I’ve never felt that my name suits me. Here is the story of how I chose a new one:
A few months ago, I came across an article about me. If I had read it, I wouldn’t have found anything problematic: just a few paragraphs summarizing my background, my drawing technique, and the various projects I’m working on. But I couldn’t get past the headline.
Written in bold all-caps font was my full legal name, first and last. This was unusual as I’ve been going by Bryan the Girl for my entire career. I felt instinctually, beyond thought or reason, that a mistake had been made.
My last name is my father’s—I am not alone in this—but unlike most people, I didn’t grow up with my father. So before even reading the article, I wrote an email to its author asking that my last name be removed.
I later recounted the story to a friend. I was still struggling to understand why I’d reacted so strongly, and I wondered aloud whether I might change my last name when I moved to Europe. He took a sip of beer, considered the idea. “I don’t see a problem with it,” he said, “Although last names do carry a lot of weight.” There was no judgment in his words, just philosophical interest. “What do you mean?” I asked. I had never felt an emotional connection to my last name, which I used almost exclusively at the bank and the doctor’s office, on resumes and tax returns. “Well, I imagine it would be easier to change your first name.” he concluded. “Have you ever thought about that?”
Even now I can feel the impact of his words as they hit me that evening: a casual comment transformed by circumstance into a revelation.
I used to have dreams that I’d accidentally killed someone. I’d spend the whole dream trying desperately to hide my crime, a crime I had no memory of committing. Sometimes the dream would span decades, during which every phone call or knock at my door brought with it the possibility of discovery. Waking up from these dreams, I was overcome with relief and gratitude that extended to the mundane details of my life. I felt light, joyous, free of past burdens and alive with possibility.
This is how I felt when I realized I could change my first name. Since then, I have not been Bryan. The break was immediate: the name left my body like a breath.
For the next month, I lived between names. I did not call myself anything, really. I continued to state my legal name when necessary but I didn’t believe in it. I was playing the same character long after the curtains had closed.
I kept this to myself until it grew too large to contain. “By the way, I’ve been thinking,” I said to a friend one night after we’d gotten ice cream and walked back to her studio apartment. I trusted her not to laugh at me, though I secretly believed I deserved it.
We spent the next hour putting together a list of names. I tested them out on empty streets where no one could hear me. I practiced signatures in my diary then crossed them all out, self-conscious. I introduced myself to the mirror over and over again, feeling each name on my lips like a new lover. Most were so clearly wrong, unsuitable, laughable even. But some were right. I presented these to friends who argued passionately for and against them until I gave up and went back to the drawing board.
I fell asleep each night mentally listing names from books I’d read, places I’d been, people I’d known throughout my life. I awoke each morning with an increasingly muddled sense of self. I felt naked, newborn, entirely unqualified to make a decision that would define my future—a decision that had never before been mine to make.
On my last day in New Haven, I drove to a Mexican restaurant with my ex-boyfriend who knows me better than anyone else. He has only ever known me as Bryan. Perhaps inevitably, he was wary of change.
We spent an hour driving to the restaurant only to find a dilapidated three-story house where it should have been. There were no signs and nowhere to park. We pulled into an abandoned lot down the street then walked around the old house until we found a side door on which someone had hand-written “Open” in bright red marker. At the top of a crumbling concrete staircase, we stumbled into a sun-drenched dining room. There was classical guitar on the stereo and pineapple pork on the griddle. We were the only customers, maybe the only ones who had found the place, so we took a big booth by a window.
“I have a new one for you,” I told him, staring down my straw at a glass of ice water. “Really?” he said, cautiously curious. The waitress delivered a basket of fresh tortilla chips. He glanced at them briefly but made no movement. “Alright,” I sighed after a long pause. “How do you feel about August?”
As soon as the name exited my mouth, his eyes squeezed into a smile, blonde lashes white in the evening sun. “It’s perfect.”
The food arrived, filling the air between us with tendrils of steam. We ate greedily, messily, with no concern for appearance, as only the closest of friends can. The sunset faded from gold to soft gray. We split the bill and I gave him the leftovers, knowing I’d be leaving town the next morning.
The highway was empty on the drive home. We passed the exits I’d taken all my life: Exit 18 for my college, Exit 6 for my sister’s house, Exit 3 for the apartment that he and I had once shared, Exit 1 for the hospital where I was born. Everything felt significant, rich with layers of meaning. He must have sensed that when he turned to me and said, “Maybe you’ll look back on this as the moment you decided.”
He was right. In the middle of September, I became August.
• • •
There will be lots of paperwork, I know. It’s not a simple process, especially when your family is skeptical and your business is tied up in it, and over 100,000 people associate you with that name. It’s the difficulty that gives me confidence in my decision. Wouldn’t it be easier to let things continue as they are, to stick with my birth name? Of course it would. But at this point it’s not an option—the change has already happened.
Still, I have fears. I fear that my family will take this to mean I am cutting ties, which I am not. I fear that my friends and acquaintances will ridicule me behind my back. I fear that I will have to start all over again with my illustration career.
I do not expect anyone to understand why I am doing this. Can we ever fully understand another person’s mind? It is my hope that people will find it in their hearts to respect my decision.
I am still the same person and I will always carry Bryan within me. That is the name I carried into this world and it is part of every memory I have. I could never discard that chapter of my life. It has made me who I am and, ultimately, given me the courage to turn the page and discover who I might become.