Trans names, elf names, ‘silly’ names

There are some long and relatively serious blog posts in the pipeline – a write-up of the political/emotional rollercoaster that was NUS LGBT Conference, maybe a similar entry on NUS Women’s Conference, some information about the very exciting things I’m doing for Trans Media Action, a follow-up post to my coming out post – but in the meantime, here are some frivolous (and hopefully amusing) thoughts about names.

I’ve been chatting about names and naming with my friends recently – it’s an issue pretty close to my heart, and something I find very interesting. One thing that’s been coming up a lot is trans names – how naming oneself can be incredibly powerful and important, but also, how it can sometimes take you to uncomfortable places. In my previous post I linked to an entry at Trans Culture titled “you definitely named yourself” – it’s a collection of thoughts from different people about trends in self-naming (particularly among transmasculine people), and whether having an unusual name or fashionable name can somehow ‘out’ someone as having named themself, and as such, as trans.

Devoted Tolkien nerd that I am, discussions of choosing names eventually lead (by a winding road) towards thinking about how names functioned in Middle Earth. There’s all sorts of really fascinating stuff in there, particularly with regards to elven names. I like the way that names were translated from Quenya to Sindarin as times changed, preserving the meaning but not the sound*; and the way that names could be given to someone by anyone, on the basis of their deeds or features, and how someone could become known by this new name instead of the birth name they were given at birth  – for example, Galadriel’s birth name was Nerwen (meaning ‘man-maiden’), but she’s usually referred to as  ‘Galadriel’, which is itself a Sindarin translation of the name ‘Alatariel’, which was the name given to her by her husband Celeborn. But the coolest thing (in my opinion) is the way that elf children get to name themselves, in a ceremony at roughly age seven – or once they have reached ‘lamatyvë’, meaning ‘the ability to take pleasure in language’. Isn’t that awesome? The chosen name, the name given at birth by the father, and (sometimes) a name dreamed or foreseen by the mother, were all equally ‘true’ names – and on top of that, an elf could gain several other names in the course of their life. (If you want to read more, for some reason a copy of Tolkien’s Laws and Customs of the Eldar is actually online in PDF format…)

But hang about. If I could have named myself at age seven, I’d probably be called something I’d now find intensely embarassing. I remember at around 10, insisting to a stranger that my name was actually Xamenthynia. And this, in turn, reminds me of a conversation I saw somewhere else quite a while ago – unfortunately I’m not able to credit it, as Google has turned up up nothing, so please tell me if you know where this is from! Somebody posited the idea of a world where everyone gets a free, no-questions-asked, totally-socially-acceptable name change every five years – and at no other time. I think this is at once a brilliant and dreadful idea: I’m imagining 10-year-olds cringing at being called ‘Princess Fluffle Kittycat’ and ‘Mippetty-dippetty-boo’; 15-year-olds grudgingly writing ‘Superman’ and ‘Plesiosaur’ on their exam papers; 20-year-olds delaying applying for jobs until they can stop being ‘Ravyn Darkfyre’ and ‘Crimsin Skye’…

And to bring things round full circle – it would hopefully put paid to dismissal of the legitimacy of trans names through their (real or perceived) eccentricity. It’s rather hard for you to tell a trans person off for being called ‘Braiden Skylar’ or ‘Algernon Quentin’ when it’s a matter of public record that before you were  ‘Dave’, you were ‘Blubble Fantastico’, ‘Rocketship’, ‘Damien Darkheart’, and ‘Aloysius’.

* Incidentally, I once spent some of a car journey making myself terribly amused by (approximately) translating the names of Tolkien’s elves into forms more appropriate for the irreverent roleplaying game “Elfs”. So Lothlorien is overseen by elven matriarch Shiny Head, her husband Metal Tree, and captain-of-the-guard Sneaky, Imladris is the home of Star Hole and his daughter Posh Girl… I have no idea if anyone else find this funny, but there we are.

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