Abstract: The Role of Chosen Names in Identity Development Among Transgender and Nonbinary Young Adults (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

The Role of Chosen Names in Identity Development Among Transgender and Nonbinary Young Adults

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Liberty Ballroom J, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
M. Killian Kinney, MSW, LSW, Doctoral Candidate, Indiana University - Purdue University, Indianapolis, Indianapolis, IN
Finneran Muzzey, M.A., Doctoral Student, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Purpose: The current study explores the use of chosen names in identity development among transgender and nonbinary young adults (TNBYA). Little is known about the process of transitioning to chosen names; however, it has been shown to reduce suicidality and increase wellbeing among TNBYA. This study describes how TNBYA select and integrate identity with their chosen name.

Methods: The data for this study were from an ongoing study examining transitioning to chosen names among TNBYA. Interview data (N=12) are from TNBYA (age 18-25) from the Midwestern United States. Interviews were conducted virtually and in-person. Interviews were then transcribed verbatim, cleaned, and de-identified for analysis. Interviews were coded by the study team members to identify ways TNBYA adopt a chosen name as part of their gender identity development.

Results: Choosing a name was found to be an important stage in gender identity development that was viewed as authentic representations of their gender identity, particularly for nonbinary individuals who did not want their name to reflect a binary gender. Complex considerations were taken by TNBYA when transitioning to a chosen name. Some individuals wanted to honor their given name, choosing a variation that authentically reflected their gender identity. Looking toward the future, TNBYA considered whether their name would be taken seriously in professional environments. Among those who viewed chosen names as more fluid, they assigned significant meaning to their chosen names, particularly those whose ethnic culture normalized chosen names as fluid to reflect changing characteristics. Conversely, others were more ambivalent about their chosen name, stressing the influence of a chosen name on how they would be perceived by others. Selection of a gender-neutral name was frequently discussed as a way to avoid misgendering, which was often experienced by nonbinary individuals. Chosen names were also framed as a protective factor to distance themselves from the trauma associated with given names. Across participants, chosen names were disclosed to chosen family, many of which were often transgender and nonbinary individuals, with confidence the name would be received with acceptance. Notably, mental health providers were reported as an important source of support and affirmation when coming out. In particular, many TNBYA discussed trying on chosen names as part of the process, which was often facilitated by mental health providers. Strategic use of a chosen name by TNBYA was based on the environment’s perceived physical and emotional safety to test a chosen name, especially for those who had not changed their name legally.

Conclusion: Chosen names for TNBYA are an important on-going process in gender identity development that bridges gender identity and gender expression. Specifically for nonbinary individuals, chosen names were not binary gendered names, but used to affirm nonbinary internal identification and de-gender their external engagement with others. During this stage of gender identity development, mental health providers can support TNBYA through creating safe spaces for trying on chosen names and provide affirmation and assistance while TNBYA are navigating complex considerations of choosing a name represents their identity.