rose By Any Other Name” by Loretta Fasn
Recently, I read an article in the Washington Post: Another challenge for transgender people: Choosing a new name . It made me think, what would I name myself if I had the choice? Not just, “What does my name mean to me?” but “If I had to choose a name for myself, at this point in my life, what would it be and why?” So that’s our September topic: “My Name”. Because a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
Chapter 2: Lily
I do remember. I really do. Mom and I are traveling together. We meet at the Miami
Airport. The plane is late and we have to run from one end of the airport to the other
and I tell Mom that she can do it because I know that she is strong enough if it is
important and it is important because we are going to visit Papa. He is yours my
mother says. And I know that she means that he is hers. Barbara will be there too.
Every year it is the same. Mom makes light of it, calls it a reunion, but Barbara
looks older every year. These trips do not help her.
My friends think I am off on holiday. They think I will be lying by the pool,
sneaking drinks at the swim-up bar, fooling everyone about my age, flirting with
guys. I would but there won’t be any time for that.
I never felt a hundred percent safe. I heard the stories so many times. About how I
was left on the beach. About how my mother couldn’t swim. About the trip on the
river even if I wasn’t there. You hear a story so many times and you think for sure it
happened and you can see it in your mind how the day unfolds.
I do remember riding on my mother’s hip, our cold swimsuits stuck together, how
she trembled when she put the key into the lock.
“ ‘Where is Papa? ’ I asked you over and over again but you didn’t know and you
started to cry. I put you on my hip and I started to search for him.” This is how my
Mom begins the story each time.
Last year when we landed in Montego Bay I was 14. Like always the Jamaicans
clapped when the plane landed. I don’t know why but that part is always is exciting
to me. I helped Mom with her bags. She always carries way too much on the plane.
The plane lands right on the tarmac and you have to walk down this metal stairway
they roll to the door. It’s so hot. Steamy hot. Sticky hot. Mom has these big
sunglasses and she looks like a celebrity. Sometimes I feel so awkward standing
next to her.
“Lily,” Mom says, ”Hurry up!” She loves the sound of my name. So do I.
I’ve never had to think much about my name: it works, I like it, and most people can pronounce and remember it. But now that I am halfway (I hope) through my life, if I could pick any name I wanted, I would jump at the chance to change it to something else that reflects my historical, personal, and imaginary identities. Family is important, as is self-identity and one’s own vibrant inner world, after all. Fleur Jersey-Cowgirl, for example. When I was born, my father wanted to name me “Fleur” after a character in The Forsyte Saga, but my mother said that “Fleur Burr” would be her child’s name over her dead body. “Jersey” makes me sound both tough, as in “New Jersey,” and worldly, as in the island in the UK off Normandy that has awesome cows” (Get it? “Cow-girl. And for “Cowgirl”?) I think the fanciful is important. I was in no way raised a cowgirl. But I have always, at one point in my life or another, wanted to either be riding a horse, own cowboy boots, or be ravaged by a cowboy (later in life, mind you). But you know what? I’m happy with being “Elizabeth,” an East-coast transplant being ravaged by an aerospace engineer (who sometimes goes to Texas), so I’m good. I’ll pass on the name change.
I didn’t grow up hating my name, or even disliking it. My name just was, like air or my heart beating. If I stopped to think about it at all, it was to wish that “Julie” didn’t sound so ruffle-y and frou-frou. I did not want to be associated in any way with frilly, elaborate female clothing. To me, that kind of clothing was antithetical to how I perceived myself and the type of woman I wanted to be. Having spent my young childhood years with TV presentations of Wyatt Earp and Roy Rogers, I wanted cowboy boots and pants (and preferably a pair of six-guns).
As I grew older, the desire for six-guns and boots – but not pants – abated. I would wear dresses if I had to, but I always would have preferred to wear pants. When my high school finally changed their dress code to allow girls to wear pants, I was an enthusiastic celebrant.
Years later, when I discovered science-fiction conventions and the companies I worked for had Netnews readers, I noticed that many people had made up “fan names” for themselves. Many people were known primarily by their fannish name, even out in the Real World. I started thinking about my own name and whether I wanted to create a fannish name for myself. Again – or still – my sole objection to “Julie” was that, to me, it sounded too frou-frou.
Eventually I recalled an old nickname that had been used amongst the family when I was small – “Jules”. I considered this name carefully for many months and it met my requirements: It sounded a little mannish and not at all frou-frou, adopting it would tie back to good childhood memories, and it was a widely-accepted diminutive of my real name. So one day as I started a new job with a new company, I started using “Jules” for all except Very Official Purposes.
I am now Jules, but if you’re an old friend you can still call me Julie – as long as you don’t try to make me wear a dress.