The Etymology of My Name

When you get to choose a name for yourself, it feels like a lot of pressure. Some people take to it easily, some search for a profound meaning, and some agonize over it for no real reason. I fall into the last category. When I came out to my parents in the summer of 2013 I had already been using masculine pronouns for a few months. The problem is that my legal name literally translates to girl. This had always felt like the ultimate irony of my life.When I changed pronouns I wanted to change names to get everything done in one fell swoop, but I couldn’t find a name that felt right.

After I came out to my parents, my Mom was very persistent in helping me find a new name. I was in the living room folding place-cards for my sister-in-law’s wedding when she would stick her head in the room with suggestions.
“What about Colin?”
“No, Mom.”
“Cole? or Caleb?”
“What about Leen?”
“That’s not even a name, Mom.”
“It’s what your little brother used to call you…”
“Doesn’t make it a name.”

But, it was the last suggestion that really did stick in my head. It rattled around in there until it lost a letter, sounded less like a joke, and Lee came out. It was even in the middle of my legal name AND my middle initial has always been L, so when most people see C.L. they just assume I go by my middle name. I especially liked the name because I have known an equal number of male and female Lees. I liked having an androgynous name. I figured it would be an easy name for people to learn- three letters, one syllable. And yet, I got asked how to spell my name a lot. I didn’t even know you could spell Lee L-E-I-G-H. My American English-speaking mind wants to pronounce that LAY. As I start to pass a little better though, fewer people have been asking for spelling clarification. (Hooray!) Somehow, I rationalized all of these things into a logical argument and I found my name. I’ve been going by Lee for over a year now & I’m finally to the point that pretty much everyone in my life uses Lee.

But, finding Lee only solved half of my dilemma. Now that I’ve been out for a couple years it’s time to legally make the change. It came time to choose what the ‘C’ in my initials would stand for. I know I could have gone with any name under the sun, but I made a conscious choice to keep my initials. I don’t want to erase my past, and somehow holding on to my initials seems like the appropriate way for me to simultaneously hold on to who I have been and become who I want to be. I started by looking through baby name books. I wrote down any male name starting with C that I found intriguing. Of course, my favorites were old-fashioned and somewhat amusing. Clarence & Cecil were the two front runners for a while. When I said this to my spouse, his only response was “People will know why you go by your middle name.” What a butt-head. I mulled over my list looking at different options. Cian? That’s nice. Irish, just like my birth name (which I always found amusing because I am precisely 0% Irish), but that’s just an invitation for people to mispronounce my name for the rest of my life.

Finally, when brainstorming with some co-workers on a slow day, one of them noticed Clark on my list. Within a week several coworkers were using Clark interchangeably with Lee, and it felt right. There’s not really a better way to describe it. I have tried on a number of names in this adventure, and so many have felt like hand-me-down clothes- like they belonged to someone else, uncomfortable and ill-fitting. But whenever someone calls me Clark, there’s something comforting in it, like when someone on the train is wearing your grandfather’s cologne. It feels familiar. It feels right.

Now I just have to make it legal (which is a whole new world of bureaucracy I’m unprepared to deal with, but I’ll figure it out eventually). Wish me luck.



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