Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

What’s in a name?

This past week, I had to write my name on an assignment for the first time in what feels like forever. After racing through my books of the New Testament quiz I leaned back in my chair and realized that even though I write my name all the time, the people around me probably do it much less.

I write my name on absolutely everything. From all of my notebooks and water bottles to every single printed reading and handout, if it is given to me I will label it as such. Some of this makes sense, if I lose something important to me I would like to get it back; if a reading is going straight from the printer into my (labeled) folder, what’s the point? 

At first I thought I was just really scared of losing things. One of the downsides of working with a paper and pen is that if I were to lose the paper or pen, I’d be screwed. But that wasn’t it. I realized that this is an entirely new practice, something that I only started doing a few months ago and it wasn’t about making sure all of my possessions were labeled with my name, it was my name itself. 

The name Isaac was not the name I was given at birth, rather, it is a work in progress sustained over a lifetime. Even before I knew I was trans, my birth name just didn’t seem to fit me. As a child, I always wondered why parents got to pick their children’s names if they weren’t the ones who had to live out the name chosen for them. My birth name, and all of the nicknames that I had managed to make for it, just didn’t sound like me. In middle school, people started to call me by my last name and my friends at summer camp nicknamed me “Finn” for my love of a Hebrew song about fish. Kofsky and Finn were given to me by others too, but they were chosen by people who knew who I was, and they stuck.

I came to terms with my trans identity during the summer before my freshman year of high school. Immediately, my friends and I started searching for what my new name could be. My camp friends insisted I have a full name for which Finn could be a nickname, like Griffin or Phineas (partially based on the TV show). My best friend from back home thought my name should start with an E, and proposed Ezra, Emmett, and Elijah Ezra being her favorite. A Science Olympiad teammate insisted I looked like an Alexander, a stranger in the waiting room of my orthodontist’s office suggested Micah and Ian and my cousin offered me her list of potential names for her future children. My favorite pastime was looking through baby name websites, name generators, and baby naming forums on Reddit, and I became some kind of an expert on name etymology. Middle names were a whole other ballgame, and something that, regrettably, I have not yet figured out. 

I honestly do not know where Isaac came from. Maybe I always had it in the back of my mind, dismissing it because it was too similar to my deadname. But after nearly two and a half years of searching, I decided that Isaac was the name for me. And what’s not to like? It means “he who laughs” in Hebrew and it was my great-grandfather’s name, so I can honor the Jewish tradition of naming after those who have passed away. My favorite part about my name, though, is the connection to the biblical character Isaac, whose most famous story is called “the Binding of Isaac”, which wasn’t originally written about the chest-compression garment, but I choose to find comfort (and humor) in the title anyway.

The problem with taking on a new name in high school was that I simply couldn’t use it anywhere. My parents found out about my name a few weeks before I got to Carleton this year, and I never changed my name at school or work. So, putting Isaac on certain things that were only for me to see was one of the only small victories I had while living at home. I put my name everywhere that I could, from the inside of notebooks and folders to handouts that I knew I didn’t have to turn in to the tags of jackets and shoes and I even wrote my name on my toothpaste tube and shampoo bottle. If anyone asked, I told them it was an inside joke with my friends or that the item was handed down from a family member. I had trouble keeping my story straight, and a classmate asked me if my jacket from my “uncle Isaac” and a book from my “cousin Isaac” were actually hand-me-downs from the same person. Despite my poorly executed efforts to hide it, I labeled every little thing I possibly could, and I loved it more than using the objects themselves. 

Now that I’ve gotten to Carleton, my love of labeling my things has only intensified. Up until this point, I almost felt like Isaac Kofsky was a mysterious alter ego I got to morph into from time to time. But now, he’s real, and he’s me and everyone knows he’s me without a second thought. I write papers with his name at the top, I see his name on the articles I write for the Carletonian every week. I don’t have to hide him from view, he isn’t just a character I play in bursts. Isaac is me, has always been me in a way, and will be me until the end of time. So if you ever see a reading labeled with my name or hear me laugh a little during a sermon about the Binding of Isaac, know that the journey it took to get here was arduous, but one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. 

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Isaac Kofsky, Viewpoint Editor
Hi there! I’m Isaac (he/him) and I’m a first-year prospective religion or geology major. I’ve been described as “the chapel’s press liaison” and I love eating dinner at 4:45pm, reading non-fiction, wearing sweaters, and drinking two cups of black coffee at every meal. When I’m not in Carletonian pitch meetings or in religion class, you can normally find me doing homework in the chapel or drinking tea in the religion lounge.   Isaac Kofsky '27 was previously a Beat Writer.  

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *