Thursday, 25 September 2014

Naming Lucy

A trans girl presently named Aimee has had her post on choosing a female name featured on T-Central. This is a perennially interesting topic that I have visited once or twice before on my own blog. Well, it's a vital issue, isn't it? That female personality must have a name, and the choice will have consequences.

I think Aimee and those commenting have mentioned many of the most important things to keep in mind, but with two omissions: the surname that will be needed, and what the general public might think. Both first name and surname have to be fit for the real world, and seem right together.

Nearly everyone I've ever met has retained their original family surname, or, as an alternative, has adopted a surname that used to be associated with the family. My own switch from Dommett to Melford feels exceptional. Not extremely rare, but unusual enough to elicit surprise when trans people I meet discover that I wasn't actually born a Melford. Of course, ordinary members of the public raise no eyebrows. They seem to assume that Melford is a surname I acquired from my husband on marriage, and leap to this convenient notion as soon as I mention that I was once married.

I am quite cool and easy about explaining that I was born Lucy Dommett, which, after all, is exactly what it says on my Birth Certificate. This very fact, that I used to be Lucy Dommett, came up yesterday when visiting the churchyard at Broadhembury. I was still grave-hunting, and with some success. As I worked my way steadily along a row of gravestones, I approached two local persons. One was the man mowing the grass. The other was a lady who was probably a churchwarden. Inevitably we fell into conversation. I said, 'I'm looking for dead Dommetts,' and added, 'My name's Lucy Dommett.' The lady immediately took me into the church and showed me the record of burials and a plan showing where each burial was to be found in the churchyard. I'm sure she did this with every bona fide enquirer, but it felt as if the words 'Lucy Dommett' had had the magical force of 'Open Sesame'.

I also mentioned that - of course - my surname now was something else. But I didn't need to say it was Melford, nor that along the line I had got married. Given my apparent age, marriage and a change of surname could be taken for granted. And that's a point one should bear in mind. Women usually do adopt another surname in their lifetime. An older daughter will generally not have the same surname as her parents. So there is nothing odd or strange about choosing a new surname, as well as a new first name. The public at large expect it. It's the credible thing to do. Indeed I would say that unless one has an especially distinctive or attractive family surname that it would be unbearable to abandon, it's always best to change.

Back in 2008, at the start of my transition, I wrote an article for myself - it predated the blog by three months or so - called Naming Lucy. I added to it as time went on. It explains how I came to be Lucy Melford and not something else. Oh, by the way, I was called Julian Dommett by my parents.


With transition in mind, I had to think about a new name. But selecting one wasn't entirely straightforward. 

Personal security 

If I adopted something too close to my old name, my entire pre-transition history would be vulnerable to discovery. Did it matter? I wasn't sure. But I had a gut feeling that a minimal change to, say, 'Julia Dommett' might lead to problems somewhere down the line. If not for myself, then perhaps for my family. I didn't want this to happen, and so the new name - more especially the new surname - had to be very different.

New life, new name 

Whatever the personal security aspects, it felt right and necessary to adopt an entirely new name to suit my new life. Perhaps this was really the main reason. I wanted the new name to be completely my own choice: this was very important.

Choice of first name 

Deciding on a new first name was definitely the lesser problem. It was simply down to personal preference. I seriously considered Stephanie and Joanna, but settled on Lucy. I liked the sound of it, it was easy to say, and it went with a gentle personality. I felt that most people would be kind to me if I presented myself as Lucy, as opposed to someone called Cruella, or even just plain Anne or Jane.

I later realised that 'Lucy' kept the 'u' and 'l' and 'i' sounds of 'Julian', albeit in a different order. Clearly my subconscious mind had wanted a little continuity after all!

Choice of middle name 

Did I want to bother with one? I was undecided. When young, I had written several poems in which I portrayed myself as a girl called Mary. So if any name at all, it might most appropriately be that one. It would then be ‘Lucy Mary Melford’, and the initials would be ‘LMM’. Hmmm. Plain ‘Lucy Melford’ with initials simply ‘LM’ had a lot to be said for it. And Mum had had no middle name, being just 'Dorothy Dommett'. I would have the same. It would be nod in her direction.

Choice of surname 

This was much harder. It couldn't be 'Dommett'. My recently-begun transition was still acutely embarrassing for my parents, and to give them some protection I needed to have a different surname. Of course, this actually suited me.

The initial letter had best not be D either. What then? I wanted something that was neither ordinary nor unusual. To avoid attracting attention, an English surname seemed best. It had to be nice to say, simple to spell, and easily handwritten - that last requirement ruled out a lot of names that sounded fine but didn't flow too well from my pen.

Front runners included Polwin, Polson, Preston and Longford. But in the end it was Melford, and when I first attended the Clare Project meeting in Brighton on 2008 1209, my public debut, I announced myself as 'Lucy Melford'. That sort of fixed it in stone.

I was however perfectly happy with this. 'Lucy Melford' was a pleasant, rather rustic-sounding name, containing only soft consonants. Although 'Melford' wasn't specifically a West Country surname, I felt it might easily be native to Devon or more especially Dorset, which was pleasing and appropriate. Anyway, a nod to Dad's origins in that part of the world.

Using my new name
• I first signed myself 'Lucy Melford' in a letter of thanks to [a vicar in Brighton] on 2008 1217.
• I told M--- that my trans name was Lucy on 2008 1228, after she asked me whether I thought Alice and Emma were nice names that I could use. It seemed opportune to let her know which name I'd already chosen.
• The first [non-trans] friend to be told about 'Lucy Melford' was G--- in an email on 2009 0101.
• By 2009 0108 M--- was able to speak the name 'Lucy Melford', even though she could not say it willingly. This was when we were discussing whether I'd have to get a new doctor, dentist, and so on. She mentioned that she'd done a Google search for 'Lucy Melford' but had drawn a blank. This ordinary-sounding name must in fact be rare! (See below)
• On 2009 0120 Alice said that ‘Lucy’ suited me.
• On 2009 0205 I began my Lucy Melford blog on Google, and the name 'went public'.
• On 2009 0206 I set up my Lucy Melford Flickr site. I noticed that an ordinary web search (using 'lucy melford' as the search words) would find both blog and Flickr site instantly, with both topping the list of results.
• Even by 2009 0210 I still hadn't encountered another Lucy at the Clare Project [the trans group in Brighton], out of 30-odd trans women met or heard of. It made me feel rather individual.
• By 2009 0301 Dad had become acquainted with the name 'Lucy Melford' and could speak it naturally and without apparent effort.
• At the end of March 2009 I acquired two discount/points-earning cards in the name of 'Lucy Melford' - Body Shop and Nectar.
• On 2009 0330 I had a consultation and made a [first] hair appointment at Trevor Sorbie in Brighton using the name Lucy Melford.
• When I visited her at home on 2009 0718, my niece J--- remarked that 'Lucy Melford' sounded like a name out of a Jane Austen novel! Not long after she began to use 'Lucy' when texting me.
• On 2009 0902 I put ‘Lucy Melford’ on my Electoral Register form.
• On 2009 1101 I executed a Deed Poll which made my name 'Miss Lucy Melford' for all purposes.
• By November 2009 [my cousin] R--- was calling me Lucy all the time and referring to me as 'she' when speaking on the phone to her son M---. And [my niece] J--- was going to call me 'Aunt Lucy' in front of strangers.
• I signed my first 'Lucy Melford' cheque on 2009 1204.
• My ‘Lucy Melford’ passport (with the ‘female’ indicator) arrived on 2010 0118.
• My ‘Lucy Melford’ driving licence (with the ‘female’ indicator) arrived on 2010 0128.

Other Lucy connections 

• A juvenile hominid discovered in 1976 in the Afar region of Ethiopia (and thought then to be a definite 'missing link' in the development of man) was nicknamed Lucy - apparently after the girl in the Beatles' song 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'. Her scientific name was Australopithecus Afarensis. Lucy the hominid had a long reign as the possible direct ancestor of mankind, but in 2008 was finally sidelined as new evidence emerged. Oh well. She remained well known.
• Lucille Ball starred in the TV series I Love Lucy for many years. I remember liking that programme, especially when her husband Desi Arnaz was in it, although Lucy herself was a little too strident.
• Then there was the song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds already mentioned above, on the Beatles' album Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
• On 2008 1226 I saw the latest film version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe on TV, and was pleasantly reminded that the younger of the heroines (the one who discovered Narnia in the back of the wardrobe, but wasn't believed) was called Lucy.
• On 2009 0116 I ran some searches on BT's online look-up-their-phone-number service. Searching for 'Melford' in 'Devon', 'Dorset', 'Cornwall', 'Gloucester', 'Wiltshire', 'Oxford', 'Hampshire', 'Sussex' and 'Brighton' got me nothing. 'Somerset' produced 'F C Melford' and 'Fiona Melford' at two different addresses in Portishead, and 'S Melford' in Bath. 'London' produced a 'J Melford' at two different addresses and an 'M Melford'. 'Kent' turned up a further 'J Melford'. So that's just seven Melfords with landlines for most of southern England. A pretty rare name, then. And so much for it being ‘typically west-country’!
• On 2009 0123 a quick search of the A-Z London Street Atlas revealed ten Melford Roads, Melford Courts, or whatever, mostly in east or south east London. There was a Melford Road, Court and Passage all in the one place near Dulwich Park in SE22. Named after which Melford, I wonder?
• Eastern England had a 'Melford' town: Long Melford in Suffolk - full of charming buildings. I went there on 2010 1002, looking in at Melford Hall!
• Oh dear. I discovered that a Lucy and Greg Melford were defendants in a Californian court case arising from a complaint filed by one Rachel Vargas on 2002 0319. I couldn’t find out what the outcome was. Trust someone to drag the Melford name down like this!

Further down the line: 2012 

By early 2012 my life had settled down after the surgery in 2011. I was very independent, very self-assured, and although my capital had gone forever with the sale of Ouse Cottage, I could at least make long-term plans without that financial time bomb ticking away in the background. Although still in contact with M---, we led entirely separate lives. I was free to do anything I wanted.

'Lucy Melford' still suited me very well as a name. And soon my Gender Recognition Certificate would fix me forever as a female person, born as 'Lucy'.

I wondered whether to revert to Dommett as a surname, in order to have a perfect tie-up with Dad's surname on my birth certificate - just as if I'd been Julian's twin sister. It would require another Deed Poll. I wasn't sure; I liked Melford very much, and it was easier to say and spell than Dommett! And it was, after all, my choice of surname, and not something pre-determined.

I wasn't the only 'Lucy Melford' on the Internet any more. A certain Lucy Billington had got married, and now took her husband's name, becoming Lucy Melford. She had children. She was on Facebook. I wasn't: and if you searched for me on Facebook, you found her, not me. I welcomed this. She stood between me and any ill-intentioned searching.

But my blog and my Flickr site were still the top results if you made a general Google search for 'Lucy Melford'.

So now you know! I will add that nowadays I am quite concerned about the other Lucy Melford getting unwelcome comments on Facebook in mistake for me. But there is nothing I can do about it.

I am ambivalent about reverting to Dommett as a surname. It would strongly link me by name to my nephew, his wife, and little Matilda. And I do feel very much a member of the much wider Dommett Family and its ramifications. But Melford is a nice name that feels oh-so-comfortable. And it was my own choice, which matters an awful lot.

Lucy as my first name is far beyond change now - too many people have accepted me under that name and no other. So many, that I conclude it must really suit me to a T. To be frank, it feels as if I've been Lucy all my life. And I am very happy with the thought of being Lucy till the end of my days.

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Lucy Melford