I was supposed to be an orphan.
That is, when I was conceived, it was by two foolish kids: one, my mother, a 17 year old high school student and part time fast food restaurant worker. And two, my father, a 25 year old supervisor at said fast food restaurant, and as it turns out, a coward. He left her and joined the army to avoid his fatherly responsibilities. And as my grandparents (and their 9 kids) were Catholic, it was decided the best thing to do was to give me up.
As the story goes, it was my cute little face that saved my cute little ass: my mother, after completing labor in just over an hour, asked to see me. To hold me, just once. My grandmother said it was a bad idea. And she was right: one look and my mom was hooked.
“Just hold her,” my mother said to my grandmother. Gramma was reluctant, but not made of stone, and over the course of our life together she was my strongest ally. She took me from my mother’s outstretched arms.
“Oh, alright, let’s get your father in here,” my grandmother begrudgingly sighed.
My grandfather comes into the recovery room. “We’re not keeping it so I don’t even wanna see it,” but he must have seen something–the look on my mother’s face, my grandmother’s arms holding me, because he took me and I stayed.
“What are you going to name her?” Asked my grandfather.
“April Rose,” said my mom.
“The hell you are…”
I’m sure you know who said that.
It was the late 70’s, and April Rose had that Stevie Nicks, feathered hair feel to it. But my grandfather was not having it. “April Rose is not in the Bible,” was his main complaint. And so, Emily it was.
Babies are named by their parents, usually, but the parents’ decision is influenced by relatives and friends and lots of other people, all the way down to noisy strangers on the street once that bump starts to show. And who knows if that kid is going to like being April, or Emily? Names are important–they stick with us for a lifetime, they precede us–they tell the world things about us without our permission. And usually, those things are wrong.
The second time I got a name, my new boy name, my trans name, I was named by K. I had just told her I wanted a nickname, something more masculine, when I was still too piss-in-my-pants afraid to tell her I wanted a lot more than my name to change. Hell, I could barely admit to myself I wanted a different identity.
I wanted something soft, something not overly butch*, and I wanted it to retain some of the letters of my birth name. I wasn’t trying to run from my past, or erase it. I just wanted to lay a path to a different future.
“What about Eli?” K said to me one afternoon.
And I liked it, and it let me keep my initials, and so it stuck.
At work, friend B, a kind woman, a genuine woman with a sweet soul with whom K shared a special bond, one day called me Elias. And I liked it, and it stuck too.
So now, Elias goes by Eli and is taking the middle name Michael, a family name, one some of the good men in my family share. Cousin Mike and Uncle Mike are both kind and strong and do right by their family. I would like to be like them. Also, Michael as a tribute: my grandmother lost a son, Michael, to rheumatic fever when he was 14 or so. She was pregnant with my mother when Michael died.
Elias Michael has a nice ring to it, which is important to my picky poet’s ear. And, just like the first time, I was named by a woman who has been seminal in the formation of my identity.
But this time I had some say too, and that’s a lot to be proud of–this name reflects who I think I am now, not who other people think I might be someday.
Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli
* I like the name Eli, for sure, but when I claimed I wanted something “soft,” something “not too butch,” it was to dip my foot in the trans pool. I was afraid and not on hormones and still had tits and knew I wouldn’t pass for a Hank or a Jack. I like those names, but I wasn’t ready to be that kind of man. Eli suits me, and I have no regrets, but I was playing it safe because I was afraid of what other people would think.