One of the wonderful things about being transsexual (and there are so few of them, really, that’s its nice to discover these), is that it often can present the possibility of being able to choose a new name, or even several of them.
I know that some people may feel as if names can only be truly legitimate if they are chosen for you by your parents, or in the case of nicknames, if they are chosen for you by anyone but yourself, but I have come to realize that choosing one’s own name can be a fundamentally empowering statement of identity. I didn’t feel this way at first, mainly I suppose because having lived with the name my parents gave me for so long, I became accustomed to it.
I think it is no accident that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child specifies that every child has a right to a name. I have chosen for myself many names, some of which bear great significance, others which do not. All in some way express my identity, as I would like it to be known to others.
My preferred name, the name I would like others to use generally to identify me, is Gemma Catherine Seymour. People are often curious, especially if they themselves are also considering re-naming themselves, how I arrived at that choice. My choice was not random.
Transsexual people, indeed all gender variant people, face a great deal of ridicule and disrespect for their identities in our world, and as we do not ever live in a vacuum, others inevitably assign connotations to the names we may choose if and when we undertake transition. Some of us received names from our parents that are common for people of different genders, some use an alternately gendered form of their name, and some pick a different name entirely. Some of us are so concerned about the ideas people associate with different names that we go so far as to check the data available from places such as the Social Security Administration in the United States, or the Office of National Statistics in the United Kingdom, so that we may choose from among the names that were popular at the time of our birth.
In my case, I’d have used the feminine of my given name, but we already have one of those in the extended family, so I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. My original middle name is very Scots, very masculine, and has no feminine equivalent that I’ve ever discovered, so that’s out as well. Also out are any names belonging to ex’s of any sort, and names of old friends and schoolmates (would be very odd at reunions, which I love to attend).
Years ago, I started using my mother’s maiden surname online as a partial means of being stealthy. I also apparently derived most of my significant genetic features (other than my coloring, anyway) from my mother’s father’s side of the family, which is English/Welsh, and I also love traditional English names. Plus, like so many of the English, I have an almost unseemly fascination with everything Italian. I’m also a bit of an Anglophile. When I first heard the name “Gemma” (must be decades ago at this point), I instantly liked the name, and I’ve never known anyone named Gemma. It’s also an Italian name that is fairly popular in England.
All of the women in my family have a traditional English name for either their first or middle names (Emma, Sara, Elizabeth/Elisabeth, Ann/Anna/Anne, Mary, etc., or some variation thereof), so I chose Catherine for my middle name, as there’s no Catherines in the family, and I can’t think of any Catherines among my close friends, so it was fair game, and I like it.
I also briefly considered Ursula, when I found out my paternal grandmother was actually named Ursula (odd for a Filipina), and since my maternal grandmother’s side of the family is German, there’s a wealth of German names I could mine for something to go with. There’s also French and Spanish names, since my father’s family name is possibly either French derived (also odd for the Philippines) or of Spanish derivation (unclear, possibly of Pyrénées region, although I cannot recall where I first discovered this), and Spanish names are very common in the Philippines. I did go with French names for my daughter, and I’ve long used a very extensive and flowery French name for one of my role playing characters. In the end, I decided English names were the best for me.
One other possibility was choosing the name that several of my gay friends that I used to work with called me in my early 20’s. A bunch of us were joking around one day at work, and we decided we all had to have “drag names”. I’ve always found it amusing that many names that were traditionally considered English boys’ names have come in the modern era to be considered primarily girls’ names in the US, like Ashley, Evelyn, and the like…so I went with “Beverly”, “Bev” for short.
The name “Gemma” is of Latin origin, and it means, simply, “gem” or “jewel”. It is also one of the names of the star which is properly known as α Coronae Borealis; it is the brightest star in the constellation Corona Borealis, or “The Northern Crown”. Gemma is a binary star (how fitting), and also known, in Arabic, as Alphekka, which is short for nayyir al-fakka, or “the bright (star) of the broken (ring of stars)”, and in Ancient Palestine as Ashtoreth (Hebrew) or Astarte (Greek), which if you weren’t paying attention in History of Religions class are the local names used for the ancient Mesopotamian goddess, Ishtar (Akkadian) or Inanna (Sumerian), who later was known to the Greeks as Aphrodite, and to the Romans as Venus. The more advanced students among you may recall that one of the epithets of Venus was Venus Castina, who in this form is said to have been associated with “the yearnings of feminine souls locked up in male bodies.” As I said, fitting, indeed!
Star symbology also plays heavily in many of these traditions. The symbol of Inanna and Ishtar is a eight-pointed star, the symbol of Astarte is an eight-pointed star inside a circle (which represents the planet Venus), and of course, the planet we know as Venus is also well-known as both the Morning Star and the Evening Star. The Roman symbol for Venus is, of course, recognized now as a common pictogram for everything relating to women and the feminine.
It may, or may not, be a coincidence that in my youth I was quite interested in graphic design, and back in my early teenage years, when I was involved in BMX racing, I began to develop my own identity program for a fictional bicycle manufacturer and racing team called, “Supernova Racing”. This was probably, at age 13, my first attempt in my life at logo design and typography. The logo for Supernova that I designed was, perhaps prophetically, an eight-pointed star.
One of the main symbols of Aphrodite is the swan, and my main RPG character is Avaïa “The Black Swan” Carasel. Another connection! I’ll talk more about my characters another time.
It is believed that the worship of Aphrodite also incorporated earlier traditions of the worship of the Indo-European Goddess of the Dawn, Hausos, (also known in Greek as Eos, and in Latin as Aurora), and that the Roman Venus originated as a Roman Goddess of the Dawn (separate from worship of Aurora), but that her conception was combined with that of Aphrodite very early on, such that little trace remains of the native Roman practices. Following the chain further, we find that derived from these origins are also Eosphorus/Hesperus/Vesper/Lucifer, leading all the way even to Eärendil.
Aiya Eärendil, elenion ancalima!
Here’s a funny tidbit. Gemma is genus of saltwater clams belonging to the family Veneridae (or, “Venus Clams”), which contains a species called Gemma gemma, the Amethyst Gem Clam. These clams are tiny, reaching a length of only 5 mm. How cute!
The name Catherine derives from the Greek, and means “pure”. This particular spelling is predominantly French. The Latin equivalent would be “Caterina”.
The surname of Seymour is originally of French origin, deriving from the place name “Saint Maur”, possibly originating from Saint-Maur-des-Fossés in Seine, France, or Saint-Maur-sur-Loire in Touraine, France. Both derive their names from the Catholic saint Saint Maurus. The Seymour family in England has held the Duchy of Somerset since 1547. It is unknown whether of not my branch of the Seymour family is descended from the ducal line.
Also, as far as I am aware, my branch of the family is not related to any of the branches listed at the Seymour Wiki immigration page, having emigrated from England or Wales to the United States of America in the 1920’s. My mother has done more research than I, but I haven’t had the chance to sit down with her and go over what she has been able to dig up.
The Latin for Seymour is “Sanctus-Maurus”, and the Italian equivalent is “Santomauro”.
There are also some other names that I use that I do not intend to become my legal name. First among them is 陰恨, or yin-haan. The story of why I use this name is long and complex, so I am going to direct you to a blog post I wrote on the subject some time ago which explains things in far more detail than I am willing to copy and paste at the moment. This name is of Korean derivation, and while I am not Korean, nor do I have any personal connection with Korea, I found during my research that it is felt by some writers on the topic that the emotions bound up in that term are universal; that while the Koreans may have put a label on it, the sentiment has been felt by various people all over the world. For myself, I feel it a particularly apt and poignant description of how I feel about being a transsexual woman, so I have coined this new term and adopted it as another name for myself. You will also see that I have created a seal out of the characters for this name, and I use them to sign various creations of mine.
As I noted above, in my research about the star Gemma, above, I discovered how it led to the writings of J. R. R. Tolkein, and his created languages. As I’ve always been a huge geek and fan of Middle Earth, I thought it would be neat to come up with a Quenya name for myself. At first, I thought I would connect it to a star theme, and possibly make as part of my Quenya name, Elenna, which means “toward a star” and was the name given to the island where the nation of Númenor was founded, but I later realized that there was a style I had chosen for myself that would lend itself very well to Quenya, “Star of the Evening Sea”. The equivalent word in Quenya to Gemma is “mírë“, and I have translated “Star of the Evening Sea” as “elen” (star) “andúnë” (evening) “airë” (sea), or, concatenated, “elenandúnëairë“. I realize that this is probably not strictly correct Quenya grammar, but I think that with a proper name, some license is allowed. I’ve been trying to figure out the correct typography in a full writing mode of Quenya, but nobody seems to have a glyph for the equivalent character to ë.
Namárië, hara máriessë…or, in English, be well, stay in happiness…XOXO, Gemma