What's in a name…a lot actually…
I’ve had two different full names….and they both can tell you a lot about me…if you only know how to interpret them.
A last or first name may give you a clue into the families origin or nationality. My original last name was not to hard to figure out that it was of German in origin. It’s an old surname going back to when they were first assigned, and it tells you a little bit about my families history. If not familiar, similar to other names from other countries; many were based on the geographical area of where you were living or based on the trade the patriarch was known for. (e.g., a leather tanner) Mine was geographic in nature and a direct reference back to the village/city my family was living in, and it still exists today — Luneberg Germany.
Its not a very common name…so there's a good chance that if you run into someone with the same name….we are related somehow at some point. At least, that's the way it mostly works within the United States. The name is more common in Europe and when seeing the name there…there's a good chance that its just some one who likely lived near the same area a long time ago…rather than a relative.
My first and middle names, of course, were assigned by my parents. The middle was simply a tribute to a Grand Parent. I had an older sibling, who received the middle name of my father’s parent. Being second born, I simply got the middle name of my mother’s parent to even out the tribute.
The first name was even less complicated. It was simply a favorite of my mother. She had been talked out of it for the first child (for being too long; something I had to suffer with for a long time…), and decided to not give up on it for her second child.
Wow, that’s a little bit of explaining for a name I haven’t even mentioned. You see, I actually gave this name up. And even though I do feel a little bit guilty about dropping it, this story is somewhat based on why I did that.
I am transgender and this first name was male based. So, it is now my dead name and in my eyes, was assigned somewhat under false pretenses. Although there was a time when I was proud of this name, it needed some manipulation for me to be able to live with it. Luckily, that first name had a shorter nickname that was more gender fluid. Although named Christopher…I always went by just Chris. That was much more appropriate and I think fit me much better than the longer version.
Being transgender, one of the coolest things we get to do as individuals…is to pick a new name for ourselves. Now, we are not talking about a Drag Name here…that is something completely different. For me…it was an opportunity to pick something that I thought fit better. But it also came about a little abruptly.
In 1994, I went to work for a new company. A division of this company was a defense contractor…and all defense contractors at the time were required to be on the internet. So this was the first time I had access to this new thing we all knew was coming…
But this was still relatively early internet days…and was only starting to open up. There were still a lot of conversions going on. I was working as a Network Engineer and in a magazine I subscribed to (I think it was Network World…which was more like a newspaper at the time…) a story caught my eye.
UCLA was converting their dial-up Bulletin Board systems to no longer be dial up, but would now be available for anyone on the Internet. Not particularly note worthy at the time, as there was a lot of that going on, but they had also listed their groups. In the description in one of them was the word transgender or transsexual (sorry, I don’t recall exactly); words I was becoming familiar with at the time due to other research I was doing. (I was always looking for answers to explain the way I felt.)
On a business trip to Phoenix, sitting bored in a hotel room, I decided to see if I could find that UCLA group. So, I dialed into to work and began searching. (Nope, there was no Google at the time.) I did manage to find it…and after a couple of minutes I was in and chatting with some people.
We started discussing our experiences and after discovering I was a very typical transsexual, one of the first things I was asked was…what was my fem name? I didn’t have one at the time. This created some excitement amongst the girls I was talking with, because everyone was more than willing to help me figure one out.
The suggestions started to fly…one of the first was…”Do you know what your parents would have named you if you were born a girl?” “Yup I do”, I replied. “It would have been Kathleen. My Father wanted a girl to be named after my mother.” “Great…do you like it, maybe you should go with that…” came across my screen. “Hold on, there’s a problem with that.” I have a younger sister, and she ended up getting that name.
So the next suggestion came in…”Do you have a favorite Aunt or relative who’s name you like or have a connection with? With that, I started giving it some major thought. I was aware that it could be something I could see myself using for a long time…even though they assured me that I could change it later if it didn’t work out. Even so, I was not going to take this lightly. As I sat there pondering, I realized that since becoming comfortable with using Chris a long time ago, there was really no reason to change it. The only thing that really needed to change was to change the gender of it. E.g., change a “topher” to a “tine”. So, at that point…Chris as Christopher was dropped and Chris as Christine was officially born.
But the favorite Aunt or relative did strike a cord with me…and I felt that I needed to change that middle name too. I could simply change from my grandfather to my grandmother. But the combination of Christine Anna didn’t feel right to me….but then I recalled how my grandmother never liked Anna either. She always went by Anne. She liked that better…and when she wrote her name out…she would purposely slant that last “a” so it looked more like an “e”. So, as a tribute to her…I would name myself Christine Anne. That flows and works… Of course, I realized later that my Sister also had the middle name….but at that point I wasn’t changing it. Kathleen Anne and Christine Anne are different enough.
In a later conversation, as I was pestering those people for information and sharing more experiences…the moderator jumped in and suggested that we write down and publish our stories. One of things we were discussing was the lack of information that was available at the time. To help others with the same problem, the moderator was trying to encourage us to write and publish our stories in a book so others could read it.
I took this challenge quite seriously and on another trip in a plane…I was doing exactly that. I started writing my book. While doing that, I thought about publishing it and started giving some thought about my last name. I was not out at the time and wasn’t sure if that was ever going to happen. I needed an alternative name to which to publish my book under. I needed a pen name. Over and over, I thought…I needed a pen name.
I don’t recall, but I did tryout some ridiculously sounding names….when it struck me…I needed a pen name…that was it. I would just use pen as the last name.
And since my original family last name ended in two “n”s, I would repeat that with pen. So there you have it….that is how Christine Anne Penn came about.
In those days, this really kick started my mind into separating my life into more of a dual life. I started referencing them by name. There were times when I was Christopher and other times when I was Christine.
About 6 months after this incident, I went and sought out my first psychologist (no, gender therapists didn’t seam to exist back then) and overwhelmed the pour lady. I poured my heart out to her in a very emotional session. On my third session…she had decided that she was not experienced enough to be able to handle the issues that I was discussing with her and recommended a transfer to second psychologist. I went to see them and they encouraged me that I needed to tell my family (e.g., come out…) I did. I was ecstatic at the time…but the rest of the family was not. The UCLA folks told me about Hormones and transitioning. I had decided I wanted to do exactly that and when I raised it with my second psychologist…she told me I was finding out information quicker than she was and maybe I would be better off speaking with third psychologist friend of hers.
When I came out to my mother I thought it had initially went well…but as the weeks past, each seamed to get worse and worse. And then there was a request for a heart to heart. I will save that story for another day…but shortly after…everything came to a grinding halt.
I guess I could have become a famous author by publishing my transgender story, but it was not to be. The book I had started writing…eventually got put on hold. Who would want to read the story of a transgender person who never transitioned? The story would then always be incomplete and to sad for anyone to read. With nothing going on at the time…I lost interest in it. What was there to write about?
But that wasn’t totally true. I came out, announced my plan to transition…and then went back into the closet. For a while, I still had my internet contacts. Christine would live on. And, I still had my special private time that no one knew about. Eventually I got paranoid when the company starting monitoring users. They were my sole internet provider at the time and this was not a business use. This helped me lose contact with those early contacts. They were also mostly college students…who went on to graduate and I was not local. (This was not like Social Media we know today…maintaining long distance relationships with minimal computer resources was a bit harder.)
When Microsoft bought web based email service Hotmail in the late 90s, the first email I created was one for Chris Penn. Eventually, I lost it during a period of extended inactivity. (Somewhat caused by grief over my activities.)
Still, in my hiding during these low years…Christine was always around and never not on my mind. Eventually, this changed, my emotions changed, and Christine came roaring back to life with a vengeance. My life situation changed and my dual life really started to ramp up. I came out again after being partially exposed on Social Media. I was meeting new people again…and immediately considered transitioning again.
I began to understand that the alias life I was living as Christine was not really an alias life at all. It was more of the life I wish I had had all along and I was finally taking control of that. There were tons of people in the world who only knew me by that name. (Brought to my attention when I showed up at a LGBT event as Christopher, because I didn’t have time to go home and change and a friend did not recognize me.)
When I went full time…it became clear to me that it was the Christine Anne Penn name was the name that should continue. Most would have changed their last name back to their original family name…but to me…the new one I chose so long ago was now a part of me. And now that I was making my dreams come true…it seamed more appropriate to me that the name I associated with that should be the one that continues. That prior male person is no more…so the name with it should not continue on. There is even more that could be said about the mental associations, no longer wanting to hide, or no longer willing to continue flipping back and forth any more.
When looking into it legally…I could not find any negative effects of changing just first and middle, or first, middle, and last. A name change is simply a name change.
Due to some technology changes occurring at the time, it took about 6 months for me to get it done, but on May 23, 2017 I had a court hearing to legally change my name. The Judge was very interested in the reason why I was changing my name. I explained that I was transgender, transitioned and felt the change better reflected the way I was living. He understood that for the first and middle name…but he asked “Why also change the last name?”
I explained to him the origin of it…my experience with UCLA and all the details I explained above. Along with the fact that I had been using it as an alias off and on for about 17 years. Although, I didn’t think it was officially registered/linked to me as an alias until my finger prints were taken in preparation for the hearing and I was asked if I had any. With this knowledge and the fact that I wasn’t trying to dodge anything, he happily granted my request.
Certain family members are still not very happy about me dropping the last name. I simply say…that if I was born right in the first place…and then married a man at some point…it would have been a maiden name anyway. So lets just pretend that I married Sean Penn, dropped the name, and when we divorced I just stuck with it because it such a pain changing it — that's no lie! (Sean, remember that time in Vegas…yeah I don’t either…just kidding!)
The name I go by today tells you a lot about me and my life. A lot of thought and effort went into it…and I am now even “publishing” some of my stories. So, I guess I am living up to the inspiration that gave me part of my name…only now it is no longer a pen name. Nope, its now the real, authentic, and legal me.