Why it’s important to respect nonbinary and trans name changes

When kids first come out as nonbinary or trans, one of the first things to change is their name – and this is often one of the hardest parts for parents.

Our beloved child, to whom we gave the name Zoe – one which E and I agreed on unanimously right from the start, which rarely happens! – has chosen the new name Xage.

They are also still fine with the nickname “Z,” since it can be a shortened version of either Zoe or Xage (and rolls off the tongue a little easier than “X” in my opinion!).

I’ll admit, I did miss the name Zoe a lot at first.

Although Shakespeare wrote that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” it certainly doesn’t feel that way when your beloved child says they want to change the precious name you gave them.

Changing pronouns from “he” to “she” or even “they/them” is relatively simple and easy compared to having your child give up their first name. Worst of all, in the trans and nonbinary communities, some even call that first name by a terrible-sounding moniker: the deadname.

Intellectually, I understand the thinking behind this. When an individual comes out as trans or nonbinary, they cast off their old self; the person they never truly were is “dead” now that they are living as their true self. It makes sense to take a new name that better reflects who they really are – and it makes sense to shed the old name, just as a growing snake harmlessly casts off their shed skin to reveal a glowing new one beneath.

But to the parents who lovingly gave that first name like our first precious gift to our infant child, there can be feelings of great loss – and hearing it called a “deadname” can feel like a real blow.

On a recent parent support call with the amazing nonbinary activist and model Rain Dove, I learned that some in the trans and nonbinary community are now calling that first name their “birth name” instead of “deadname.” I much prefer the idea of Z outgrowing their birth name vs. tossing away their deadname.

Another thing that helps is to consider that we typically don’t expect children to keep gifts given to them as infants. Sometimes children outgrow gifts that are given to them – and sometimes the gift, though well-meaning, is simply never a good fit. Did you expect your kiddo to sleep in their old infant nursery as they grew up, or did you let them change their room as they grew into a child, tween and teen? (Side note: I still miss Z’s pretty pink nursery, seen in the photo at top.)

We need to remember that the names we gave our kids as babies were gifts, and that doesn’t necessarily mean they have to keep them forever.

And you know what else? As parents, it’s our job to support and love our kids just as they are. Our focus should be on supporting and loving our nonbinary and trans kiddos; if they need to change their name and pronouns to better express themself and live their truth, then we must get on board fast.

It’s not that I don’t value parents’ feelings – I do, of course, being one myself. The reason I say our focus has to be on our kids is that research shows the number one most important factor in LGBTQIA+, nonbinary and trans young people’s lives is family acceptance. Without love and strong support from their family, our kids can face risks like depression, illegal drug use and even suicide.

I will say it again: LOVE, ACCEPT AND SUPPORT YOUR NONBINARY OR TRANS CHILD, including accepting their name and pronoun changes!

There is no other course of action. See them, be there for them, celebrate them and get on board with the name and pronoun changes they need to feel safe and whole. This is the way – the only way.

If you think about it, name changes are a normal part of life in our society. Do you know how common it is, even in this day and age, for a young woman to change her last name after marriage? And trust me, doing so is a pain in the keister. I remember having to change my driver’s license, passport and more. There’s a lot of paperwork, waiting around and standing in lines.

Changing a young person’s name is much the same – there are forms to fill out and processes to follow. You may even have to appear in court. But all of that is easy and painless if it means your child will feel loved, supported and celebrated for who they truly are. Priorities, people.

Don’t be one of those parents who breaks their nonbinary or trans child’s heart and loses them forever. Surely you realize that change is part of life and that your child is still your child, regardless of their name or pronouns or even style of dress. Your LGBTQIA+, nonbinary or trans kiddo is not doing any of this to rock your world or to rebel – they are merely wanting to express who they are inside and to truly, openly, joyfully be who they have always been.

If you’re a parent with a child who recently came out as LGBTQIA+ or nonbinary and you are struggling, there are great resources available. Please check the bottom section of this post and also seek out your local chapter of PFLAG for parents and friends of LGBTQIA+ folks.

If I may be of any help, please feel free to reach out to me in the comments below or via direct message over on Facebook or Instagram.

About the author

Proud and loving midlife mama. Lucky and devoted wife. Dog, cat and snake mom. Travel nut. Writer since birth. PR and social media pro by day - tattoo doula by night.

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