An Irish (and Scots and Scottish) ode to ethnic names on Saint Patrick’s Day.
“Charlie” is my nickname, one I am finally correcting. I originally wanted to change to the masculine form of my birth name, yet due to the request of family, I originally didn’t. Man, was that the biggest regret of my transition.
While I am in the process again correct that, let me celebrate why I did, for the time being, choose an ancient Gaelic name.
It took me some time to find something new; after a few no-gos, I fell upon “Cai” when looking up old Celtic names. Before I even began my sex change, I legally changed my name so my insurance, my HRT refills, everything had my name on it to help ease my dysphoria early on.
“Cai” has two distinct but simultaneous etymologies. The most obvious is that it is the Welsh spelling of “Kay”, after the stepbrother of King Arthur, Sir Kay (or Sir Cai). This name also comes from the 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.
I’m mostly Irish and Scottish, 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 at the time.
Two problems I did not foresee when choosing this name. When kids first read and 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 killjoy 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 in eastern Asia, 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.
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 “Cai” being 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 still don’t care about needing a middle name, even if it supposedly looks “smarter”, but masculinizing my entire name reinforces that point that I’m still the same person, just living my life as a man now.)