MY NAME IS OFFICIALLY REBECCA RIVERS!!!!!!!
Ever since I came out as transgender last year, I have used the name Rebecca Rivers. And pretty much from the start, I have often been asked why I chose to change my last name. Here is a tip to my cis friends out there: Please don’t ask this question. For a lot of trans folks, names are very important, and especially when changing last names, it can often be for safety reasons, both physically and psychologically. Many(most?) trans folks only change their first and middle names if at all.
I thought about it a lot though, and I decided that I wanted to put to words why I chose my names and what the reasons were for changing my last name along with my first and middle. The decision wasn’t easy to make, but in the end, it is the name I am going to live with for the rest of my life so I want it to be truly my name and not one given to me.
A major reason that I am changing my last name is because of my parents. A lot of my early life, I felt that to receive any love from my father, was to become exactly what he wanted me to be. He wanted me to fulfill his failed dreams. As a child, I interpreted this to mean that I had to be exactly like my father to be loved. I quit activities I enjoyed like gymnastics and scouts so I could play the sports he cared about: football, basketball, and the most important, baseball.
All of the sports I was forced to participate in as a child I didn’t enjoy, and they have left me with injuries that I will have to live with for the rest of my life. Below is an image of my right elbow. As you can see there is a ~6-inch scar on it. This scar is from 3 different surgeries in which they have tried (in vain) to fix the damage that was caused to my elbow over the years of baseball and football. In total, I have had 3 surgeries on my elbow. All have failed to relieve much if any of the pain. I have gone through countless hours of physical therapy, dozens of doctors, and spent thousands of dollars to treat the various injuries that I’ve gotten over the years, and for what?
When I was in High School, I found a copy of a book that my father was in the process of writing. I read a bit of it and came to find it was a story roughly based on his childhood, life, and his dream of becoming a Major League Baseball player. In this story, he fails to achieve his goal of becoming a major league player but ‘through his son, his “dream” is realized’.
Hearing this description you may believe that this book was about my father and me, but no. This book is about my father and my older brother. I was never good enough at baseball to be his star child in the book and fulfill his dreams of becoming a MLB pitcher. I was, however, lucky enough to get a single mention in the epilogue without a reference to who I am or what my relation is to the main characters. Just a name. But in a way, reading the book gave me the confirmation of what I had always felt. This freed me from the years of trying to suppress who I was and mirror who my father was and who he wanted me to be.
For most of the later part of my childhood, I felt abandoned by my parents. Once my mother started her own business and spent most of her time there, and I stopped playing baseball which was the only real thing my father cared about me for, they stopped caring too much about my life. They weren’t interested and I stopped wanting them to be. After I left for college I slowly stopped trying to be a part of their lives and they didn’t really have a desire to make an effort either. Calls became shorter and further in between. Now I never hear from my parents, and I’m not sure I want that to change.
They will claim they did the best they could and they never abused me and for the most part that may be true, emotional neglect is abuse too. But more importantly, it doesn’t matter how they viewed my childhood, it only matters how I viewed it. Anecdotally, when you have many friends who tell you they were really worried about you while growing up, it really helps open your eyes.
It took me years to realize that I wasn’t me. I wasn’t who I wanted to be as a person. Looking back at my childhood, it wasn’t a discovery of who I was and who I wanted to be. It was a struggle to become what my father wanted so that I could receive the meager amount of love he would give. I was a kid, I didn’t know any better.
When we are kids, many of us have a heroic view of our parents. We believe that they don’t have faults, and any we do notice, we often assume are not faults of them but of ourselves. Growing up, I didn’t notice my father’s manipulation and bigotry. This is partially because I was being taught to think the way he wanted. It wasn’t really until I left home until I realized how distorted my parents’ views were. How distorted my own views had become.
Today, my father regularly spouts his racism any time he can. From complaining about one minority or another to claiming people of color are less intelligent. Especially since Donald Trump has become President, my father has become more vocally racist. He has also said and written many extremely transphobic things before he learned of my transition. Unfortunately, my mother has picked up some of his habits of racism, though she would deny it.
In March I started my name change process. This process may sound easy to anyone who hasn’t gone through it, but ask anyone married who changed their last name, and they will tell you. It starts with the legal process either through marriage or a legal name change process. I just recently had my legal name change completed due to delays caused by Covid-19.
Next, is the fun part of updating everything everywhere. Social Security Card, Drivers License, Passport, Leases, Titles, Car Insurance, Health Insurance, Doctors, Bank accounts, Credit cards, any account attached to a credit card, Diplomas, Birth Certificate will all need to be updated.
I think it’s pretty clear that this is a process that I don’t want to have to go through again. All these reasons led to me deciding that I wouldn’t keep my last name and that I wanted my new last name to be a symbol of who I am and not a constant reminder of my past.
I knew very early on that I wanted to choose a “bastard” name from the book series A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones. These are the last names given to children who are bastards or that their mothers and fathers aren’t married and are considered illegitimate heirs. In these stories, having a bastard name comes with a stigma that they are wanton and treacherous by nature.
There is a different name given to bastards from each of the different kingdoms.
Flowers: The Reach
Hill: The Westerlands
Pyke: Iron Islands
Rivers: The Riverlands
Snow: The North
Stone: The Vale of Arryn
Storm: The Stormlands
Waters: The Crownlands
I knew I didn’t want to choose Snow, because of how popular it was from the show, and the same went for Sand. Some of the others just didn’t feel right as my last name like Pyke. Since I had already chosen my first name to be Rebecca, I thought I could keep the symmetry of my birth name so I chose Rivers as my last name. Also, alliterative names always make the best superheroines alter ego names. I chose a bastard name explicitly to symbolize my rejection of and by the rest of my family and to send a message of how I have grown to view our relationship.
Rebecca Anne Rivers is the full name that I will use for the rest of my life and I need to absolutely love it. And I do. Everyone should love who they are, and love their name because it is such a deep part of our identity, and having one that matches our true self is so very important. Find a name that matches who you are, and don’t feel pressured to keep or choose any names you don’t want to. I chose mine to symbolize the rejection of my past identity that was forced upon me and that no one should be pressured to be anyone they don’t want to be.