What’s in a name?

An Irish (and Scots and Scottish) ode to ethnic names on Saint Patrick’s Day.

“Charlie” is my new preferred name, as “Cai” is my legal personal name. I originally wanted to change to my deadname’s masculine form, yet do to the request of family, I didn’t. Man, was that the biggest regret of my transition

While I am in the process again to finally change to the masculine form of my birth name, let me celebrate why I did, for the time being, choose an ancient Gaelic name.

It took me some time to find something new, but after a few no-gos fell upon “Cai” when looking up old Celtic names. Before I even began to medically transition, I legally changed my name so my insurance, my HRT refills, everything had my name on it. At least seeing the name change would help ease my dysphoria early on.

“Cai” has two distinct but simultaneous etymologies. The most obvious is the Welsh; it is the Welsh spelling of “Kay” as seen of the stepbrother of King Arthur, Sir Kay (or Sir Cai). This name comes from Latin Caius, which means “rejoice”. The other is the Scots (not Scottish!) spelling for the English “quay”, which means “wharf”.

For the record, while most people end up pronouncing it as /kai/, it is supposed to be pronounced as /kay/, like the mass jeweler at your local mall.

The coat of arms of Sir Cai.

I mostly descend from Irish and Scottish stock, but when you see me I look mostly German, with my scraggly neck, round face, and stodgy body. My surname is English, though it’s only small bit of my heritage. I wanted something Scots or Irish to reflect that majority of my heritage, and it gave me the vibe I needed.

Two problems I did not forsee when choosing this name. When kids first hear my name, as /kai/, they go all anime and otaku on me, referencing characters or series I don’t know anything about, and I have to play buzzkiller and stop them. The other is when interacting with people of Chinese or Taiwanese descent, as it turns out my legal first name is a popular surname there, and they don’t know if it’s my personal or family name. (Recently I went to a Xiaomi event, and had to clarify with the organizers; when I was in hospital for bottom surgery, I had to clarify my name with my nurse, who was Chinese American.)

My best bet when choosing a name? If you’re under the age of 30 or so, go with the trendy names. If you’re up in your years, try a website like Behind the Name, which allows you to see what was popular around the time of your birth, so it looks more appropriate to you. It would be hard to take a senior citizen seriously whose name is Kai or Chase, rather than say Michael or John.

What you write on a document is not what’s important; what matters is when asked, you legally have to state that, yes, that you signed a document.

About those middle names. I originally didn’t go with one. (With my new name, yes I am.) I never understood their necessity in an era where we’re all identified by systems with numbers. In the past, before databases and Social Security, it was sometimes necessary to separate one John Smith from another, but in any organization each John Smith would have a unique identifier to separate the two. Also, as my surname is rare and first name super rare, I didn’t see the need to. Middle names are not legally required. (As for my new name, I just want to masculinize all of it. I don’t care about needing a middle name, but as my new name combo is a little more popular, the middle name does help out.)

Really, I wished I changed to a mononym. It is possible, just almost hard to convince a judge to sign off on it. Not something I want to waste time—or money—challenging, especially for something as common as “Charles”.

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