It’s hard to keep up with the lingo, and I’m always learning new words. Thank goodness for Urban Dictionary. Recently I heard the term “Dead Name.” According to the dictionary, Dead Name refers to a name that was used by a transgender person before transitioning. In reading other articles and blog posts regarding the use of a dead name, I understand why a trans person would feel a myriad of feelings when another person uses their dead name. The first time I heard the term “Dead Name” a transperson was explaining how hurtful it was to hear her old name. Her name that she went by before her transition.
Dead Name. The words just shot through me like a bullet instantly making me want to cry. It bought back all the feelings I had watching my husband fade away not to come back as he gave way to the woman she is today. That dead name was the name I would doodle on the margins of my notebook in high school. Mary + Ricky with a scrolly heart around it. Weekly, sometimes even daily I would write his name on the envelopes stuffed with love letters inside as I sent them off to him while he was in college. After a couple of years of dating and then marriage we became a phrase-Mary and Rick.
One of the hardest moments for me during the transition was accepting Dana’s joy over her new name while privately grieving over her old name. There was that exciting day when her driver’s license came. She ripped open the DMV envelope and proudly put her new driver’s license in her wallet, tossing her old one onto the kitchen table. Soon after it was the passport, ATM card, bank checks. Pulling mail out of the mailbox and seeing the new name was a strange sensation, especially when it mixed with the old name. Now it’s been a couple of years, and I no longer see her old name much. Months will go by, and I won’t see or hear her old name. In fact, I can tell what is junk mail when the addressee is her old name so in the trash that letter goes. That’s easy. It’s a heart-twinger though when I pull out our wedding album to show my new daughter-in-law and see “Rick and Mary” embossed in gold on the front cover. It’s a heart-twinger to run across an old love letter or birthday card signed by Rick.
I get it though, I do. My partner has completely transitioned and has redefined who she is and with that comes the name change — her new identity. And I celebrate that as well. Her old name is dead. Dead to her. But I think I’ll secretly hold onto the old name in my heart for a long time, maybe forever.