One of the previously unknown details we learnt in Caitlyn Jenner's Vanity Fair cover story yesterday was simple but revealing: her name. Laura Wattenberg, naming expert and founder of BabyNameWizard.com, says it's easy to understand why this was one of the things about Caitlyn people were most intrigued to discover. "I do think that people read an enormous amount into names," she told us. "[Caitlyn] choosing a familiar, traditional name makes a lot of sense."
Wattenberg added that the name Caitlyn is also an interesting choice because, in many ways, it's a blank slate. "For a 20-year-old female college student today, it's just the epitome of normal. It doesn't have strong associations. It's not super traditional, not super unconventional." Wattenberg said the name peaked in popularity in 2000, so it's "a couple of generations past its prime." Still, she pointed out: "It could be that Caitlyn was a name picked out 25 years ago. That's the other factor. We know this is somebody who has been thinking about this for decades." In fact, a story published in People today suggested that Caitlyn had her first name in mind for many years.
Wattenberg also said that choosing a new name for yourself as an adult is a radically different decision than, say, choosing a name for your future child. "Usually, when we're naming a baby who's not yet born — it's kind of a dream of a potential future vs. a dream of a potential new self," she explained. "I think, with the increasing visibility of transgender people, it's introducing a new wrinkle." That's because it's incredibly rare for adults to change their first names: Wattenberg said the most common examples are immigrants who alter their names in an effort to make them sound a little more British.
Wattenberg has found that people who undergo a gender transition tend to approach the choice of a new name in one of two different ways. Some try to retain the first syllable or sound of their former name. For example, Alan might become Alicia. "We're so used to hearing and responding to [our names], I think it can make it easier," she said. "But for other people, they want that clean break."