"To Name Changing" by David Salazar
Now that my request for my name and sex to be changed in government paperwork is officially going through the system, I can't help but look back at the names I held before the one I landed on, and the story behind each of them. Except for my deadname, of course—there is no story there that is my own. Sure, the choices my parents went through is a story, but is not one I participated in, beyond as an object, something inside my mother to be given a name. I'll touch on that, though, as it does have to do with what name I bear now.
The first name I went by outside of my deadname was Azulz online, when I was ten or so on fanfiction sites. The name wasn't very deep or well thought-out—I had just been taken by the wing of fear mongering about never sharing names or any type of personal information online and had decided I needed some sort of nickname. I disliked my deadname already, so it wasn't that much of a leap to give myself an alias. I landed on Azulz because blue was (and is) my favorite color; and because I liked the letter Z. That was it, that was as deep as it went. I called myself it through the Internet as I became friends with people—they often asked what my real name was, and I'd feel obligated to tell them. There was still an unspoken part that your *real* name didn't matter, and I liked that; they just commented on it before moving on and continuing to call me Azulz.
When I found myself on Tumblr at age eleven, too young to be there as I'd soon learn, I realized I wasn't a girl. Or at least I wasn't a cis girl. I needed an actual name as every last piece of what was off about me fell into place. The story of the first name I went by is slightly embarrassing, looking back at it—I was looking at Spanish-speaking resources for nonbinary people when I saw a link to a list of unisex names. I picked out one of the very few that appeared in that list, an A name. Aris. I nearly picked Ares before remembering that's the Greek god of war, and would probably be an awkward name to explain to anyone.
I spent around six months with Aris as my new name before I realized it didn't quite fit. Here's the fun part—I picked Aiden being blissfully unaware of all the jokes about Aiden and related names as the go-to transmasculine choice. If I was aware, I probably wouldn't have picked it, but it stayed with me for a good year as my gender identity started to unfurl inside me. I switched between labels at will, twelve going on thirteen and figuring out my place in the continuum of trans people, having come out to my parents but it not exactly going over the best. If anything came out of it it was the haircut I got, really, after most of my childhood being spent with shoulder-length hair. It was the dreaded pixie cut, but I couldn't stop smiling as I looked at myself in the mirror.
Aiden was my name for a long while, but it didn't take me long to realize it didn't fit in with me. I am Chilean and I live in Chile—I need a name that was usable in both Spanish and English. So many of my attempts at naming myself where blatant tries at assimilating into English-speaking, USAmerican Internet culture. I had always tried to assimilate, even when I had never experienced any sort of xenophobia or racism before—when I got on Tumblr, I apologized extensively for not having perfect English, hoped and prayed no one asked where I was from or what my mother tongue was. Like intrinsically, from what I had heard, I knew some people would see me as lesser. I hid my nationality, ashamed for no good reason. But as I grew older and read about activism, about Latinos living in the US, I stopped being ashamed. I stopped cringing when my then-boyfriend I met online heard my parents speak Spanish, stopped hiding my nationality from the wider online world like it was a dirty secret.
With my acceptance of myself. unloading xenophobia I was never actually affected by in any meaningful way, I started to worry about my name. I had always thought I didn't want my name to sound weird, coupled with my last name, which mostly was about not mixing English origin names with my very much Hispanic last name. As I started to look for names that fit me, I remained with Aiden for the time being, because I had too many friends online that knew me by it.
The last name is the one you see next to this article, in my third-person bio, in my Twitter, everywhere. While in insular online communities I still go by a handful other names, the switching around making me happy, David is my actual name, the one that will go on into paperwork, that my ID will have once my request goes through the Chilean government.
The story for it is a little too simple, really—my mother suggested it to me. My parents' lukewarm response to my identity continued throughout the years, and they truly didn't ever try and put and effort into gendering me properly until recently, but what my mother did give me was a name suggestion that actually fit perfectly with what I wanted and what I needed. Her reasoning was that my late grandfather, a man who I never knew and died when my father was a teenager, was named David Salazar, so it had family appeal; my father's middle name was David, too. And, she added, all excited about this, it worked in both English and Spanish, a characteristic vital to any name I considered going by. There was David in Spanish, Dah-veed and then there was David in English, Day-bid.
Another point she brought up is that, for a long time during her pregnancy, they thought I'd be born a boy, and had picked out the name happily: Vicente David. What really had happened is that the doctor messed up at the ultrasound, as it was too early to tell what type of junk I'd be born with, and he just decided I was a boy; they only got this mistake corrected late into my mom's pregnancy, and they had to scramble around for a 'girl' name; plenty of arguments about what name to choose soon followed. But it was almost my middle name, and maybe I could just flip them around. Vicente David to David Vicente.
Her argument was convincing, as much as I had never really cared about family names or suchlike—the fact I made fun about people who named their kids after themselves, loathing the concept of Juniors, told anyone enough about that. And it wasn't like I knew my grandfather. But it was really the last point, about how it was almost my middle name, that made me curious about trying the name out. I asked my online friends to call me it and it only took me about a month to decide squarely that it was as good as it was getting.
Something else I realized embarrassingly late was the name's religious undertones. I had been fiddling around with the concept of faith and what I wanted to do with my belief or lack thereof, exploring the possibility of converting to Judaism—it took me a few weeks to realize that, indeed, the name David has been popularized by King David, who is one of the most important Jewish figures. This tidbit only made me feel closer to the name; when I got deeper into my conversion obsession and read about how many people read King David's relationship with his friend Jonathan as homoerotic and romantic it only made me feel better about it. A historical, religious bisexual namesake—go figure!
Around my online friends, I have a handful of other names I like to go by, mostly the names of fictional characters I like and identify with to some extent. Here my rules don't apply—I'm not getting called these in real life, so it doesn't really matter if they work in English and Spanish, if they have a nice meaning, anything of the sort. There's the oldest one, Chase, after Robert Chase from House MD, a now dormant special interest that kicks in at full force if anyone even does as much as hint at talking to me about the homoerotic subtext in it. Then there's Will, after Will Graham from NBC's Hannibal, a show I obsessed over during most of 2020. And finally, the one I most go by nowadays and that people actually use in my circles, is Jesse, after Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad.
The process of choosing a name for yourself is unique to each and every trans person. Some of us don't change our names and keep on with the one that was given to us by our parents, but many of us don't. Some of us pick a name almost at random and some of us pick it with the utmost care, as a soundbite of what we are going to be called if we're ever to go through the legal proceedings of it. I'm glad I picked out the name I did. Soon enough, in the eyes of the law I'll be David Vicente Salazar, and I'll be legally male. It's an oversimplification of who I am, of the multitudes my gender contains, but it's as good as it's getting.
David Salazar (he/xe/she) is a teenage writer from Chile. He describes himself as a butch bigender bisexual and is autistic and mentally ill. Xir writing deals with queer identity, Latinidad and romance primarily, but often delves into other topics; lately he has been experimenting with horror and magical realism. Xe has been published or is forthcoming in Paper Crane Journal, The Daily Drunk, The Hearth and Paracosm Literary, among others. She is in her senior year of high school and plans to be a psychologist/writer/weirdo. You can find him on Twitter at @smalllredboy.