Finding meaning (and spelling) within a name.

What’s the meaning of a name? Why is it so important?

Charlie, Carl, Cal, Cai. So many names, trying to find one that felt like me as my birth name is completely gendered, thus unable to retain as I transition. (Regardless, the name means “feminine” or “womanly”, not something I have been nor identify with).

To everyone who knows me offline, sorry for all the inconveniences! Given that this is the name I am legally changing to, you know it won’t change again. It’s too expensive and lengthy an endeavor to take lightly again.

So why “Cai”? Why didn’t I go with the more popular spelling “Kai”? And why go with a name that is very popular among trans men right now, especially those a decade or so younger than me? Why couldn’t I stick with the male form of my name, or one of the other name choices? Why not pursue a name that is more classically male and American, like “Patrick”, “Keith”, “David”, or “Michael”, all male names popular when I was born?

  • Charlie–and by extension Carl–are the nickname and male forms of my birth name. Up until a couple of months ago, I actually wanted to just change the gender. I wanted to reinforce the idea to everyone that I am still the person, regardless of transitioning, and other than revealing my true identity–which is but one aspect of your overall sense of self and identity–I am still the same person you know. That was until I had a huge fight with a group of close friends on something very close to their hearts, that they disagreed with a major life decision I was making (which is not linked to my transitioning). I am no longer on speaking terms with any of them, and this is the main force as to why I decided to break with my past and choose a personal name that has no connection to my pre-trans past.
  • I never could get the feel of “Cal”, as much as it sounds cool. I could not decide if it would be a “hip”, one-syllable name if of itself (which wouldn’t have happened, as it means “bald”), or if it would be short for something like “Caleb”, “Callan”/”Callen”, “Callahan”, or even “Calvin”. The idea of “Calan” (as it appears similar to the name of “Alan”, as in Alan Turing, the father of modern computer science) made the name too unique in spelling, and thus create too much attention, even though it would have also come from Callen on NCIS:LA.
  • I’m pre-op and currently not under a gender specialist’s care, so I feared that pursuing a name change right now to something classically American and male would result in failure and no return on my investment in a name change. That would have been $325 down the drain–not chump change on someone’s paycheck like mine. So, something androgynous yet still male in origin was the next best thing.
  • “Cai” is a name found in many different languages.

So why do I like “Cai”? This spelling is the classic from the Arthurian legends in the original Welsh language. While in the French versions he is shown to be a player and of amoral ambiguity, it the original Britannic tales he is as a brother to Arthur. The name is also universal and found in the languages and various peoples I descend from:

  • In Scottish, it means “fire”. Fire can mean different things to different people; for me, it represents death and transformation, and because I am quite the hothead if I don’t keep myself under wraps.
  • In English, Welsh, and Latin (as Caius), the name means “rejoice”.
  • In German, Cai means “keeper of the keys”, or “keeper of the earth”. I am an empath and can feel a deep connection with the earth (alongside my connection to cyberspace and the digital dimension), and while I still eat meat, I see myself as another creature of the earth, no better than any other animal, but also a defender of animals.
  • In northern Germanic and Scandinavian languages, the name means “quay” or “safe harbor”. Somehow, I have complete strangers constantly coming up to me, revealing their deepest secrets, as if I was someone they could trust.

In Hawai’ian and Japanese, the name means “ocean” or “descendent of the ocean” (cool, given how life does come from the ocean”). In some Turkish languages, it means “universe” or “of the universe”. Ironically, in Vietnamese, it means “feminine”. The name is also a popular surname in China and Taiwan, and means “warrior” or “guardian” (which explains why I’m a fighter).

The truth is, while researching this name, I realized it shares the same name root as that of one of the close friends I haven’t talked to since the summer, when I was researching all their names and their meanings. Maybe it is a sign that our paths will cross again. We’re both impulsive, hot-headed, passionate guys. We both bring joy to the people in our lives. We both love animals, and they quickly take to us. And he is a safe harbor for those who are in his life.

Parents pour over long and hard to choose names for their babies. What I am doing is no different, only it’s for me, and not some newborn. Names have meanings, and for some, come with mystical properties and powers. Now that the name change has been filed, Cai is it. While “Kai” is popular, that initial K makes it look like something out of the 90s when they often replaced their Q’s and C’s with “K” to be “original”. If you’re Hawai’ian or from Hawai’i, I’ll give you a pass, as the K is what represents that sound in their language. I also am attached to the idea of having both my personal and surnames retain the same letter, the only semblance to my birth name. There is still no middle name, as I have no purpose for one, even as I am going with a really rare name combination.

While I usually pronounce it as rhyming with “chai”, I won’t care if you pronounce it like the name of the one famous jeweler.

The name is also pagan in origin, and not a Biblical nor Christian name. While I am live-and-let-live with other pagans, neopagans, pagan reconstructionists, Wiccans, witches, magic practicioners, Jews, certain groups of Muslims, Shaiva and Shakti worshippers, and other animists, I am very anti-Christian and don’t want my name to be of Ibrahimic origin.

Maybe I am overanalyzing this, but until I finally seek therapy or what I need to also change the gender markers on my IDs, this name change is the only thing I have right now to affirm my male identity. It’s getting more difficult to have everyone know me as one name, but to have to constantly write or see the birth name I never truly identified with, causes extreme gender dysphoria.  (Believe it or not, the birth name triggers more dysphoria than either my breasts when they’re perky, or when it’s time of the month for me.) We have partners who really prefer their nickname or middle name over their personal name, but it’s not akin to this; at least they’re still guys, with male names, on their accounts and registers.

2 thoughts on “Finding meaning (and spelling) within a name.

  1. I took forever trying to find a name that fit me. I had chosen what I had thought to be an androgynous stage name for my band (Zoe) and SO MANY people call me this, that it would be incredibly difficult to change…. One day, when I was randomly searching for names, I decided to check the Cherokee language for the cherokee spelling of “Zoe”, just for the hell of it. Turns out that there is no “z”, but “ts”… so “tsoi” turned out to be a word that meant “three” – which just so happens to have been my lucky number for the past 30 years. Unconventionaly, and I have to spell it always and explain it often, but it matters to me, and that’s what important. Good job on finding your true name as well!

    1. Yea, the fact it’s with a “C” and not the more common “K”–the spelling “Kai” and “Kay” are more popular, thanks to the Hawai’ian spelling, and the popular jeweler. I don’t mind saying “/Kai/ with a ‘C’”, or spell it per letter. Plus, the initials, it’s rare to have someone with a name where the first letter of the first and last names the same, it’s cool in my opinion.

      You’re right, though. It’s not about what’s easiest for others; it’s about what is best to us, what we like most.

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