Growing up, I never felt like my name was being called. Maybe it was the number of other Meagans in my classes and on my sports teams, but it always felt like I was holding someone’s spot in line. My friends constantly told me my name didn’t suit me. They said I didn’t look like a Meagan. They thought Margaret, my middle name, was more suitable—but still, it wasn’t quite the right one. They never came up with a better alternative, though, and neither could I.
When I came out to my family and friends about my pronouns last year, I was confronted with various reactions: some understood, some are still trying to understand and some don’t even try. But over the past year, I started to understand who I am and what I want with my body. I stopped shaving, I kept my hair short and I started to wear what I wanted instead of trying to look pretty or presenting as what people thought I was. I started to finally feel like I’m myself, the person I’m supposed to be—just with the wrong name.
Meagan, my deadname, came with so many assumptions related to gender and pronouns; it was feminine and associated with girls and women. Its Greek alternative, Margaret (also one of my middle names), means pearl. While it held meaning as to why it was given to me, it also held too much of my past.
The thought of changing my name was something I had been sitting on since March of last year. I needed time to choose the right name because I knew it would make a difference: It would affect not only my own comfort, but also help others to remember my pronouns.
At one point, I debated whether or not it was worth changing my name; the change comes with a literal cost, like paying to change my license. It also comes with inconveniences, like having to change the name on my health card, credit cards, all my email addresses, the name on the stories I’ve written as well as lengthy explanations to co-workers about what I prefer to be called. Despite all that, the urge to change my name remained strong—I just didn’t know where to start.
I needed a place to practise hearing my new name, in case I didn’t like it. Somewhere with new people, so I could hear it being called and see if I responded to it. I needed to hear and say my name in my own time and in my own safe space. And I found the perfect place: The library.
It was the first place I thought of and I’m not really sure why—maybe it was because it was one of the first places I got an I.D. with my name on it. Determined to test out my new name, I went on the library’s website and registered for a new card online. I took a deep breath and typed in all nine letters of my new name, dreaming of what it would be like to walk in and introduce myself when I went to pick up a book (at the time, I was on the waitlist for One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus).
After registering, I said my name in the mirror for the first time. I repeated it over and over. I wanted to hear it out loud. I moved through the rest of the day thinking about opening the library’s email addressing me—addressing me by my new name.
Weeks after testing my new name at the library, I was at an Ottawa repair shop to get my glasses fixed. While waiting, I looked around and realized I didn’t know anyone there. I had already registered under my deadname, but I decided to introduce myself to one of the people waiting in line using my new name. I wanted to hear myself say it, but more than that, I wanted to hear someone use it in a conversation—a stranger who didn’t know me by my old name and wouldn’t trip up like my friends sometimes did with my pronouns.
While waiting, the stranger and I talked about photography, the struggle that comes with wearing glasses, hiking and school. We chatted during the long line for about 20 minutes. We swapped social media handles and talked about making plans to take pictures together. Then, I heard the staff call my name—my deadname—and I felt awkward. Not because I gave two different names to this stranger, but because I didn’t want to be called by that name. It wasn’t mine. I tried to explain why they called me Meagan—it was painful and embarrassing, and our interaction ended there.
However, I felt a creeping sense of triumph knowing that I had just introduced myself using my new name. I felt more comfortable. I felt like I could start to adapt to saying it, responding to it and hearing it said out loud.
After that, I started telling people about my name change. First, my close friends. One of them reintroduced himself to me after I told him over social media.
“It’s nice to meet you,” he said.
I cried for a minute or two. I didn’t know what to expect from my friends and the people around me. I was overwhelmed in the best way possible. Slowly, the guilt that came with feeling selfish for asking people to relearn my name and pronouns went away.
I started introducing myself to other people beyond my close circle. One day, after I told one of my co-workers about my new name, he repeated it back to me as a question, then looked at me and said, “That suits you.”
I still type out my old name sometimes. I know the flow of my signature, the old letters ingrained in my muscle memory. I have always said you either love or hate a Meagan; there is no in-between. But I’m teaching myself what I want to be called.
I know people will likely make mistakes with my name and pronouns. I know I will continue to be misgendered because people will always make assumptions, but I feel better saying my own name. I cannot control how strangers refer to me, but I can choose how they call me.
I’m aware that changing my name came with accepting small defeats: not everyone will call me by my name, I may have to keep my old one at a job to avoid the awkward explanation and friends will inevitably slip-up. But I know they are trying and that they love me. To me, hearing someone correct themselves shows they care and they’re listening.
I should properly introduce myself.
My name is Mackenzie, but you can call me Mack.
My new name is gender-neutral and comes with the right nicknames. It also starts with the same letter as my old name.
That day, when I finally heard the library staff call me by my real name, I remember how right it felt—like I’m finally home.