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Why Changing My Name Helped Me Heal From Childhood Trauma

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Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

I was 8 years old when I realized what my name was. I had been through so much trauma and episodes of dissociation that it honestly never occurred to me that I had a name. I thought “Brittni” was just a word people used to get my attention or something. I hated the word, too, because it was always being used negatively. My abuser would say it with a look of disgust on her face or she would say it before or after criticizing me. Simply hearing the word made my body tense up.

• What is PTSD?

Then, one day, I was writing the word in school at the top of my paper, as I had always been instructed to do and at the same time the teacher said that word and something clicked.

“Brittni?” I said, sounding the name out in my mouth.

“That’s your name,” the teacher said with that worried look on her face, the way she always looked at me.

I was so confused by this that I spent the rest of the day telling anyone who would listen that my name was Brittni and asking them if they knew that. By the third time I told my mother this, she snapped at me and told me to stop being ridiculous. My name was Brittni, it always had been and always would be.

This revelation sparked a deep hurt inside of me, a heavy discomfort that would last years. I hated my name and the memories associated with it and as I grew up and began realizing the abuse I was experiencing, it began difficult for me to break free. Even as I left home and cut off contact from my abuser, I felt my name still connected me to her and the awful things done to me, things I would rather forget. Every time someone said my name, I would look around to check who was saying it to make sure I was safe. If people were upset with me and said my name, it intensified my pain and triggered my defense mechanisms.

Finally, about a year ago, I began thinking more seriously about changing my name. I knew I no longer identified as Brittni, this broken victim. I was stronger, more independent and I wanted a name that would reflect that.

After a long time of consideration and thought, I decided to begin going by “Mary-Teresa” after my grandmother, whom I had always loved very much. Thus, the social media purging began. I deleted anything with my old name in it, edited things to my new name if possible and told my friends and family of my new persona.

I wanted to change my name legally but the process of paperwork, court dates and the financial cost is too much for me at the moment. One day, I hope to be able to do this. But for now, the people who matter most know who I am and that’s what’s important.

Not everyone took it well, especially my family, but I didn’t really require their support. I had good friends of mine who understood and stood behind me as I became Mary-Teresa. I changed jobs, also, and go by this new name. Nobody even knows who Brittni is, now. I have put her to rest, collecting some of her items and memories and storing them in a box in the attic. If I need to be her for a day, I can look in there. But for now, I am content with my new identity.

Photo by Devin Justesen on Unsplash

Originally published: November 11, 2019
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