The life and death of a name

The name was born before my birth, thoughtfully conceived by my parents to honor the past and to proudly carry that history into the next generation.

The first name, Romeo, honored the father my Dad barely knew but whose ghost lingered among us through stories and the faint reverberations of his tragic death in a plane crash at the age of 26. The second name, Ignacio, was my Dad’s name, which he also inherited from his father’s father who was the first. Both names combined, with our last name, bore the story of three generations of men and the imagined weight of inheritance.

My parents had such a strong preference for a son that when my Mom got pregnant a few months after their marriage, that name was the only one they ever considered and prepared. 

I was born and the name, unfortunately, couldn’t land. My Mom named me after a nun she knew and some other random person because she had not prepared a name for a girl. Nevertheless, I am very pleased with the name she picked for me.

Three years later, my parents—expecting child number two—couldn’t wait to finally bestow the name. They were so certain that the baby was going to be a boy that when my sister was born, Dad actually cried of disappointment. Regardless, my sister—named after a grand aunt—would grow up having a special bond with my Dad because she looked a lot like him and she was the baby for a while.

Through time, my sister and I were taught to pray for a younger brother. We prayed every night for many years. One Christmas, while other children probably asked for puppies, I wrote Santa to bring me a baby brother. He did not disappoint nine months later.

When my brother was finally born, no one was happier than my Dad. He finally had a son and a tiny head upon which to crown that weighty name. His legacy felt secure.

A little less than two decades later, my brother was on the verge of coming out as gay. When presented with the possibility of having a gay son, my Dad—perhaps coming from an uncharacteristic place of selfishness and fear—said the revelation would kill him. 

In an evil stroke of fortuitousness, Dad was diagnosed with cancer and died within four months. My brother no longer felt the need to hide.

Through the next decade, my brother would ping-pong between prolonged periods of dating only men or only women. Women threw themselves at him and men wanted to be with him. He was quite the charmer. Tall, dark and handsome. Smart and funny. Humble and he attracted friends from all levels of society. It didn’t hurt to belong to a respectable, upper class family. 

Eventually, my brother’s more meaningful and healthier relationships were with men. Uncles, feeling a responsibility to my late father to straighten out his one and only son, occasionally expressed dismay. Nevertheless, my brother’s sexual orientation’s journey to full, loving acceptance from the extended family was relatively undramatic.

Then, just when about everyone was used to the fact that my brother was gay, the bearer of the family name announced that he wanted to become a woman. That announcement was more difficult to understand. 

How could he be so sure about this when he’s had a history of losing interest in things he’s previously felt so passionate about, and has changed sexual orientations more than twice? More importantly, how do we protect him from a world that could sometimes be dangerous for people like him?

When all is said and done, love overcomes all doubt, fear or ability to comprehend. My brother began his transition and we threw our support totally behind her.

When my youngest sister decided it was time to change her name, I helped her pick out a new one—a new feminine name that kept the regalness of her original. Our Mom, who held the respect of everyone in the extended family, blessed the new name by reintroducing her new daughter to all. As simple as that, the storied name inherited from the past died a quiet, gradual death.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on

A note: My youngest sister thrives today being totally herself. She’s beautiful, smart, generous, quirky. She’s the bravest person I know. It was quite the journey to get here–lots of hurt, pain and tears. Thus, this is what I know for a fact: for all her fickleness as a child, my sister would never have chosen this path if she had a choice.

The world is still not totally safe for transgender people, but at least in the United States they don’t have to fear losing their jobs for who they are. The US Supreme Court ruling this month is a huge victory for the #LGBTQ+ community and equality, and an especially inspiring moment this #Pride month.

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