This is a guest post by Liore Klein.
“Hello, my name is Liore. It’s pronounced like Eeyore-with-an-L. Or Dior-with-an-L, if you’re fancy. If that’s too complicated, you can call me Leo.”
I never thought introducing myself would become so complicated.
My name is one of my favorite things about myself. It means “my light,” or “light to me.” On a good day, I think it’s awesome and it completely fits my personality (bubbly, energetic, optimistic, Cancer, ESFP). I even love how it’s spelled – Liore, instead of Lior/Leor/Lee-or. On an annoying day, also known as the first day of work or school, I sometimes wonder if it creates more confusion than it’s worth. Why?
- It’s difficult to pronounce, at least for Americans.
- It’s a gender neutral name.
For only a two-syllable name, it’s surprising how many different ways it’s mispronounced. On a daily basis, I’m called Lenore, Laurie, Lauren, Leonore, Leroy… the list goes on. One mistake, however, irks me most of all: Leora.
Hold the phone.
My. Name. Is. NOT. Leora.
It sounds logical enough; in the Hebrew language, names ending in A (well, technically ה) are female names, while names without an A ending tend to be male names. I am a femme-presenting woman, so I should have the feminine name. Generally, the people who mistake me for Leora are people who’ve been around a lot of Jewish or Israeli people, and are famililar with how our traditional names are supposed to work. As a result, one of two scenarios will occur:
a) “Well, you know, Liore is actually a boy’s name, so your name should really be Leora./OMG I totally thought you were a man!/You should be a man!”
b) “Wow, that’s such a pretty name! Did you say Liore or Leora? I know lots of people named Leora!
“No, it’s Liore, no A at the end.”
“Cool. You’re the first Liore I’ve ever met!”
My reaction to scenario A is to quickly put that person in their place. Actually, asshole (epithet optional), Liore is a gender neutral name, like many Israeli names. Even traditionally masculine or feminine names have transitioned over time to become more gender neutral. Sometimes, people will argue this point with me, at which time I ask to see their dissertation on 20th century Israeli naming conventions.
When scenario B occurs, I’m still quick to correct them: “fun fact: my name for men and women! It was originally more of a guy’s name, but then transitioned over to be for everyone!” The last thing I want is for my male counterparts to be ridiculed for their “girly” names (which is ridiculous, but we’ll get there).
The notion that your birth name can alter how others perceive your personality or your gender presentation is inherently problematic. Unless you’re Peekaboo Street, you have ZERO control over what your parents decide to name you. Names have different connotations in different contexts. For example, Andrea in the United States is quite firmly a woman’s name, whereas in Italy, Andrea is almost exclusively a masculine name. Moreover, as Samantha Kemp-Jackson writes on Babble, names not only change their gendered connotation over time (case in point: Ashley), but they can also have unique meanings within individual families.
As much as I gripe about gender policing, I’ve been guilty of it myself. Specifically, with my mother’s name — Maayan. It started out as a girl’s name but has transitioned to all genders. It’s become more common as a boy’s name among my generation, but since I didn’t grow up in Israel, I didn’t notice it. The first time I met a man named Maayan, I was completely weirded out. Granted, that partially had to do with the fact that he was extremely attractive and I am averse to hitting on people with my parent’s names. However, in that instance, I was no better than the people I complain about.
Names, whether they’re birth names or chosen ones, are intensely personal. While they shouldn’t alter how people perceive you, all too often, they do. In her comic for DDP, Kate suggested that publishers cover up the names of authors when reading submissions to counteract subconscious biases. This isn’t just a hysterical feminist delusion — publishers have a well-known bias against female authors. it is so firmly established that female authors historically have taken on gender ambiguous or traditionally masculine pseudonyms in order to be taken seriously by publishers.
Ultimately, the discomfort and occasional overt hostility to gender neutral names stems from how we are conditioned to see gender — as a binary. When something about your person doesn’t conform to those standards, people get offended as though you were doing something to them personally, just for fun. Linking names to gender and other identities (race, ethnicity, religion, country of origin) provides us with an easy, though often extraordinarily prejudicial, way to categorize people. If your name reads strongly as masculine or feminine, it’s hard to get people to see you in any other way. When you don’t provide those easy signifiers at all, people actually have to work at getting to know you.
For me, I like that people can’t always tell my gender by looking at a piece of paper. It’s funny to see people use my full name in emails (Dear Liore…) because they can’t figure out whether to call me Ms. or Mr. I like that in the States, my name is not just unique, it’s a conversation starter. I’m comfortable enough with my name to correct people a million times a day, though it took me a while to get there.
What about you? Any of you celebrating/struggling with unique, gender neutral, or overly gendered names? What are your experiences? How do you navigate introductions?