Misnomer

Maddox is not my real name, although it has been my online moniker for quite some time.

It’s is a cool name, some people even tell me so. It’s original and somewhat unique, yet still common enough to be recognizable. I see the name written out in forums and blogs. It is used to refer to me online. I sign off on emails with it. People even recognize me by it in person!

It fits me. Or so I thought.

When I signed up to volunteer for the Gender Spectrum Conference, I sent the request as Maddox. At the registration desk I got a badge with the name printed in large letters. I put on that badge, and suddenly people were calling me Maddox. They were saying that name, outloud, and assumed it to be me. They were expecting me to answer to it. They saw me and said Maddox.

Gender Spectrum Conference Badge

Within three hours, I was on the phone with my girlfriend, on the brink of a crisis. “I don’t like it, I want to change it back!” (The conversation continued on the lines of “but now I’m stuck because I’ve already been introduced to tons of people and it’s on my badge and what’ll it look like if I suddenly change my name in the middle of the day!”). Maddox isn’t me. I’m not Maddox.

Until last week, I had been seriously considering changing that to be my real name. But my little experiment, one that I had been patiently waiting to execute for quite some time, had immediately crumbled. It just didn’t fit.

This name is so familiar to me. When I sign up for a random site, half the time I use that. There’s recognition when I see it written out on the screen. I even changed the name on my Netflix account! I’ve used it so much online, I thought it would be a natural progression to use it in real life. Why, then, did I experience a bout of… uneasiness? uncomfortableness? alienation? depersonalization?

When all of a sudden people started calling me by this word, I felt like a fake. They were saying this word that I knew was supposed to refer to me, but it didn’t. It was calling out to someone else. Who? Maybe it is a part of me: this alternate online persona, who is never at a fault for words, who publicizes very personal thoughts and emotions, who is openly vulnerable and afraid, and confidently so. Obviously, there wouldn’t be all this without me, but there’s more to me than all this.

Hi! You can call me Maddox, but my real name is Mich. You can call me that too.

29 responses to “Misnomer

  1. Havingngone by many handles, some for a very long time (and very name-like) — something that feels right in print may not work at all when spoken. There’s much more immediacy in person that a comfortable handle may not be able to accommodate. That doesn’t make it any less great as a handle. Maybe nametagging in the format “Mich (Maddox)” in these situations may be the way to go?

  2. I’m actually much more likely to respond to “fluffy” than to my legal name (which doesn’t fit me AT ALL). I still haven’t come up with a suitable name that I want to use professionally, though, so at work I’m still known by my legal name.

  3. I can relate, though I haven’t had the exact same experience. My new name, at first, felt SO ODD that I decided that the very IDEA of names was mind-boggling: how is a small set of letters supposed to be synonymous with a whole person? (Socially transitioning has forced me to rethink many aspects of my culture, which has simultaneously baffled and delighted me.)

    So I like your idea that Maddox names a part –but not all– of you.

    • Yes, names are quite strange when you stop and think about it. A few letters, which repeated over and over again sound like nonsense, (or look like nonsense). And, somehow that name is meant to represent all of you. It’s utterly ridiculous!

      Yet, you cannot dismiss its power. When you hear your name, in whatever context, you turn your head. It calls you. It’s engrained in you, and it becomes an essential part of you. (Just think of the Cocktail Party Effect).

      I still wonder if part of the issue of choosing a new name is just “getting used to it” or if there is something that runs deeper.

  4. I consider myself FTN. When I changed my name, I went from Alice to Alex. It took a couple months for me to notice if a person called me by my old name. Now, though, almost 6 months later, it really grates on me if someone (usually immediate family) calls me Alice – which my dad does quite a lot. Half the time, I’d swear he does it on purpose out of spite. I still don’t respond to Alex quite as naturally as I did to Alice (like if I hear it in conversation or across a room, you know?) but I’m getting used to it. (I mean, I had 18 years with my old name.)

    I hope you can work something out with your name. Best wishes x

  5. It’s weird using one name at work and another the rest of the time. I sometimes accidentally refer to myself as “Andy” at work, and wonder who the “she” is they’re talking about. Then out with friends someone will talk about an “Andrea” and I’ll wonder why they’ve forgotten my new name after a year, when duh, they’re not even talking about me at all.

    • Like you, I do still turn when I hear the longer version of my name, although it’s referring to someone else, and I can’t even bring myself to write it out because it looks so out of place.

      So luckily at work I’m already known as Mich (it’s kind of how it all started….), and it’s been my nick/short/name in Spanish forever, which is why it’s not weird to use that name. After having used it “officially” for over a year, it has definitely become mine.

      But its pronunciation is obscure (meech, or meesh, but not mitch please) and it feels like a copout taking just a shortened version of my original name. Sometimes I feel like I just need a brand new name, y’know? Ah the dilemma.

  6. I’m glad you were able to give it a “test drive” since it turned out this way… I think the idea that maybe “Maddox” is compartmentalized to a specific part of your life makes sense. Also, writing and speaking are such different mediums that I think they’d necessarily feel different, and you’re used to Maddox being a writing name. If that makes sense.

    Names are very strange things. There are certain contexts I’m so used to being called [user name] that being called [real name] would feel wrong, despite it being … my real name. I hope you find something that fits you and makes you comfortable.

  7. For a few years I was known as Sea to my closest friends, whom I met online. It was perfect because it’s completely genderless; my best friends weren’t sure what my gender was for months. Then when they met me in person they kept calling me Sea, and it became part of me. If anyone says something about the sea or says “see?” I turn my head.

    Now, for some reason, I go by my given name. My very gendered given name. It feels like it belongs to me, and I like the name itself, but sometimes — especially when people shorten it to Jill, ugh — it just seems like one more thing that makes them think I’m a woman. I’m not sure what to do about it. I guess I can work on being out as genderless as much as is comfortable, and try to break the association between this collection of sounds and femininity.

    • Oh, this might explain something: you turn your head when you hear “sea/see” – but I guess I haven’t associated the sounds “maddox” so it SOUNDED really strange, while written out it’s just so familiar and so me. Maybe I should sound out my words when I read, not just look at them?

  8. I have three names I go by regularly, each of which are semi-compartmentalized. Online I’m kalany, and I get very frustrated and hurt and sometimes even triggered when people online call me by my “real name”, especially in spaces I don’t consider “safe”. Offline I’m Meepa or my legal name. Meepa to my close, long-time friends, my legal name to the rest of the world. My close friends are allowed to call me my legal name, and their friends are allowed to call me Meepa. But casual strangers are not.

    Basically, if you’re in the set of people I’d happily talk about sex and fandom with, you may call me Meepa. If it’s awkward, don’t. And online I should always be kalany.

    • I think this may be part of the reason I never tell anyone online what my real name IS. It’s the only place I can change my name as a please, and be free of the expectations of my family and culture. The only time I told someone and they started using it, I actually felt ill.

  9. I can totally relate. I asked a friend to call me Micah after general confusion and frustrations with female pronouns and the use of my full legal name. To put it simply, I almost fell out of my chair when both he and his mother used my “new” name. It’s hard to figure out how to merge these two seemingly separate, yet so very similar and cohesive, parts of myself together.

    Also, I love your name. It makes me wish my legal name had a relatively neutral shortened version.

    • I’m actually thinking of changing my legal name to the male spelling of the original (not the male version though, I dislike that one). This way it’s not a feminine giveaway but it’s still MY name. Except it’s a bit more European and apparently completely unfamiliar to Americans – I used it last week at the optometrist’s and they called me at least 5 different names and nobody ever got it right (which is a sure sign it’s an excellent name).

  10. Choosing, changing names is such a weird concept to do, it’s so hard to make a name stick, so hard in fact it can make you feel fraudulent. I asked my family to rename me as I would have always gone by a name of their choosing. Strange they picked a name I like and enjoy living with/in. Still it’s not easy. Occasionally someone from out of the blue calls me by my pre transition name and it is like a jolt. For me I just had to get past the naming part as quick as possible. I like Maddox as a name but if Mich fits wear it.
    Juno

  11. It is such a weird thing to try to change, but so essential at the same time.

    I’ve been toying with names lately, to switch to something neutral instead of my common and gendered given name. I made a short list of about 10 names, and then took it to my two closest friends in the world, and had them react to both. (this was on the phone too, so I was hearing it spoken aloud with my last name) and hearing their first reactions to them. And it totally changed the way I looked at all the names. And then one of my friends suggested two shorter gender-neutral versions of my current name, which seem possible. And maybe easier to transition to.

    I’m still skittish about actually asking people to switch though. And I still don’t know which is me. Because theres a cool name, and then theres me.

    I guess it helps me to bring other people with me on the journey, and have them choose it with me. Because part of my name is how they see me.

    Wish I had an answer for you. Good luck.

  12. I have used screen names that were somewhere between random combinations of letters and things that could work as made-up names, by having enough vowels in the right spots that they’re not difficult to say. This is good in that it means you get your username without having to add a number to it, which was the original point, but it does get weird when meeting up with someone and they call you that, and you realize you never actually told them your name in the first place…

    I am hoping that people who call me by my gendered full name will hear other people, such as my family, using my gender-neutral nickname, and pick it up by osmosis. Perhaps I should tell them I find the nickname annoying – people that have shortened my name in other ways I don’t like don’t seem to want to stop when I say I don’t like it.

  13. oh my gosh! i’ve changed my name so many times! people at school still call my andre [my name at the beginning of the school year] but it apparently wasn’t permanent like i thought it was and that’s okay with me. my real name is cesare and proud of it.

  14. I plan on transitioning my SCA persona before my mundane (regular) name. I haven’t decided yet whether to just change it from the feminine to the masculine form (Hrefna to Hrafn) or if I want to change it to something else Norse with “Hrafn-” as the first part of a longer name, nor have I inquired about transitioning my title (I was recently given an award of arms, making me “Lady Hrefna”. I figure once I make new garb and change the name (which costs all of $7), I’ll make inquiries.
    If I do like my new SCA name, I may make it my legal middle name; My first name only needs a spelling change to make it masculine, but the middle name is both feminine and Christian, and as neither I’d like it to go.

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  16. I completely know what you mean. My parents gave me the name Faith and I recently changed it (in my everyday life, but not legally yet) to Taiward (TAY-word). It was a very interesting experience. For a while (and still sometimes) I feel like I don’t have a name. Taiward didn’t feel like my name, but neither did Faith. I felt free and unattached and sometimes that was good, and sometimes it was bad. But in the end, I found that I just had to jump in the water and go for it, and most everyone after the initial “you’re doing what? why?!” reaction and explanation, accepted the change, and it actually made the issue of my gender (which is neither male nor female) easier. I think everyone started to take me more seriously when I told them I was changing my name. I’m so glad I did. It’s so much more comfortable to introduce myself and generally move about in the world. My old name meant something to my parents, but my new name means something to me, and that’s what’s important.

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