Managing Dysphoria: dead name

My dead name plagued me for so long; it’s what disclosed me often, and that was particularly awful back when disclosure caused me dysphoria. It took years to stop shuddering when I heard other people whose name it is.  I hope no one who knows my dead name shares it with others. Perish the thought.

What helped:

Online usernames

you can choose a username that reflects your authentic gender, and/or a gender neutral/agender name. You can often attach it to a picture that similarly either reinforces your authentic gender or is void of gender reference. This is something in your control, that doesn’t require the government’s approval or vetting by a clinician.
Keep in mind FB can delete your account if it suspects, or someone reports you as not using your legal name. That isn’t an issue on most other platforms be they social media or gaming platforms, and there are ways of reducing the risk of your FB account being deleted.

if You Have Multiple Names

If you have multiple names, and one of them is gender neutral, and/or the short form of one of them is, you can use that instead. As with usernames, this doesn’t require governmental approval or vetting by a clinician.


These can be the same as or be wholly unrelated to your usernames. These can evolve from events IRL, in-jokes between friends, be agender, gender neutral or gender affirming. It’s often easier to start with having close friends use them, and others witnessing them use a nickname will often ask to follow suit or do it anyway. Consider how many of your cis relatives and friends who socially go by a name other than their legal name. Sometimes there’s underlying racism to it, unilinguals only familiar with the locally dominant language can be unwilling to learn how to pronounce names from other languages. Sometimes there’s a positive/non-shitty reason for it.

Incidentally, I found out the legal first names of three of my relatives, including two of my grand-parents, after they died. In part of my family, for cultural reasons tied to religious traditions, nobody goes by their first name, and some of them didn’t fancy their other names, so they picked another name, and lived their whole lives that way.

It’s gotten harder to do that as policies to authenticate ID and prevent identity theft have gotten more stringent over the last few decades. But it’s usually fairly easy to at least socially go by one name, while having another one legally. Some employers, at least to a certain extent, will allow this. This is less often the case for people who provide health services or work in law enforcement.

Tied to the aforementioned tradition of my family, I don’t go by my first name. The most an employer has ever objected to “ignoring” my legal name is on health benefits and tax slips. I chose my legal name, I love it, so I don’t mind seeing it yearly on my tax slip. As I socially use my middle name all the time, I often forget to give my first name to the pharmacy and dental reception when they ask about benefit coverage. When it comes up, they don’t usually object to me continuing to go by my middle name. Some people having miserable days will grumble if they’d already begun filling out paperwork, which must then be amended to reflect my legal name. This leads me to…

[Picture by Jakob Owens on Unsplash. Description: Person waving a light in random directions at dusk.]

An Artist Name

This can be for any given art form, whether done professionally or on an amateur basis. “Pen” names are as old as writing. Are you among those who don’t know Madonna, bell hooks, Freddy Mercury, Seal and/or Christine and the Queens’s legal names? Has it even dawned on you to wonder about these artists’ legal name? That’s how commonplace it is for artists to not go by their given names. If you write fandom, host a YouTube channel, create fine art, play in a band, or whatever, that can be a place to try on a (nick)name. And from there, many people will be supportive of using it in other parts of your life.

Of note as it relates to the first strategy mentioned, FB allows people to open artist pages using your artist name. Sometimes it’ll let you have a personal account using that, but read the fine print, know the conditions ahead of time.

Incidentally, I was able to get my chosen name added to my bank account years before my legal name change, by arguing it was my artist name. This will vary from one financial institution to another, especially around what documentation may be required to do this. I wasn’t registered as an artist with any union or regulatory body, so I technically shouldn’t have been allowed to do this, but a friend of mine who worked at the bank at the time got it through.
Another time, I successfully argued with a bank to let me use my social name as part of the bank’s professed cultural sensitivity. It helped that there were three other people there from the same cultural background as me (we were there to open a joint account with me) backing up my request. None of us wanted to use our legal first name, none of us go by them. Each of us had to sign an agreement stating we understood that letting us use our “other”/social name leaves us open to the possibility of someone with that chosen name as their first legal name coming in and laying claim to our bank account. I happen to be the only person in the country where I did this with my family name, so it felt like a low risk to take. Your mileage may vary. Not all banks will offer this option, but it’s one to inquire about in case it is.

chuttersnap-gate closing signage-unsplash
[Picture from Unsplash. Description: close up of an arrival board at an airport listing gate numbers.]

Change your name everywhere

If you’re able to legally change your name, you usually have a set amount of time (e.g. 3-6 months) to update all government issued records and identifications. Many of us know to update our name beyond that wherever possible. It may not be possible to update it, or at least, not add it AND withdraw all records to your prior name, if you work in law enforcement, health care, or other similar regulated industries.

What may not be so obvious, is updating it with credit check bureaus such as Equifax and TransUnion. Most of us have never had direct dealing with them, but if you have a credit card, your financial institution told them all about you. You might think that updating your name with said financial institution would result in the credit check bureaus being updated, but that’s seldom the case. A not uncommon story is of a trans person who legally changed their name, told all their financial institutions, and carries on with their lives. Years down the line, they apply for a new credit card, thinking nothing of it. They’re approved, but when the card shows up in the mail a week later, it’s got their dead name on it. They applied with their legal name, the financial institution did a credit check, and the dead name is still tied to their social security/insurance number and DING the name on the application was swapped to your dead name in the background without you knowing. Best to inform credit check bureaus yourself.

You may think it only matters to update your post-secondary diploma(s), after all, those are often the only ones commonly displayed in one’s office. But should you ever again apply to do post-secondary studies that require a high school diploma, that isn’t usually when you want to start the process to update that. If you have the spoons, resources and access to update your academic records as far back as high school, future you is likely to thank you eventually.

[Picture by Yolanda Sun on Unsplash. Description: silhouettes of people lined up in a queue at an airport.]

Closing Thoughts

As with all the possibilities I propose for any given dysphoria trigger, these are limited in their scope. I welcome suggestions for other options to add. As mentioned above, the days of someone besides a newborn being able to show up new to a place and suddenly use a name not backed up by government issued identification are pretty much long gone. All but the last point can help both try on a chosen name and/or support social transition prior to legal transition.

The last point presumes you’re able to legally change names, which I don’t need to tell any newcomer or someone who immigrated shortly after birth, even if they went through a successful refugee claim, may not be the case. As someone with multiple citizenships, and a complex residency history, I’ve faced my fair share of governmental institutions who did not anticipate trans immigrants, or trans people with multiple citizenships, and/or trans people who cannot meet public policy requirements to legally change a name or sex marker or produce X, Y or Z documentation. It takes a great deal of strength not retain composure when the country that grants refugee asylum and/or who knows that LGBT people are systemically persecuted in someone’s country of origin, should return to said country of origin for their birth certificate and/or to legally change their name there first. You have my utmost empathy. Public policy isn’t designed with awareness about us, and seldom cares when we raise awareness the realities of our non-exclusively sedentary lives.

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