Renaming A Rose

Editor’s Note…I’m pleased to share another wonderful guest post written by my friend and fellow mom, Jacqueline Friedman Shepherd. She perfectly captures the feelings many of us experience when we face having to change our children’s names…an event none of us ever imagined needing to do, yet an important part of helping them bloom.    

This is a story about a name.  Two names, actually.  But, at its heart, like all good stories this one is about people.  But I didn’t know that as I sat in the courtroom that day.  The judge was serious and, for a moment, I wondered if he was going to deny my request.  He looked from the papers in front of him, back to me, then back to the papers.  Finally, he cleared his throat and said, “I’ve read your request.  This seems to be in the best interest of the child,” then turning to the court reporter he said, “In the matter of the minor child Lucille Ruby Jane, I grant a name change.  She will henceforth be Moshe Louis Armstrong.”

When we found out that our second child was going to be a girl, I was ecstatic.  I had been picking out names since I was a child.  I had tattered copies of Beyond Jennifer and Jason that were highlighted, underline and dog-eared so much that you would think I was the mother of 42 children by the time I was sixteen.  My boy names were classic and easy and my husband and I had effortlessly settled on Solomon for our first baby.  Girl names, though, those were something else.  I needed my daughter to be a wild-eyed gunslinger who never backed down from a challenge.  Her name couldn’t be common, it had to be Mitzvah, Ramona or Penelope. I wanted it to make people pause for a second when they met her and think, “This girl might grow up to be the next President of the United States.”

Unfortunately, my husband had other dreams for our daughter.  Apparently, he wanted her to be a stripper.  The names he came up with (which I will not mention because I don’t want to offend anyone else who’s parents gave them a stripper name) were atrocious.  Every name I came up with he shot down as “weird” and every name he came up with forced me to describe the unsightly fate of a girl named ______________.

I will spare you the boring details of how we finally settled on a name, but know that is took forever and it involved family trees, websites and begging.  Miraculously, we settled on the name that we both agreed described the most kick-ass girl we could imagine: Lucille Ruby Jane.  Lucille sounded good with Solomon and brought to mind Lucille Ball and Lucy from Charlie Brown; both pretty tough broads.  Ruby was an old family name from my husband’s side and Ruby Jane together was a nod to my mother, Mary Jane.  Jane was perhaps the most important of the three because it honored many aunts, grandmothers and friends named Jan and Jane – all who are exceptional women.

Our Lucille Ruby Jane lived up to her name.  She was a mad beauty with thick, blonde hair, flushed cheeks and full, red lips.  Her beauty was undeniable, but it was juxtaposed by her constant drool, her crusty nose and the fact that she could speak like a six year old by the time she was two.  She refused to wear a shirt, loved hats and shoes and greeted everyone with a wet smile.  She was exactly the wild child I had imagined…except for one thing.

The day before first grade started, I met with Lucy’s teacher.  The first thing she said to me was, “Ruby Jane is the coolest name I’ve ever heard.”  Ms. G was almost six feet tall with black spirals sprouting out of her head and a smile that made me think we’d drink whiskey together someday.  I brought a collage of Lucy’s life with me as a visual aid to show her that I had birthed a “normal” child and that I had dressed her in pink and done all the right things.  My mind flooded with visions of my loud baby girl who had become withdrawn and twitchy.  I could picture the heartbreaking way that she walked with her head down, clenching and unclenching her fists nervously.  I am rarely uncomfortable in social situations, but I could feel myself blushing as I stared at my hands and said, “Lucy thinks she is a boy.  She looks like a boy.  She’ll pee her pants before she’ll go in the girls’ bathroom.  I just thought you should know.”

Without skipping a beat, Ms. G shrugged and said, “I’ll just take the signs off our classroom bathrooms. We don’t need one for boys and one for girls anyway.”  I could have cried, but I’m not a crier.  Ms. G sat back in her chair, relaxed and easy, and asked if I could give her any research or reading I had that would help her help Lucy.  I wanted to jump up and hug her, but I’m not a hugger.  So, I gathered my things and left with an indescribable hunch that things might end up okay.

The years between potty training and first grade had been awful ones in our house.  The fact that Lucy started introducing herself as Ryan when she was three was the least of my worries.  At four, she changed it to Amigo and insisted that we all call her that.  By that point we had three children and I was horrified that people would think I had sons named Solomon, Abraham and Amigo, but Lucy threw two hour tantrums about the seam of her socks being crooked on her foot, so Amigo was fine with me.  She had a boy haircut, wore her brother’s clothes and it was easier to let strangers think she was a boy than to introduce her as Lucy anyways.

So, it came as no great surprise when, halfway through first grade, Ms. G mentioned at conferences that  Lucy was writing other names on the top of her papers.  Judah. Max. Ladimir.  She also mentioned that the other kids in the class called Lucy “he” and that she would be happy to do that, too, if it was okay with us.  By that point I had done my research and found friends in the right places who had helped confirm that Lucy might very well grow up to be a boy (which is its own story and deserves its own essay, but this isn’t that story).  It was time to find a new name.

As Solomon, Lucy/Ryan/Amigo and I sat down in front of the computer, I firmly stated that it had to be an Old Testament name.  I suggested Malachai, Samson and Jonah.  My children are nothing if not half their father and they immediately started pitching a case for Nimrod.  Much like the first time around, we went back and forth forever until finally we had settled on Moshe (Hebrew for Moses – pronounced “Moe-shee.”).  And for a middle name Moshe wanted Louis Armstrong.

Louis Armstrong?  We weren’t big jazz fans.  I wasn’t even sure how Moshe knew who he was.  I bought him a kid’s biography and told him he had to read it first.  It took a while, but finally one night he came out of his room, book in hand and said, “I’m done.  And I want my name to be Louis Armstrong.  He helped get rights for black people and he had a really hard life, but stayed positive and happy.”  I couldn’t argue with that.  Moshe Louis Armstrong.

I went into the school the next day to tell the school that Lucy was going to go by a new name.  Everyone at the school had been so nice and understanding that, by this point my fear was gone.  When I told Ms. G she threw back her head and laughed, “What a great name for a great kid! You guys are the best.”  The new name seemed to free my wild, opinionated child from a mental cage and, almost overnight our lives became easier.  Moshe’s friends switched names immediately and our entire family, though slightly slower, came along too.  There were no more fits about socks.  There was no more anxiety about heading to school each day.  Who knew a name was such a big deal?

We moved last summer and decided that it was time to legally change Moshe’s name before third grade.  I gathered all the legal paperwork.  I had Ms. G and some family members write letters explaining that we weren’t insane and that the name change was in Lucy’s best interest.  I was nervous that the judge would decide I was a terrible parent and deny the name change, but he didn’t and I left the courthouse that day feeling strangely victorious and sad at the same time.  Lucille Ruby Jane no longer existed.

A few days later I sat having tea with my dear friend Marge.  I told her how surprised I was at my sadness.  Maybe it was because I had chosen a name that had all my hopes wrapped up in it?  How had I ever been so naive and innocent as to think that I could dream up a child and it would turn out that way?  Marge, who was infinitely wise, smiled at me and said, “None of our children turn out the way we hoped they would.  If you’re doing it right, they turn out better.”

She was absolutely right.  You never expect to have a three year old that will tell you she is really a boy, but isn’t that what I was hoping for?  A daughter who would stand her ground and be herself no matter what? Moshe is the kind of kid that always does the right thing, has a wicked sense of humor and takes better care of his younger brother than I do.  His friends are some of the best kids I’ve ever met, he compliments my Matzo ball soup and he wants to live in a treehouse with his parents when he grows up.  He’s way cooler than the daughter I had hoped to have. Moshe Louis Armstrong is at least as kick ass as Lucille Ruby Jane would have been.

A couple of months ago, Moshe got a letter from Ms. G.  In it was one of those paper fortunetellers that kids make.  As each flap was lifted, Moshe read them aloud to us.  The first one said, “I’m having a baby!”  The second one said, “You are my favorite student EVER.”  The third one said, “She is due on January 26th.”

And the fourth one said, “Her name is Ruby Jane.”  I’m not a crier, but I may have teared up a little.

 

 

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16 Responses to Renaming A Rose

  1. James says:

    I love how the parents I’m running across today in blogs like this one are so understanding and awesome. It’s so great. It makes me wonder why my own childhood couldn’t have been less a horrifying nightmare and more a journey my parents went on with me, but I doubt I’ll ever get any answer that satisfies all the negative emotions inside me. I’m really happy that at least some parents are handling this in a much more caring way now. I can’t ever go back and get what I never had. As much as I’d like to do so, I’m stuck with what I am now. Reading things like this make it a lot easier for me to be ok for some reason. I just really love that there are people out there like you guys. I just hope that my bad experiences can be used to educate parents so that no child ever has to hide who they are or feel like I did. And do. If it helps someone else, then I’ll feel like I wasn’t a waste. You guys are awesome though. Thanks.

    • jacqueline shepherd says:

      James, I’m so sorry you had such a childhood. I was lucky enough to have a few trans friends in college and when Lucy/Moshe came along, I had a little more education than the average parent. I can’t change your parents, but I can tell you that parenting is hard and a lot of people react badly to the guilt/shame/pain they feel inside. I’ll let you in on a secret: Parents are just plain, old people. And how many broken, sad people do you know? A lot! Almost anyone can end up a parent and even the worst ones are usually doing the best they can with what they have. That’s not an excuse. I’m just a mother telling someone’s son that this parenthood thing is a beast! I hope the future will bring you a child and that child will bring you a step closer to understanding your parents (though I know it cannot erase the pain). Again, I am so sorry you had such a hard time. And I recognize the courage it takes to be you. I’m not YOUR mom, but I’m proud of you all the same.

      • James says:

        I’m slowly coming to a place now where I’m realizing that my parents probably didn’t know any better. I still don’t find it easy to accept or easy to understand how one could think that that behavior was the right thing, but I can see it being the way that was in the 1980s in this backwards repressed part of the country. And, now that I’m finding out that there are parents out there like you, I feel like I’ve been forced to suffer longer than I should have for no reason. I’m scared to death I’m not going to get to where I want to with my transition before I run out of time because I’ve lost so much time already, and I can’t find the money and it’s just….I don’t even know. But, I know they probably didn’t really mean me any harm, and I’m working on being ok with that.

  2. Lauren says:

    James, you aren’t a waste. You are loved.

  3. Emilie says:

    Wonderful post! We have a son named Naomi. He doesn’t want to change his name. I am not finding supporting him in his maleness difficult, but I am finding it difficult to introduce him as Naomi.

    When I named him Naomi it was because I loved the name. I still love it and so does he. He asks me why we have boy names and girl names anyway, and he has a point. He is only 6 but I am learning so much from him.

    So thank you for bringing up names- it is so lovely to see that you are allowing Moshe’s light to shine brightly as he goes through life.

    • MommyPatten says:

      I have a son named Roxy! I introduce him as Rox, but if anyone asks him, he calls himself Roxy. I think it’s frustrating because if I’d known he was a boy, I would have picked an AWESOME boy name ;)

  4. Rachel Hatten says:

    Well. I was loving this from the get go. And then I got to the end and wept a little. Fabulous post–thanks for sharing!

  5. Sara says:

    What a beautiful and amazing story.

  6. Banks says:

    This is an excellent read! I loved it from start to finish. I too am one of those girls who sat down at a very young age deciding what to name my future children. I really enjoyed reading yours and Moshe story. Love both names by the way. And so I shared a link to this page on facebook. Via Reflection, a short film about raising a transgender child. If any of you many wonderful people visiting this site would like to check this film out please visit facebook.com/shortfilmreflection. I feel we all need as much support and positive reinforcement as possible. I am now a huge fan of Transparenthood. Thanks Jacqueline!! Do you have a blog or site yourself?

    • jacqueline shepherd says:

      I don’t have my own blog; I have five children and am in law school full-time, so I don’t feel like I have time to do it justice. I love transparenthood and it seems the perfect place to share my essays when I have time to crank one out.
      Thanks for the positive feedback! And I’ll go check out your short film, for sure.

      • Alexander louis samuel Wilson says:

        I am a 16 year old transguy and your story sounds so much like my story and your kid sound awesome thx for sharing your story

  7. Jen says:

    Awesome story. Everyone needs a Ms. G in their lives. You got me crying at the end.

  8. Molly says:

    Oh, that last line. My heart! To have not only a supportive teacher, but a teacher who loves your child THAT much! Tears! :)

  9. Aubrey says:

    WOW! I copied and saved this to read it when Im down! Im a transgender child just like your son.. I was born a girl and Im 18, my parents have never adressed the issue and so I just grew up being picked on and bullied and had a hard time although now my life is better I sometimes wish my parents would have listen to me when I asked to change my name or stop when I wore a skirt just to make to bullying stop, and come home crying anyways.. I wish my parents would have worried about what my life would be if I stayed being the wierd kid who dresses like a boy. I never had supportive teachers, rather ones that called home to “inform” my parents that I played soccer with the boys today. (I live in Chile by the way, its different down here) Im still crying from that last line cuz, I defenitly am a crier. God bless you, and your family and your son!!! I really do ask that he bless you, and that you also remember always how lucky you are to have all these things work out for you!! Love your child, as a transgender kid, I can tell you a lot of times more than anything you can ever do to help us, is simply love us, and accept us, because most times, the world doesnt.

  10. Gail says:

    I stumbled upon your blog looking for other parents’ experiences and perspectives on their transgender children, and this specific post about a name change caught my eye. Thank you for your well-written story! And the ending about Ms. G. had me in tears. (Well, truth be told, I already had tears in my eyes before that point. But that last bit about Ms. G… man, what an awesome teacher.)
    My four-year-old transgender daughter changed her name to Gracie, and I have to say I am struggling with it! We love the name we gave her (Julian), obviously, and we would like to keep it similar, but she is only remotely accepting of it. We’ve suggested “Juliane” and “Juliet”. She said she is “Juliane” on Fridays, and “Juliet” is her name also, but ONLY on pizza nights. The rest of the week she wants to be Gracie. So I really enjoyed reading about your son’s array of new names!

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