If you’ve just started reading this blog you’ll realize that the title incorporates my first name, Prince. However, if you’ve known me–prior to the past four years–you’ll know that my government name is Todd. I have been going, officially, by the name Prince for the past four years now. Granted, while I still refer to myself as “Todd” in the work place (paperwork and all that jazz) I formally introduce myself to acquaintances and friends as Prince. I am writing this post because, this coming Wednesday, I will be making Prince my official first name. I’ve completed my name change petition (fingerprinted and notarized) and I’ll be filing it in a court of law.
I was born Todd Williamson.
Wednesday, I will be Prince Royce Worthington.
This will be a huge day for me because I will be unburdening myself from a yoke I’ve carried around for too long. September 14, 2016 I will mark and celebrate as my REBIRTH day.
To that end I’d like to go on a very personal journey about how I got to this point in my life. Most people believe that your given name is something you’re stuck with for the rest of your life. That, unless you have a nickname, whatever your parents decided you’re saddled with.
Some people love their names and other people hate them, but deal simply because, “Well, I’m stuck with it. Might as well just…”
I was in the latter group; however, it wasn’t until, maybe, six years ago that I discovered that a name change was a very real possibility for someone in my shoes.
Why Are You Changing Your Name/Why Don’t You Like Your Old Name?
Well, to address both questions in one fell swoop, I’ve never liked the name Todd, ever. Granted, I’ve never hated it but I never liked it either.
I hate referring to myself as Todd.
I hate hearing myself referred to as Todd.
I even hate it when I’m in a text conversation and the other participant types in the name Todd.
I’ve never felt a connection between myself and my given name, ever. It always felt wrong and subsequently I felt wrong for a good portion of my life. Hell, there are articles that scientifically prove that what you name your child can impact them, psychologically, for the rest of their lives. Read it HERE
I was born between the late 1970’s and mid 1980’s when the name Todd was at the peak of its popularity. Todd was (is) the quintessential preppy white boy (I’m Black) name. Todd may have worked had I been born: blonde, blue-eyed, and lived with my wealthy parents in some posh Palo Alto, California neighborhood; However, I was conceived and reared in Houston, Texas, in an all Black neighborhood, during an era when the television mini series “ROOTS” originally aired. Around that time all of the Black parents were christening their babies with monikers that they deemed more Afrocentric. Every kid I knew growing up was a: Kizzy, Ahmad, Keyondre, Mona, Antoine, Monica, Benjamin, Yandi, DeMarcus, Willard, Jamal, Demond, Demonte, Renea, LaKeisha, Andre, and Jerome (among other things. The aforementioned were some of the less creative ones). Black kid names were either: biblical, Afrocentric, or an amalgamation of both their parent’s first names. Those names spoke to our creativity and our need to break away from white supremacist naming patterns (during slavery Massah forced eurocentric names on our children, like Toby. Gross).
You would think that all African-American moms would go with the flow; However, my mother, with her bourgeois as fuck self, decided to go with the overarching Malibu Beach mom trend and thrust Todd onto me too (coincidentally my older brothers are named: Michael, Ernest (after our father), and David. Two biblicals and a Junior). I’ve always asked her why she named me Todd and the only thing she could ever muster was, “Because I liked it” (That and one of Elizabeth Taylor’s ex-husbands was named Michael Todd).
All I’ve been able to get out of that explanation was that my mother put absolutely no thought into my name whatsoever. There was no raising me to the moon and blessing my name beneath the stars ala Roots. Nary a thought went into it. She just went with what was trendy, like a pet. And that last statement sums up the relationship I’ve had with my mother for the better part of my life. She had me in her late 40’s (my youngest brother is 17 years older than me) and, all of my life, I always felt like I was an unwanted inconvenience that she had to contend with…which only exacerbated the discontent that I had with my name. All of my brothers were christened with names that meant something to her…I was just a Todd.
Another reason why I am divorcing myself from my given name is because, in addition to me feeling completely invisible, unwanted, and invalidated because of it, it sounds like an angry swear word being hurled at me. I actually feel insulted when anyone calls me by it.
More on that…
Growing up my family of origin was horribly emotionally and physically abusive, towards me and each other (we were one of those who looked perfect to others on the outside but we were beyond fucked up behind closed doors). I used to, like a lot of black people, excuse the whippings (or even celebrate them) that I received from the adults in my life but, retrospectively, I acknowledge the damage that they wrought in my life (thankfully, I was never adverse to therapy). My father was a philandering alcoholic and my mother was, and still is, an extremely enraged, bitter, and spiteful woman who–because of the disaster that was her marriage–subsequently made my life a living hell (while she pretended to be mother of the year to everyone else). My mother’s idea of childcare was: Food, clothes, and shelter. Basically, provide for the basic physical needs and everything else is covered. As I stated before I might as well have been a pet.
Then, on top of that, I was physically abused by one of my older brothers (who had a toxic relationship with our mother and took it out on me because I was defenseless). Now add to that attending school with kids that bullied me on a regular basis (many of them made fun of me by exchanging Todd for Toad or “ReTodd” as in “Retard”) and there was nowhere for me to go except to retreat into myself. I stopped talking somewhere in my early childhood. It wasn’t that I was a mute, but talking to people came extremely hard for me, especially when it came down to saying my first name.
Which leads to…
Tahd, Todd, Tad, Scott, Thai, and Pat?!
I, nor anyone in my direct sphere of influence, has EVER been able to pronounce Todd correctly, either. You would think with it being a short, four letter, one syllable moniker that it would be simple and to the point. Fuck that! It is literally the hardest name to tell people, especially when it isn’t that common in a world full of distinctive multi syllabic names.
I promise you that whenever I would tell someone my goddamn name I’d eventually have to spell it out for them (especially when it came to foreign people whose first language was not English). I rarely if ever could say it right my damn self. Was it pronounced as “Todd” like the word “Odd?” Or was I supposed to pronounce it like, “Tahd?” I never knew how to say it. Introductory conversations were more often than not AWKWARD as hell…
Them: Hi, what’s your name?
Them: Oh did you say Pod?
Me: No, my name is Todd.
Them: Oh, your name is Thai???
Me: No, it’s TODD (at this point I’m emphasizing the enunciation of TAHD!)
Them: Oh I’m sorry Pat!
Me: No, it is TODD, spelled T-O-D-D!
Them: Oh I’m so sorry Todd.
By that point I am usually completely embarrassed and hoping the person I just met will go somewhere and die in a fire. It is already traumatizing enough to force myself to call myself Todd, but to listen to it being consistently mangled, no matter how I would say it was all the more devastating. Furthermore, growing up, I also had a really terrible speech impediment (A slithery lisp that interrupted my “T” and “S” sounds, in addition to a painfully slow speech pattern. I think it had to do with my shyness and inability to coagulate and form my thoughts. I was so use to not talking that it became a chore doing it. I remember vividly it being a struggle. As I got older I literally had to teach myself how to talk by watching old Hollywood movies. Thank you Audrey Hepburn and Bette Davis).
I’ve come to the conclusion as to why you’ll rarely (if ever) see another Black Todd. Black people have no clue as to how to say the name correctly, at all (get mad if you want to but it’s the truth). Again, growing up Black–in a Black neighborhood–I grew up listening to my name being crucified: nails, crown of thorns, crucifix and all. I’d either have to hear the shrillness of, “Hay Taaaaaaaaad!” or the dull thud of, “Tuuuuuhd.” It wasn’t until I’d get around white people, at work, that I actually halfway liked my name. They would pronounce it, “Tahd” in a cheery and perky voice. I tried effecting that same manner of inflection myself but it was to no avail. When I tried it, it would no doubt be another moment of spelling and humiliation. Black people aren’t meant to be Todds. The end.
Growing up I used to imagine different, unique, and easy to remember names for myself. When I was in the 6th grade I had English class with this Black kid named Whodini. I loved that name and regarded him as possibly the luckiest guy on Earth. His actual full name made him sound like some kind of movie star. To this day I remember him because of his name. Later on I actually adopted Whoudini as my personal online moniker for a while. I never got the guts to say that I wanted Whoudini to be my for real name, but if I could have I would have at that time. My pseudonym in high school would later be Whoudini The X whenever I created an online account. As a matter of fact online accounts were the vehicles that allowed me to recreate my name as I saw fit. Unfortunately, life is not relegated to your virtual activities in chat rooms and message boards. To that end I took to doing alterations of “Todd” that would make calling myself Todd less impactful and irritating.
Around 2005 or 2006 (cannot quite remember) I started calling myself Toddy. It felt different. It felt light. It felt fun. More importantly when I said it the spelling test became a non entity. But, again, there was always that asshole who called me “Todd” regardless of my introducing myself as Toddy. Toddy lasted for a while until I broke up with my X boyfriend in late 2010…
A Prince Is Born
I met him online in late 2008 and our relationship blossomed from there. He knew me as Toddy and I was fine with that. However, he nicknamed me Prince somewhere in the relationship because he said that a lot of my qualities and traits reminded him of a Prince. Initially, I didn’t really think anything of it; but the more he called me Prince the more I liked it. From there I took to referring to myself as (on my then blog) Prince Toddy English (It was unique and stood out), inside and outside of my relationship. By this time I was with my then boyfriend in the San Francisco Bay area of Northern California.
After a torrid childhood and a lot of negative experiences I cast aside my fears (fear was a very pervasive theme during my life as Todd), packed my bags, and headed to California for love. Mind you, until that trip, I had never even left my home state of Texas, ever. The furthest I’d ever been from Houston was Dallas at that point. The Bay was a whole new world that I needed to experience.
For awhile things were wonderful. In the bay I was Prince Toddy English and I was in love with: the man I was with, the people I was around, the city I dwelled in, and the new life that was unfolding.
Then the bottom fell out…
It was Folsom Street Fair 2010. The day that I had planned for–with him–for six months turned out to be the catalyst for the end of our relationship and everything else that accompanied it. Add in a blue teddy bear outfit, two horrid trolls that tagged along with us, and polyamory and you get the worst day of my life. The relationship ended the next day after I took a plane back home to Houston (this is a story in and of itself, so I’ll spare you the details) , back to my life as Todd Williamson…Nothing had changed when I returned, except me. But it didn’t matter because I was back in the doldrums of my old life and name.
It wasn’t until 2013 (after I had finished mourning my relationship) that I started introducing myself to everyone as just Prince. I had taken to writing my name as Prince Todd Eric Williamson, as a way to effectively take my real first name from front and center while utilizing my chosen name (whilst still being recognizable, name wise, to everyone I knew). For a moment in time I tried being proud of being a Todd by googling the meaning and etymology of my name, and even searching for celebrities or well-known people named Todd.
What I got were a bunch of people with the SURNAME Todd (Mary Todd-Lincoln) or fictionalized characters with anti-social personality disorder (Sweeney Todd and Todd from “Breaking Bad”). As a matter of fact that ONLY Todd that came up in my search that I found likeable was the little Fox (coincidentally, Todd means “Fox” and “Clever or wily person.”), Todd, from the Disney movie, “The Fox and The Hound.” Otherwise, as expected, all I got was a bunch of non descript white guys named Todd and all of them lamenting the fact that they’ve mistakenly been called “Scott” their entire lives (Seriously, the Scott thing has never happened to me, ever.). Yeah, there are “celebrity” Todds in Hollywood but one calls himself LL (instead of Todd) and the others are usually: producers, key grips, and everyone else that you never see in front of the camera or at the top of the opening credits.
As Todd I felt so alone.
Even when I tried to like, embrace, and own the name I never could.
Hearkening back to a previous point, it was 2013 that I officially decided to start announcing myself as just Prince, alleviating the
Todd from the equation altogether. When I started doing it the only feeling that I can describe it as was a total lightness of being. I finally felt like I was in my space, completely. Most importantly whenever I told (and tell) anyone that my name is Prince I immediately feel proud, smile, and extend my hand. I’ve also found that it is easier for me to say (instead of coughing it up, like I did Todd, it glides effortlessly across my lips) and be proud of. Nowadays, I walk with my shoulders back, head held high, face front, and one foot in front of the other.
Prince is the name that I truly love and identify with.
I googled the meaning of the name Prince…
According to all of the baby naming sites the original meaning of “Prince” is, of course, “Royal Son.” However, there was another meaning that stood out for me. “Prince” also means, “The Principal One” as in the one. That resonated with me so profoundly. All of my life, even as a child, I’ve been solely responsible for myself and my welfare. Growing up in an abusive home–with a mother who had the parenting skills of illiterate blood gorged tic–you learn survival skills. You learn to take care of yourself because no one else is going to do it for you. Dealing with my mother’s toxicity (and being her personal slave as well) formed in me a resolve that someday life wouldn’t always be this difficult and that maybe, just maybe, it would be good for me. And once I left home not only did I learn to take care of myself, by myself, I learned to be good to myself and focus on myself.
That day eventually came and I am now the me that I’ve been striving to be…
In addition you can say that, indirectly, Prince Rogers Nelson (aka The Artist aka Prince) had a profound effect on me as well. Granted, while his influence on my name, from the onset, was minuscule I felt even prouder of my choice after his untimely passing. Whenever I tell people my name it impacts them in a very positive way. It is always, “Cool, I’ll definitely remember your name!” or someone will inevitably ask me if I like Prince (the answer is a resounding yes, one of my favorite artists) and so one. That and the fact that Prince always carried himself in such a cool and dignified manner. He wasn’t afraid of being different because that was apart of his allure. It is the same way with me. I’ve had people tell me that they’ve never met anyone quite like me before and I take it as the highest compliment. I like to believe that I’m an original, much like his Purple Majesty.
I decided then, in 2013, Prince would be my name forever. I embarked upon a legal name change, officially, two months ago.
I Hate Eric Too…
My current middle name is Eric. My aunt suggested to me, a few years ago, that since I don’t like Todd perhaps I should go by my middle name, Eric. Well I did try that for maybe two minutes but I hate it as well. Granted, I love the meaning of Eric. It is an old Norse name meaning, “Eternal Ruler” or “Ever” and “Alone.” However, that shit only works for Vikings 900 years ago.
That and I grew up with a best friend named Eric. However, once we reached 8th grade Eric became too cool to talk to me anymore. Furthermore, Eric cut me down to other people behind my back in addition to threatening to kill me once I found out he was dealing drugs as an extracurricular activity.
Moreover, Eric Northman (from True Blood, played by the sexy Alexander Skarsgard) didn’t do much to help the name either…
Needless to say I won’t be carrying Eric with me into my future either.
I’ve chosen “Royce” as my middle name and believe me it has absolutely NOTHING to do with me being materialistic or on some Kanye West level ego grandstanding. For one thing I love the way that Royce looks and sounds in tandem with my chosen last name, Worthington (more on that a little later). In addition “Royce” in and of itself is beautiful and odd, in a good way. It is the English masculine version of “Rose.” In other definitions Royce means: Regal,Royal, and other distinguished adjectives. Growing up with a name that was not very respected I wold have loved to have gone through my early life being called something like Royce. Moreover, the name Royce is often associated with creativity and a love for the arts and adventure.
That really represents me and I wanted it to be apart of my name. And if I ever felt like going by Royce for a day I could legitimately do so as it will be mine.
Royce represents beauty and class. So I wanted it to be apart of my new name.
Why Are You Ditching Williamson though?
This one was tough as I did like my original surname. Despite never having liked my first and middle I never had a problem with my last name. However, my last name is tethered to a family that I have absolutely no kinship with, at all. So I’ve decided to go the whole 9 yards and choose a name that, once again, I can be proud of and craft my own legacy with. As a gay man I will most likely never have children, ergo there is no need to pass along a family name to an heir (things like that have never been apart of my path). Moreover, hearkening back to a previous point, Prince, Royce, and Worthington sound really good together. In addition–once again–it reminds me of a superhero name (I am a comic book enthusiast and it kinda reminds me of a superhero name, for one (Not to mention that Worthington is the last name of one of my favorite characters, Warren Worthington The 3rd, aka Arch Angel). In a way that makes me feel good because I know that, deep within, I have my own personal strength and power that has helped me through many difficult times in life.
Originally, I was going to make “Worthy” my last name (as a way to always tell myself that I am WORTHY of good things happening to me); but decided that it maybe a bit too pretentious. That and Worthington is three syllables and, once again, fits well with Prince.
In addition if there is ever a Williamsons inheritance that comes up I still have duplicate copies of my birth certificate. They will always know that I was a Williamson.
What Took Me So Long?
Well, please understand that–in 2013–I had just officially started using the name Prince. I was still trying it on to see how it fit. Afterwards, I began to worry about what my family members–particularly my mother–would think of my new name and my decision to change it. Then, several weeks ago, the realization hit me that, with the exception of my oldest brother, I haven’t said more than four words to my other two brothers in the past decade (by choice. I estranged myself from them because of their abuse and homophobia). And I haven’t spoken to my mother in the past year for much the same reasons. So it dawned on me…
“Why in the Sam Hell do I give two flying shits about what any of them think about me changing my name?”
So I figure better late than never!
With all of that said…
I have no doubt in my mind that this is absolutely the right thing to do at this time in my life. To quote Sheryl Crow, “If it makes you happy then it can’t be that bad!” I lived most of my life, as Todd, whilst feeling very uncomfortable in my own skin, primarily because of a name that has been imbued with so much negativity. The name Todd, in and of itself, is a lovely name. However, my life, up until now, does not allow me to truly identify with it. While I am no longer the same person I was just ten years ago I still feel an overwhelming tinge of sadness when I think back upon the little boy that I was and the childhood that he was robbed of. Every time I hear “Todd” in pertinence to me I think about the adolescent growth and experiences that were denied me because I was being a parent to an adult rather than being the child that I was. When I hear Todd I think about all of the tears that I shed, the feelings of self loathing, worthlessness, and angst (that lived with me well into my 20’s).
Granted, my life as Todd was not entirely bad. As a matter of fact I learned how incredibly resilient, resourceful, and brave I truly was (qualities that I underestimated in myself for a very long time). However, I no longer want the ruinous memories to be the sum totality of my legacy, most of which I experienced in the name I was given at birth. I guess you could say that part of this has to do with completely detaching myself from my mother’s painful legacy; however, first and foremost, it is about me wanting to free myself from all of it as well.
As Prince I now feel completely free to be the person that I am and that I dreamt of being as Todd.
So, as I bundle together my documents (and the $200.00 needed to finance it) I do so with a sense of hope, inspiration, and joy.
This is new beginning for me and my advice…
If you don’t like something about yourself or your circumstances, change it. This doesn’t just go for your name but anything that you may believe is impeding upon your growth. Get rid of it. In that moment the true you can finally be seen.
And, to quote the great Kunta Kinte, “Your Name is Your Shield.”
Prince Royce Worthington.
Also, before I officially end this…
George Carlin kinda sums up the way I feel about my name (lol). However, when I was a kid I beat the shit out of an Eddie on my block. Maybe it’s because I never really felt like a Todd, haha.