At 24, Silas Hansen left his birth name, Lindsay, behind.
Names are possessions that we carry with us all our lives. But we seldom think about what goes into picking the right one. Some choose to change their first names in adulthood, because of family history or pure disdain for a moniker. For Silas Hansen, the reason was that he's transgender. In a piece for the Colorado Review, subsequently published at Slate.com, he wrote about deciding, at 24, to leave his birth name, Lindsay Rebecca, behind.
"It was a very lengthy process for me that kind of mirrored my process of coming to terms with the fact that I am transgender," Hansen tells NPR's Neal Conan.
"I had been wondering for a few years whether or not this was the right path for me. And as I was doing that, I was looking at names and thinking, you know, is this the right name for me if I decide to do this?"
Hansen considered keeping his birth name, Lindsay, since it is a unisex name.
"Lindsay, to me, seems very feminine," Hansen says. "I think it used to be more of a masculine name, but now it seems much more feminine, and so it just didn't feel right to me."
Hansen went through lots of names searching for a good fit. It was a lengthy process.
"I know some friends who when they transitioned, they did use the name that their parents had chosen for them if they were a different gender," he explains.
He knew that his parents planned to name him Scott if he'd been born a boy, but he said that didn't seem right either.
"That's not who I see myself as. And so I decided not to go with that one."
Hansen also had a generational factor to consider. Would he choose a name that is popular now, or that was popular decades ago when he was born?
"I know a lot of trans guys who have chosen names that are very trendy right now. And so they end up being names that a lot of 3-year-olds or 4-year-olds have, and then they're 25."
Someone suggested that Hansen look for names that connected to his family heritage and could fit nicely with his last name. That's when he came across the name Silas, a name with biblical origins.
"It's a name I've always kind of liked," he says. "And so it felt right to me after that."
Next, Hansen had to inform everyone around him of the change. He tried the name out on his friends first.
"I asked people to start calling me that the same time that I asked them to use male pronouns and explain to them that I was transgender. So it was kind of a big transition all at the same time."
He sent an email to all of his friends asking them to use the name Silas, and it took a few weeks for it to really stick.
Hansen remembers practicing introductions with his new name in the mirror, and hesitating before giving his name at restaurants and coffee shops. "At first I was worried that it wasn't the right name for me, or that I'd made a mistake in deciding to transition, and that I was going to have to, you know, pick a different name or tell them that I'd been wrong."
He waited several months to inform his family, and they embraced the new name quickly. Though his grandmother often accidentally calls him Cyrus.
"But she tries really hard, so I appreciate that."