I hated my name. I grew up in an era of Ryans, Bryces, and Christians on the playground. Matthew was an ‘old person’s’ name. Matthew is actually one of the oldest names in English because it predates English. In many languages, like Hebrew, it means “gift of God” or simply “gift.” Ironically, for how ‘outdated’ my name seemed to my peers, I was never the only Matthew in the class. In third grade, we were all on the same roster so I acquired a new name: Matt. What was worst of all about being called Matt and Matthew was that you could easily feminize Matt to Maddie. Even my family, affectionately, called me Matty, which I used to loathe. It’s well documented that children socialized as boys tend to weaponize femininity in other boys to put them down and isolate them. The bullying I endured led to fights at school, cycles of self-hatred and a blind ambition to prove my masculinity. As I got older I realized this is nothing new and nothing soon to change.
As I get older I still go by many names. Most of my family calls me Matthew, however, many people still call me Matty to this day. Most of my friends call me Matt (thanks Mrs. Romano for that.) My lovers have called me any number of things. I’ll never forget the first time a man was on top of me on his mattress, which was appropriately on the floor, and he drunkenly confessed that he couldn’t “get it up” because my name was Matthew. So, I let him call me Maddie.
I have worked hard to love my names and I honestly cannot conceive of myself outside of Matthew and its derivatives. They’re mine. It wasn’t until I was an adolescent that my aunt (drunkenly) told me the story of their brother Matthew who passed from a brain disease before he was five. Losing someone that young is so painful, that I honestly still don’t dare to ask any more about it. I’m told my grandmother was never the same. How could she be? My father and my aunt still don’t speak frankly and openly about him. How could they? When I was born, I’m told that my parents went to my grandparents and asked humbly to use Matthew’s name. I’m told my grandmother cried. I’m told that that day, my aunt abandoned her plans to have children. She just wanted a child to name Matthew and now she would have one.
It wasn’t until I was an adolescent that my aunt (drunkenly) told me the story of their brother Matthew who passed from a brain disease before he was five.
Having someone else’s name can send you into an identity crisis. Admittedly, it undid a lot of the work that I had done. Childishly, I obsessed over notions of “sharing” my name and how I relate to Matthew. I can honestly say that I don’t feel that way anymore. On what I’ll generously call ‘the other side’ of my name-based identity crisis, I’m proud to share a name with my uncle. I now look very different than he, or I, would ever have looked without an endocrinologist’s intervention, that is. Being queer can send you into an identity crisis, too.
I’m happy with my name now. I feel a bit badass. However, it’s constantly an issue in my daily life. When I walked in for my first day of work last spring, the man at the front desk was swiftly put into a cartesian spiral when I told him my name is Matthew. Panicked, he went on to apologize profusely for twenty minutes, and asked my pronouns at least four times (they/them). And kept repeating my name allowed, as if checking my physical reaction to it.
When I was born, I’m told that my parents went to my grandparents and asked humbly to use Matthew’s name. I’m told my grandmother cried.
My name still weighs on me when I go out with people. I give a name based on their presentation, my presentation, how I feel that day, how I feel they may be attracted to me, how long we’ve known each other, and which of my friends I’m currently out with. Even once we’re past that point, I can’t help but worry; what will he think when I tell him my folks still call me Matthew? Would he get angry and retaliate? Does he think sleeping with me ‘makes him gay?’ It constantly weighs on me and often makes me think about changing my name across the board. But the truth is I couldn’t stand to not be Matthew anymore. It’s just not my dead name.
As queer, trans, and non-binary people, we are constantly at odds with some part of the cis-and-heteronormative culture. While having a family name has been a challenge at times, I’m proud to share my name with someone who’s short life has shaped my family.
As I get older I still go by many names. Most of my family calls me Matthew, however, many people still call me Matty to this day. Most of my friends call me Matt (thanks Mrs. Romano for that.)
In times of crisis, I remember that names have no gender. In my lifetime more and more names are widely accepted by cisgender and straight parents that weren’t in the past. And even more names have switched genders multiple times throughout history. Recently, even some trans people have publicly declined to change their names. Dylan Mulvaney has over 6.5 million followers on Tik Tok and has described herself as “a girl with a boy’s name.”
And above all else, I recommend watching Charlie’s Angels (2000) to remind yourself of Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore and if you’re struggling with a familial name, listen to Lady Gaga. We should all just be listening to Lady Gaga. The album Joanne deals with the loss of a family member, sharing identity, and fractured healing processes for all involved. Schoolyard taunts are nothing new, but incredible women have always reassured me that I am enough.
Whatever, you get the picture.
About the Author
Matthew is a queer organizer and activist based in Northern California. They have written on queer identity, community, and public safety. If you would like to support them and follow their journey they can be found @mat.h.w on Instagram and @mat_h_w on Venmo if you’re inclined to help them with their housing and healthcare costs.