How I Got My Name

How did you get your name?

The Daily Post’s 83rd topic prompt, for the 28th of March, is “How did you get your name? — Who chose it, and why?” That’s kind of wonderful, given that March 28th is the day that I legally changed my name to my chosen name.

My very first name was, I presume, chosen by my birth parents (or maybe my birth mother). It is JeeAe. Well, that’s how I’ve always spelled it — Ji-ae might be closer; at any rate, 지애. I don’t know for certain, but from what I’ve gleaned online, it means wisdom and love.

My next name was chosen by my parents — the story goes that they’d picked Rebecca, but when they were finally sent a photo of me, they decided that such a small baby couldn’t have such a long name. So, they picked a new name. I’ve always liked that story because I have a friend who is also a Korean adoptee: her name is Rebecca, and her Korean name is Ji-yae (in other words, nearly what my name would have been). When we went to camp together, the counselors would always get a kick out of how similar our names were (Ji-ae and Ji-yae). It was also sometimes difficult to tell which of us they were calling, so we usually just guessed based on the situation. My middle name was chosen for my dad’s mom and my mom’s aunt.

And now we get to my current name, Ryan. I picked this name. I’d love to say that I picked my name due to much careful consideration — what it means, how it feels to me, perhaps naming myself after someone influential in my life. However, that would be a lie. I just sort of went on a whim (a bit like choosing Bryn Mawr and moving to Chicago, actually). I knew that I wanted a name that wasn’t as obviously feminine as my given name, and I had a few other search parameters that made choosing a name complicated. I wanted a name that was at least slightly gender-ambiguous (at the time, I didn’t identify as man, and I wanted a name that wouldn’t mark me in a gendered way).  I wanted a name that didn’t immediately make me think of someone else (friends, family, celebrities, fictional characters) — I wanted a name that was mine, not someone else’s. I also wanted a name that started with the same letter as my first name, which was possibly the most difficult part. Most of all, I wanted a name that felt right (or at least, didn’t feel wrong).

I just couldn’t settle on the right name. Then I remembered a grade-school friend with several little sisters, all of whom had names that were, at least in theory, unisex. Ryan was one of them, which was how I first thought of it and how I decided it was a somewhat gender-neutral name. It started with the right letter; I liked it (for some odd reason, I really like the letter “y” in names . . . and “x,” but one out of two isn’t bad). The first person I told about my potential name choice said it sounded good for me, and when they called me Ryan, I really liked how it felt.

The middle name was actually the most difficult: once I decided I didn’t need to keep the same initial, I had almost too many options. My first thought was Elliott because one of the best men I know is named Elliott (I often think of him by a nickname, however, so I thought I could make the name my own); throughout my high school years, he and my dad were my biggest examples that good men exist (ones who are loving and supportive and not jerks). For months, I had almost settled on Ryan Elliott (and keeping my last name).

When I told my parents that I was going by Ryan, I began to rethink my middle name, considering a family name. Russ seemed like the logical choice (it being my brother’s middle name and the first part of my mom’s last name). The Russ family, my extended family on my mom’s side, is important to me. For a brief moment in January, I even considered changing my last name to Russ and making my middle name something from my dad’s side of the family (possibly William, my dad’s name — he always goes by Bill, unless he’s in trouble). I just wasn’t sure that Ryan William Russ had the right ring to it.

When I was at the Daley Center for the name change mobilization, however, I decided to file my papers while my friends were there. That meant that I had to decide what my name was going to be right then and there. Ryan was a no brainer. Russ was the choice that made the most sense as a middle name — it sounds right; it has meaning to me. Lastly, my last name is familiar. I like how my name sounds as a whole. It just seems right.


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