So I’ve been tweeting daily about my transition from female to male under the hashtag #WakeUpElliot. I’m pretty damn open about it—I encourage people to ask questions, get informed, hear it firsthand from someone who lives it. And I’m going to blog about the most interesting Qs I receive.
Today, on my 111th day on testosterone, I’m tackling a major rite of passage among trans folks:
Choosing a new name.
@ElliotWake curious about the decision 2 change ur last name too.. A lot of Trans folk only change the first.. Slap me if it's too personal!
— Chiyo. (@ChiyoGomes) April 18, 2016
The first name
When I was writing my third novel, Cam Girl, I had to confront something deeply discomforting: I was really, really not okay with my gender identity. Over the years I’d defaulted to Not a Girl but never got beyond that. And I knew there was something beyond that, and I was afraid I knew what: that my affinity for masculinity went way farther than the Tomboy label others applied to me.
Writing a nonbinary character like Ellis was incredibly cathartic. Through her, I tested my own boundaries. Ellis knew she was queer—she was assigned female at birth, and she was attracted to girls—but something about the word “lesbian” didn’t fit her, as it didn’t fit me. Because a lesbian is someone who identifies as a girl or woman, and neither of us did.
While Ellis experimented with her identity in Cam Girl, so did I.
“If I ever changed my name,” I thought, “to something gender-neutral, less prescriptively feminine, what would I change it to?” So I made a list. But I didn’t need to.
The first name I imagined for myself was the right one.
Elliot was the name of the hero in the film E.T., which I loved as a kid. (Obvious trans metaphor is obvious: alien crash-lands on Earth, is feared and hated and mistreated despite being harmless, just wants to live in peace.) It also has a fine tradition in literature, including one of my favorite poets, T.S. Eliot (who’s mentioned in the first line of my book Black Iris).
The clincher was how “Elliot” contains the name “Leah” inside it, phonetically: E-leah-t. I wouldn’t be abandoning my female name, which I never considered dead to me—I’d be incorporating it into my new name, building on my past self and experiences.
It was kinda perfect.
The middle name
This part was fun. All I cared about for my middle name was that it sounded good and more or less fit my personality. Like naming a character in a book.
“Finley” was a name I’d always wanted to give a female character—I love gender-neutral and masculine names for girls (gee, wonder why)—and Finley had good rhythm with Elliot.
But it needed a snappy, powerful, single-syllable surname.
The last name
And here’s where I struggled.
I don’t consider my female name a deadname. I have three books published under Leah Raeder, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. Though I never identified as a girl, I still see that part of myself as “her”—my femininity, my femaleness. And I’m pretty damn proud of what I accomplished as someone the world labeled a girl. It didn’t matter how I identified inside: I still faced misogyny, still was socialized female, still learned to hate and resent and even fear my body for its femaleness (on top of hating it because it wasn’t male, as my brain expects to see every time I look in a mirror).
I soldiered through sexist bullshit for thirty-three years as a “girl,” according to society. I damn well wanted recognition of that.
But “Elliot Raeder” just didn’t sound right, and it went beyond euphony. There was something that bugged me about keeping the same last name. In a way, I wanted to be separate from Leah Raeder, and I wanted her to be separate from me. Her accomplishments were her own, as someone who was assigned female at birth and fought to succeed without male privilege. Elliot would have privileges she wouldn’t. I didn’t want that to tarnish Leah’s legacy.
And mentally, for myself, I needed a clean break. As an author I’ll always be able to look back at my books published under my female name—that name will never be truly dead. That’s both a blessing and a curse. I didn’t feel I could embody my new name fully as a trans guy unless I changed the whole thing. I’d always be under Leah’s shadow if I kept Raeder.
So, at the last minute, I panicked. I planned to start a new Twitter account on January 1, and I wanted to have my full new name ready to go public. But what the hell would my surname be?
One syllable. Simple, strong, meaningful.
No fucking idea.
I picked “Wake” on a whim, more or less. I made a list of possibilities that had both personal and literary significance to me (thank god I didn’t go with Wolf), but something about Wake seemed right at the time. Dream imagery is a recurring theme in my writing: realizing the hidden meaning of things you’ve seen all along, waking to a higher level of understanding, and whatnot.
As time went on, I grew into it. A Twitter follower suggested the hashtag #WakeUpElliot for my transition tweets, and it resonated with me instantly: my life before transition as a dream I’m slowly coming out of. Waking to my real self.
Plus, ELLIOT WAKE just looks really fucking badass on a book cover. You’ll see it on Bad Boy soon.
All together, now
So, that’s how I chose my new name. The first part was always with me; the middle was purely for fun; and the last part ended up taking on its own meaning once I chose it.
And on June 14, I will legally be Elliot Finley Wake.
Can’t. Fucking. Wait.