Finding a name: unexpected like a nipple piercing finally loosening after years of attempts. Water pours down around you in the shower as you hesitate then commit. The spaghetti jar opens. A new kind of asymmetry begins.

“Rowan Gritzmacher would be a great pen name. Rowan looks better on paper,” I said and said and said. “Rowan Gritzmacher sounds formal.” Though challenging to shape in my mouth.

Soft cells. Marshmallow.

When I found my name, my friends, it sounded too pretty to be real, too tidy. Too poetry.

My thinking back then: Possess four names but go by another name entirely. I insisted it made sense.

Poetry like Ruby Rose. Lucy Liu. Joan Jett. Just who did I think I was?

So I went for the thick trunk stands of Rowan Gritzmacher. Headed toward bark. Toward lush green and tux.

Please understand:

The stakes were high.

So I went in another direction.

Please understand:

I had journeyed long. Time was ticking.

Lateness is my modus operandi, whatever my intentions. I didn’t mean to run late to my astrology/tarot reading in May 2019. And yet. With the exception of a premature birth, I’m usually a couple minutes late or sweaty-in-the-nick-of-on time to engagements, as though making up for ever arriving five weeks early. If I’m early these days, I’m probably still sweaty—someone who uses their legs to get most places and cranks the speed out of habit or necessity.

Anxiety kept me in the house past a reasonable departure time that morning. I knew I needed to leave SE Kelly well before noon, if I intended to bus to North Portland, a journey that would take at least an hour, walking included. The day would already be expensive enough. But I fretted over which ATM to visit, and worried about whether the bus would announce my stop in an unfamiliar part of town. I kicked myself for not withdrawing $100 on a previous day or even earlier that morning, before I had typed up client visit notes. I stuffed food in my mouth that I hoped would hold me. Made multiple trips to the bathroom. Finally forced myself from house.

Google told me the nearest ATM was at Wells Fargo across from Safeway, a block and a half from the bus stop. A fossil fuels bank. I had delayed too long to go anywhere else. I grabbed my bag, locked the front door, and jogged down the block. Maybe I could still bus?

After braving the five-lane intersection where I never trust drivers to do the right thing, multiple times, first to get to the ATM, then to reach the northbound 75 stop, I finalized my plan. I’d take the bus—$2.50—as far as I could before switching to Lyft. Maybe past Grant High School, on Alameda Ridge, where I usually got off to walk a mile west to legal team meetings.

While waiting for my ride in Northeast, I smelled the roses.

Order of Operations for Giving Up a Name:

Caress your birth syllables, share words. In 2014, write a bittersweet ode to them. End of 2017, commence a private separation. Explain your needs. Admire and affirm those sounds. Hold tender. Then hoist letters into a tree as if to suspend them from bears, and hike away.

I don’t want you to be eaten. But I can’t stay.

Sun splintered me, glittered my eyes. I climbed from the backseat of the Lyft, my driver’s Chinese massage salon business card in pocket, and scanned the street. Remained caught in the quiet that had cradled me during the ride. To my right, new townhouses. Across the street to my left, the corner house that Google maps told me was my destination. I crossed the street to figure out where to enter—my astrologer had shared instructions. Then, seeing that I was miraculously 9 minutes early, I walked down the street to a park spilling green light. I wanted to learn the name of this park. Learn about a part of town I never saw. See the greenery, and read its wooden sign, before cards and the stars told me how to find mine.

Order of Operations for Finding a Name:

Share thoughts with partner, even before partner is partner. Confide in siblings and close friends. Then transition to nickname at work. Become first alliterative edition of self: Gritz Gritzmacher. After this, foundation laid, discuss decision with parents. Explain your search and request their assistance. Announce metamorphosis on book of faces. Search.

Facebook Post, March 23, 2018:

I’m changing my first name this year!
It’s time to find a name that fits me better. While I continue to decide upon a new legal name, I’m going by Gritz. I’ve used Gritz a lot over the years, and anticipate going by both Gritz and my new first name in the future.

My top first name ideas are Lee and Billie or Billy, but I’m still researching and deliberating. It’s been a process.

Please call me Gritz for now.
Thanks for helping me make the switch.

How long had Lee and Billy/ie been on my mind before that Facebook post? Months and months and months with no decision.

Miss R exuded warmth. Skin a glowing brown in the small room for readings. Eyes welcoming. I relaxed a little. I’d never done anything like this before, besides a spontaneous sibling- and cousin-encouraged palm reading during Last Thursday on Alberta when I was seventeen. But it felt like I’d tried every other method in the past 18+ months. I needed help.

She asked me to call in my people. Put my feet flat on the floor. Inhale deeply. Call ancestors, spirit guides, angels, higher selves. In gratitude.

A year and a half after I first told my parents I intended to change my name, and wanted them to be involved in the process, I still hadn’t received any suggestions.

Mostly, I felt hurt about this. How long before I realized they probably just didn’t want to crowd me and my autonomy?

How long did it take me to get across: No, really, I want and need your involvement ?

How honest do you want to get? Do you reach into the file cabinets, and journals, and memories to share how goddamn hard the search was? Do you bring out the spreadsheet? The many scribbled pages? Practice signatures? Practice email addresses?

Maybe share a name you considered for a couple moments, just one of hundreds. Share how desperate you were to be of the forest. How much you wanted the musk of the Northwest on your skin and papers.


Can anyone recover from seriously considering the name Spruce?

I had parameters for a name. Maybe I want you to interpret this as standards, or a code of conduct.

They weren’t numbered in my head, but if they were:

  1. Must be of my ancestry. Norwegian, Swedish, German, Scottish, Irish, or English, namely. I hoped for something Scandinavian or German, something closest to the most recent migrations.
  2. Related: Do not appropriate.
  3. Must be gender-ambiguous, at least when affixed to my body. Enough to suspend assumption, when a name is known, that I am Tinker Bell, pixie. (Remember that time in a barber shop in Corvallis in 2015, when the male college student commented to the barber or me that I was or had the ideal pixie/cut?)
  4. Rooted in nature, ideally forest. But not New Agey. Not hippy.
  5. Friendly.
  6. Must look good on paper.

The most difficult to explain about my nameless chapter.
I became a ghost to myself. Self-imposed among relatives.

Is name a vapor?
Without name, is one just sack of bones? Flesh sack of jangle? Or, without a name, are we vapor?
Might you vapor?

Blood you up.

Miss R spent most of the session on my astrological chart, which I had never examined before. All I really knew before seeing her was that I was a Cancer. A name that had always struck me as horrible. Looking at the symbol didn’t improve matters; it just looked like a sex position. Not the worst thing in the world, except that I couldn’t take my sign anywhere in public, if inclined to embrace it. Whenever I read the description of my sign though, I knew I was a Cancer: emotional, sensitive, a little prickly, and homebound.

Miss R talked about the planets, and I jotted notes in my journal, thankful that my phone was recording everything my pen couldn’t capture.

She told me about my Grand Trine, which I misspelled in my notebook. She told me that Saturn was transiting my 12th House conjunct Uranus. That wherever Saturn was, I must mature. That the 12th House was the House of Endings.

For a long time, I had had the sense I wasn’t good with endings. I wasn’t just ending my relationship with my birth syllables. I was grieving the loss of my favorite place in the world, and my family as I had known it for sixteen years. I was not done letting go of my life as I had known it. I was not done letting go of a cabin in the woods. For years I had been angry. Though I had mellowed, I was still ashamed of my pain. My inability to let go and pirouette into smile.

During our first New Year’s together in 2018, Sam and I had come up with guiding words for the year, inspired by one of her best friends. This became an annual tradition. I was often greedy, choosing more than one word. For 2019, I had chosen: Grace, Hope, and Try.

I had the sense that I wasn’t a very graceful person. That my anger was poisoning me from the inside. I wanted to re-center, to become someone capable of hope and brave enough to reach beyond what I already knew.

Despite my attempts, 2018 and the early months of 2019 had passed without resolution.

Struggling to Find a New Name? Have You:

  • Combed through multiple baby dictionaries, scouring all “Gender-neutral” and “Boy” options?
  • Registered for and explored your family tree?
  • Examined the tree guides on your bookshelves?
  • Entered tree, stream, and mountain names in Google translate?
  • Looked up names from countries your ancestors migrated from?
  • Asked your family for suggestions?
  • Asked your friends for suggestions?
  • Visited the cemetery to talk to your grandparents?
  • Talked to yourself?
  • Looked up the meaning of every name you’ve considered for at least five seconds?
  • Pondered getting a tattoo for practice committing?

I never ended up needing to get a tattoo, though it was on my to-do list after a year came and went, and I still hadn’t committed to any new vowels and consonants. My pickiness and uncertainty were so extreme, I grew to believe I needed exposure therapy to committing. Practice. So, get a tattoo, I had told myself. Ink for the body on the body directly. So picky about life commitments, I had only ever found a few artists for whom I wouldn’t mind maybe turning my body into a gallery. Try harder, I told myself. Recognize that it doesn’t have to be perfect. It can just be part of your story.

Planets transited the skies, pulled the strings of my life. The clock ticked. Miss R captivated my attention, inviting me to suspend decades of skepticism—wasn’t I getting so good at it by finally recognizing there was more to this world than what I could see with my eyes?­—and stop being a chameleon. Masking myself, becoming what I thought others wanted, or invisible, in whatever room I was in.

I nodded, and wondered, in the waning minutes, if there was time for the cards. I didn’t quite believe in them, but had anything else helped me to date? If any prior attempt had worked, I wouldn’t have found myself in a $100 appointment after a $19.43 journey across the city. I sat tight and listened.

Time came. Enough for three questions. I didn’t want to presume that I could ask a straight What is my name, so I shifted responsibility from the cards to me. How can I find my name?

She drew a card. She interpreted. Afterwards, there was time for the other questions.

How can I best help others/serve my communities?
What should I be focusing on right now?

After earning my bachelor’s degree in 2015, I assigned myself a break from school to learn how to be a human in the world. I had five years before my chance for a scholarship ran out—a scholarship from the foundation that supported my undergraduate study.

Heading into my fifth year, urgency reached a crescendo. Tired of explaining my name change to employers, as good-natured as they were, tired of explaining that I was going by a nickname until I had a new legal name, I was desperate to begin graduate school with or as a blank slate. I would rather show up new and fresh than arrive with small piles of mess. I did not want to provide wherever I ended up with any extra ammunition.

Anyone will misgender you, if you allow an inch. How much do syllables help? Not much, but far more than nothing.

Before I applied, I needed that name.

The card was the Emperor.

My appointment wasn’t far from Lombard St, which always makes me think of my dad. His small business sits in the heart of St. Johns, on Lombard. Because I was already 8 miles from my house, and on his street, I was practically at his doorstep, even if Google Maps said he was three and a half miles away. I walked toward Lombard, squinting into sun, and called him. He told me he was leaving work soon and could give me a ride back to Southeast. I told him I’d arrive in about 30 minutes.

I looked up 75 arrival times on my phone, and walked as many stops as I could, before I decided it was safest to hold tight and wait for the bus to catch up to me. After alighting outside James John Elementary, I crossed Lombard and pushed down the door handle to enter the shop. The bell jingled, or maybe the door just squeaked, and I was greeted by hot paper, copier toner, metal mailbox, and old carpet smells. Home away from Southeast. My dad stood behind the two-window counter, helping a customer I imagined he knew by name; he knows most of his customers by name.

I called hi and headed to the table in the corner of the small lobby, intended for customers to organize their copies, fill out shipping forms, or complete any number of other tasks in this Pop shop dedicated to faxes, mail, shipping, copies, and a hodgepodge of other services. The table held the same kind of 35-cent rolls of breath mints it had all my life. Behind me, cards by local artists sat in carousels, near the private mailboxes. Across the shop, political cartoons were taped to the open royal blue door to my dad’s side of the counter. Historical photos of St. Johns and Duckboy postcards adorned the right wall. Three large copiers hummed.

Growing up, whenever classes were canceled for teacher workdays, or we were sick but well enough to join Dad, Andy and I would ride with him to St. Johns, stopping at the paper shop, or bank, or locksmith, or office supplies store along the way, where he knew everyone by name. At the shop, formerly home to an Insurance Agency, we’d sit and play the pinball demo game on his old PC in the vault, our legs barely fitting below the desk crammed with boxes stuffed with papers, old electronics, and other miscellanea collected since 1989. Sometimes I sorted the packing peanuts or stared at the tower of cardboard boxes ready to be assembled for customers’ packages. In my dad’s domain behind the counter, I admired the Astrobrights Color Paper, each color in its own tray. He gave us coins or dollars to carry over to Tulip Bakery, where we waited patiently, inhaling glazed sugar air, before Art, Melody, or James came out from the back, grinned, took our order, and refused our change, which always made me feel guilty. Tulip Bakery was a third-generation family-owned business that shared a parking lot with my dad. My dad’s business felt like a family business too, though it was just him and his part-time employee Sherri. My dad had a way of making the outside world fall away, of making St. Johns feel like a small town where everyone knew each other. Not just one neighborhood in a major city.

In 2022, I visit his website, impressed to see him online in the 21st century and happy to see photos of the shop. The website teaches me that his “roots in St. Johns go back to his great grandfather who stopped in St. Johns in 1910, to work for a mill in the neighborhood before settling in the Banks-Vernonia area.” I wonder if my dad has ever mentioned this to me. I wish I had a better memory for everything.

For just $147, you can buy a name from the County Courthouse.

What? Does this seem premature?

Did I skip some steps?

We chitted and chatted on our way to inner Southeast/Northeast. I had asked my dad to drop me off in Laurelhurst; my poetry group was meeting at someone’s house in the neighborhood, down the street from Greek Orthodox Cathedral, which held its Greek Fest every October. We were half a year away from one of our family’s favorite weekends though, caught in a symphony of May. May was a perfumery of flowers, air thick with sweetness that intoxicated birds and bees and me. I still can’t imagine living anywhere more fragrant or colorful, outside of the tropics, than Portland during spring.

I told him about my appointment, in the final mile, and why I had scheduled it. I told him. Miss R believed the Emperor card suggested a strong, historical name. Maybe from his side of the family. I asked him, again, to think of names. I could hear him listen closely. Take my request and Miss R’s words to heart.

On my 27th birthday, My dad gifted me his one and only suggestion.

One I had never considered.

Sun blinded us at our table on Schilling Cider House’s patio; it shone amber through our glasses.


Origins: England, Scotland, Ireland, with influences from Norway, Sweden, Germany, elsewhere., has this to say:

The rowan tree[s] (or ‘mountain ash’) are small deciduous trees native to the temperate northern hemisphere which bear small red berries. For thousands of years rowans have been regarded as sacred and protective trees against harm or evil. The name Rowan comes from Scandinavian influence — Norwegian rogn, Danish røn, Swedish rönn — ultimately from the ancient Norse rėyðni-r. The likely source is the Proto-Indo-European *reudh- “red” in reference to the tree’s berries, probably via the Germanic verb *raud-inan “to make red” thanks to the use of the berries and bark to dye cloth. 

And here, I leave the page.















I needed a moment.

Do you believe       Do you believe       Do you believe       Do you believe         Do you believe
[what] do you believe [in]
[beyond yourself?]

Rowan invited Reece into my head. From where, I couldn’t say. Together, they were music. I looked up Reece. I conducted arithmetic.

The sum:
fierce defender / passionate protector.

A name to remind me of my best and worst instincts.

I found poetry yet didn’t want to be misogynistic; so desperate to free myself from asphyxiation—the limitations of boxes / the wrong assumptions ( justified by name ) — I would flee all names primarily intended for women.

If I was nonbinary, if I believed gender was a construct, and a name was a name was a name, regardless of who wore it, if I cared about my mom’s side, too, shouldn’t I seriously consider all names?

In the end, I admired, but cradled one that had coated my maternal grandfather’s father and brother. People who were dear to my mother.

For months, I carried it. Jotted various combinations on paper. Then I made a mistake.

Would you  / guest / use  / your own  / body?

To the courthouse I went. The courthouse I went to. Courthouse, I went to the. I went to the courthouse. Went to the courthouse I. The courthouse I wented. The to. Went I courthouse
the to. Two. Too.

The courthouse.

I had to go twice.

Do you remember time was ticking? I had a life!

High school’s best lesson was the cost of not trusting my judgement, of not being honest about who I was and what I believed in. Of not letting myself be myself in front of others. In my world, this loses elections. Actual elections. Twice, at the last minute, I scrambled my words, self-conscious. Influenced by the time limit, or another candidate’s smirk.

If you don’t vote for yourself, ever, why should anyone else? Is this a cheesy question? Do you feel caught in Live, Laugh, Love?

When I exited the courthouse the first time, uneasiness spoiled my insides. Not because a motorcycle club was parked across the street and I worried what might happen if that club was connected to a case I’d worked on, and they somehow recognized me. Though this sight felt like a bad omen.

I understood I had sworn myself to names I treasured, in the wrong order, wrong combination, for the wrong reasons.

Who the hell makes a major life decision solely based upon professional image?[1] Isn’t LinkedIn my nemesis?

May went, and so did the first half of summer. August’s wick blackened to a near crumble. A Berkeley visit and grad school applications were impending. I scribbled name combinations frantically. Saw a psychic to ask about the top contenders. If I didn’t change my name NOW and get my legal documents in order, I couldn’t apply to graduate school. I would miss my window. I would lose all opportunity for maybe my only scholarship. I had searched too long to apply with an expired name. I had too much pride to show up to my next chapter with old words.

Friday afternoon, I submitted the paperwork.

The Backyard Burning Man invitation said to bring a memento to the bonfire. A small celebration held by my friends a few blocks away, on the other side of Richmond Elementary. I wore my shiny fish scale skirt, temporary whale tattoo upon thigh, and brought a scrap of paper.

I need you to know:
I burned my birth syllables.

I need you to know:
I thanked them for being so good to me. So pretty, so balanced upon paper.

And I need you to know this:
I had given up my birth name for the wrong name and felt sick.

As soon as Labor Day passed, and Tuesday arrived, I returned to the courthouse.

At the counter, I requested to be Reece Rowan Niece Gritzmacher, and once again checked the petition for a change of sex to nonbinary.

I did not wait for approval before I created a new email. Told my people. Reached out to potential professors. Hopped on a train.

My name was Reece,
and I was already alive.


[1] Much of the world? Me a lot of the time? Stop it.