Saturday, 9 March 2019

What's in a name?

A few people have said to me, "Now that you've moved home, Sue, you're going to have to change your name."

But this is to assume that I named myself after the town of Richmond in South West London, which isn't the case (or only slightly, as will become clear). In fact, I lived in Twickenham (famous for rugby), but you don't think I'd really want to be known as Sue Twickers, Rhymes with Knickers, do you?

How do we choose our names as trans people? After all, our parents gave us a name around the time of our birth and that (in most cases) reflected the gender we were perceived to have, and Mum and Dad certainly don't have a pool of surnames to choose from. So when we trans people ourselves realise that our gender is not quite what was originally thought, we have the rare privilege of being able to choose our own name. If there are any perks to being trans, this is one of them.

There are so many ways of choosing a name. Some just change from Dave to Davina (or vice versa) and leave their surname the same, others anagram their birth names or come up with reflections of their status (like my friend Susan Sometimes). There are some very witty choices (personally, I think Helen Highwater and Vanessa Parody are inspired, and they're not even on the drag circuit). Sometimes people want to get completely away from their birth name (as in my case). And often people choose a surname that's their location - I know a Helen Essex and an Andrea Huntingdon (counties), Janie London (cities), and so forth. I also know several people who change names on a fairly regular basis. It's all very personal, and that's how it should be.

Now, I've wanted to write this post about this for some years but obviously the queries I've had after moving have been the catalyst.

Let's start at the beginning, then.

My full name is Susan Verity Richmond.

Susan: a name I've always liked. A recent survey associated it with successful business women and I find it a robust, traditional, no nonsense sort of name. Oddly enough, I've had two girlfriends called Susan, but I met them after I'd settled on it as my own name so I'm sure that's just coincidence. I toyed with the idea of Sophie for a few years but dropped it.

I first liked the name Susan at school, aged 7, when our teacher read us Rosemary Manning's wonderful novel Green Smoke about a girl called Susan who encounters a dragon near King Arthur's legendary Tintagel Castle in Cornwall. She and the dragon become friends and he tells her tales from King Arthur's day. The delightful illustrations by Constance Marshall made me so want to be Susan (and have a dragon friend).

Other influences had an effect on my subconscious: TV presenters like Susan King who fronted a show aimed mainly at girls called Horses Galore, Susans at school, other Susans I came across in media or real life. I guess they all work their way into the mix. I don't even recall when I felt Susan was my name too, but it was a long time ago.

As for Verity, that arose when I got internet at home and needed a distinctive name for email addresses and such. Verity is derived from veritas, Latin for truth, as by now I'd realised that this was the true me. Unimaginative, I guess, and actually not a name I like much, but when I said recently to a friend of mine that I might drop it he was most insistent that I keep it as reflecting an honest assessment of my reality. So it stays.

As for Richmond, well, I am sorry to say that I chose it largely from the name of a soft porn star from the 1970s, Fiona Richmond. Sorry because I'm not sure porn is a healthy thing, popular though it's always been. But Verity reflects truth so I'll be truthful about this too. It was an advertisement for this show that did it:

Except the show was on at Richmond Theatre that week.

I'd never seen a woman wearing unusual clothes like this before. I'm not sure how old I was - before puberty anyway -  but whilst I was well aware that women wore high heels, tights, bras and such, I had never seen skyscraper heels, stockings, suspenders and basques before. Here was some kind of exaggerated femininity and it hit me hard. As did the emphasis of the name on the poster: Fiona Richmond at Richmond Theatre. It couldn't do other than bore into my consciousness.

So I wasn't directly named after Richmond in London at all. And I'm keeping the name, despite its slightly naughty origins!

How did you choose yours?

Sue x


  1. That's quite the story, thanks for sharing. How cute is that dragon? Plus, who wouldn't want such a cool companion as a school kid?

    Still, at least we know you didn't get your surname from sausages :-D

    So 'Lynn Jones'. Jones because it has no relation to my actual surname and there's an ironic play to Keeping up with the Jones's... Which A) I don't subscribe to, and B) I'm easily left behind :-)

    Lynn, though. I picked an androgynous name - Lin - back when web chat rooms where a thing in the 90s. I found people would assume my gender, subject to what we talked about and they seemed to open up more, if they thought I was female. I enjoyed feeling accepted, even if others knew the truth. So, Lynn became my name.

    It could have been Kate, as I have like the sound of it, however I feel I would always be close to the Blackadder joke ("Kate, it's short for Bob" :-D ).

  2. Thanks for sharing your own story, Lynn. A good name for good reasons.
    As for the dragon, I chose that picture as it's especially sweet as Susan kisses him goodbye as her holiday ends. Though the one with the dragon in an apron doing the housework (cavework?) is wonderful! Sue x

  3. A good story, Sue, I remember Fiona Richmond - naughty but nice, apparently! As you suggested, my second name was named after the county I live in. This was originally used as an identifier for possible meets, although life is rather more sophisticated nowadays. my first name is simply the diminutive of my birth-registered name and was used by the female members of my family (and still is by my sister on rare occasions). Rather ordinary. really!

    1. Well, it works for you and Nikki is a nice diminutive, I think. Thanks for sharing. Sue x