Zoe Mizuho and Hugh Ryan

Recorded November 14, 2006 Archived November 14, 2006 01:15:30
0:00 / 0:00
Id: GCT003350


Zoe tells Hugh about his quest for self-naming and his choice to identify as a man.

Subject Log / Time Code

Most people don’t get to choose their own names, so it’s less a representation of self than of your parents.
Zoe found freedom in a new name.
Identity change requires acknowledgement from others; name change forces others to accept that change.
Zoe worries about lying to people if he doesn’t discuss his gender.


  • Zoe Mizuho
  • Hugh Ryan


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00:04 My name is hero to me Ryan. I'm 28 years old today is November 14th 2006. I am in Grand Central with my friend Zoe who I'll be interviewing today.

00:16 My name is Zoe. Mizuho hello. I am also 28 years old and its November 14th 2006. I mean Grand Central Terminal and Hugh Ryan is my friend. I'd actually like to start with a question that was on there, which is your name. I'm doing a project on names and I'm curious about how you got yours.

00:39 Well, my full name is Zoe, Anastasia. Mizuho and I gave it to myself.

00:45 10 years ago almost exactly when I first arrived to college.

00:54 My birth name was Sarah take for Selman.

00:58 And I always hated it.

01:02 It was

01:05 What era was the most common name everywhere that I went? I remember distinctly being in Jew camp and the child and

01:13 Having you come with me Elsa and everyone's running around and I just never really identified with it.

01:23 And then when I got to college I thought that was my one chance where nobody knows my name.

01:29 Anda and I started go bike going by the way of the first week of school. Why did you choose Zoe?

01:37 Melissa claims that she picked it must be a friend of mine one of my other friends in college, but when I first got there, I basically spent that first week thinking through all the names that I had ever heard.

01:53 And do it with one of the ones that I

01:57 Instantly felt connected to you know, I wish I was a little bit trepidatious at first and I just started kind of going by Zoe with my previous last name was going by Zoe something in that whole year and I didn't change it legally until that summer after when I felt confident that I

02:14 Like that

02:20 But

02:22 I like Zoe because of the Z and I liked it because it was short and because it had an umlaut over the E and and I've always loved diacritical marks and it means life in Greek. What seemed like a good

02:36 Solid meaning for a name a lot nicer than Sarah which means princess.

02:46 So I felt attracted to it. How about Anastasia? Anastasia part is even funnier the first one that was with her, but I got to take me to home.

02:58 Second

03:01 Because

03:03 I decided I wanted my initial to be the same before I came up with either of those names.

03:10 Pain and certain superhero Flair I measure myself writing it with little to no jagged lines all around make its little exam comic book style whenever I signed my name to occasionally but not as often as I like but so I I was totally obsessed with the idea that my first and last name had to start with the same letter for a really long time because I was used to being serious about letting for some reason I just couldn't even think past that so for there was a while where I was like searching around endlessly for frizzy names and then I just couldn't find any that I was really into

03:50 But then I am.

03:54 And then somehow I got on that idea because he could be in the middle.

03:58 And then I guess that's when I came up with the same idea. So it was First Lutheran disease eat, then there was am and then so yes, then I was like damn and the embassies in the middle and I came up with mizuha which was the name of someone I had known not very well as a child was the first name of someone that I knew and its head stuck with me is like a pretty word and then you know upon my Florissant. I did more research into it and found out that it meant

04:26 Add Bounty my best way to 2 character Japanese word meaning Cornucopia of rice.

04:35 And that was a nice image to me and always liked cornucopias and the word Cornucopia and

04:44 Bountiful wife seemed like it went well together. If I were in the situation now, I don't think that I would have been so Gallant about cultural appropriation. But at the time my Consciousness was slightly different around that so and I think it was partially because I was you know, my my antipathy to the Sara Solomon was because I felt like it but could just make this snap judgment like oh

05:14 Damn, here's this Jewish girl, whatever like I mean why I had I felt like I wanted to separate myself from that instantaneous readability, I guess.

05:26 And growing up in

05:29 In Pittsburgh

05:31 A particular Church community was incredibly tight-knit and constantly was going through that kind of woman. I know your grandfather and kind of thing on the street and you know, and so I think that I was just ready to kind of settle my own identity and

05:48 And so it seems like having this name that was totally unreadable.

05:56 Meant that I was in this space not just have to finding myself.

06:01 Butter like actively resisting being read on paper.

06:08 And Anastasia, right?

06:15 For the silliest want to know what identify with the least from the beginning and I rarely use it now, but

06:22 I think I had a several.

06:26 Attractions for me one was Anastasia bug

06:33 The daughter of the Czar who got away and mysterious creature who maybe was alive and part of this kind of interesting moment in history. One was the Anastasia krupnik books. I don't know if you read but they were kind of young adult fiction aimed at girls, but she was just kind of

06:56 Spunky smart hero of his novels that I really liked.

07:05 And then there was also the storage Bernard Shaw play call answers to the Bolshevik Empress which was about Anastasia. That was really cool play that I really liked the time and and it just hadn't had the certain weight is a name, you know, I like having this cuz the other is always so short. I like having kind of a long flowery name. But yeah, I think it's it was definitely the kind of afterthought of the three names the one that was like just to fill in the egg.

07:32 And that was when I landed on how did your family react you changing your name?

07:43 They were pretty enthusiastic about the Zoey part. My immediate family my parents were.

07:49 Like that's a good name on our way. We didn't think of a good name. You know, I've been having pretty fast, you know, it seemed like it suits you and and they were willing to go along with it and during that first year. I don't even remember it being that much of a difficult to get them to start going by it when I first change my last name.

08:12 My parents were a little bit her particular my dad. I think I guess because something was his name and you know, not my mom felt like

08:23 I was trying to separate myself from the family in some way which is a hard thing for me to hear because I do have actually really close relationship with my parents.

08:33 And that my response was like if I were, you know getting married and changing my name will be having this conversation and he was like, I guess not. Up and and he totally got it and was like, okay, that's fine. And we never talked about it again. It was like never an issue again, and now it's kind of funny because sometimes people will assume that means you're always there last name and like whatever and I think it's hilarious my brother to it was definitely a bigger issue with my extended family who I just didn't have the space to really talk to about it.

09:09 And especially because everything like I still haven't you no answer forget to do it ten years later but fewer and fewer.

09:19 The Saving Grace was definitely my cousins who are young at the time and you know who has fiber like no, I don't think Sarah, you know like Zoe and they were there like continue to like remind them when I was away cuz it and it didn't happen till I wasn't living at home, but there was some sort of like Little Voices typing into to maintain the change.

09:42 I do remember having one.

09:45 Conversation with a great-uncle of mine who sat me down someone I never had like a real relationship with someone. I never had.

09:55 Talk about anything serious, but hit me off and do my own life and he sat me down and was like don't understand why you feel like you need to change your name legally, you know everybody and nicknames. I went by read for 10 years in college. What are you know whenever like and I know what I just wouldn't change my name legally and I

10:16 That's fine, you know, but this is what I need to do and they wouldn't need a totally totally didn't understand why that made any sense to me, you know another but I just don't want anyone to come and don't feel like I'm a bit. I'm a me know and when I got to college

10:34 I was in an Arabic class that had 10 people and three of them were named Sarah. I was I remember that the

10:41 There is a big thing in an auditorium.

10:46 Where they called the whole class again, I told you all the statistics about your class, you know, so many were valedictorian so many of you know, we're like captain of the football team or whatever and and Sarah was the most common name in it was just like they're all these signs that it was, you know, my name is to identify you.

11:08 From everyone else, you know, and I never felt like Sarah did that for me?

11:12 Now is after 10 years is Zoe. Mizuho is there anything you feel like you missed from the name Cyrus Altman or no?

11:24 I don't feel like I miss it having that name. I think that

11:31 I have a greater appreciation for a connection to my family history now. And the one thing that I wish that I had done actually is picking name pic like take my family's free Ellis Island name, which I considered at the time.

11:51 Cuz my dad's my dad's idea is that the name was zelmanovich and I just I considered it and wrote it off because it was I thought it was too long. I'm going to no idea how to spell and nobody knew how to spell it but it does seem like it was going to be more trouble than it was worth and I were actually even vaguely trying to convince my whole family to do it. Anyway principally for adults and we have prayers but

12:18 If if I were going to consider changing my name again, that would be the one thing that I

12:25 I would consider more strongly but I still feel like

12:30 When all is said and done that it wouldn't have made that big a difference?

12:36 I don't know. I mean, I guess I wouldn't take it if there's no it's so hard to say I mean

12:41 I probably wouldn't I'm going to I don't know what I would pick now. It's not something I think about anymore. I feel settled about it, but I don't think I really respect any of them today, which is I guess what you asked.

12:52 Did you ever consider changing your name again, or after you'd settled on Zoe was that and well there was an obvious time in my life to consider changing my name again after I transitioned because

13:04 I was living as a woman.

13:07 First born female and I lived as a woman.

13:11 Through my

13:14 Sort of somewhere my sophomore junior year, I started identifying more and more as a guy and decided to transition.

13:26 And

13:28 A lot of people were like, well, obviously you have to change your name, you know, that's it's a note. It's a crucial part of the process of

13:36 Translation for so many people is taking a boy name and kind of Reinventing themselves in it for me.

13:45 I just didn't seriously consider it. I I felt like this was my name that I already gone through that part of the process of kind of self-identifying that I wasn't particularly invested in Easy readability of the boy either. He know I wasn't I was comfortable being somewhere on that Continuum and I am

14:10 Yeah, I just said I really felt an affinity with my with my current name and I just didn't want to let it go.

14:18 What does lentil lot of you know funny experience looking for pinochle? I thought so it was a girl's name. My pet answer was I actually don't use as much as I used to is, you know, the Zooey and Franny and Zooey is a boy and everything runs like your parents must have really loved Salander and then it you don't have to know that I hate lying so I could get into that hole in Madison. Kalila. I love calendar it. You know what?

14:42 And I actually have met a few Zoe's or boys since it is funny though. One of the funniest things about the name for me now is that it's become so popular, you know what the time when I did it it was a relatively uncommon name and it is now like one of the top one of the top names for kids, which is ridiculous. Like I had no ability to actually now I'm taking it in but I guess if naming Cycles are like that but and there's a zombie character on Sesame Street Elmo's nice. So I think that's

15:17 And her slogan is girls can be monsters to mention readability in connection to name a couple of times and just went and rejecting that. I'm just wondering what that means to you and why it's important.

15:35 Like that's a hard question. How do I feel about readability? I think that

15:44 I have way too much training around issues of identity to talk about this innocence your wave, and I'd like to be able to so I'm trying to think about it. I guess that I

16:03 I feel like my personal Journey.

16:07 Has been about

16:09 Has been a lot about

16:12 Figuring out

16:17 My own sense of authenticity as a as a human being and I feel like I've been

16:26 Going through like many many stages.

16:31 Of

16:35 Finding might like, you know any kind of professional life journey of trying to find my aunt roses in and listening to myself and I've moved through many different Community is in the process of doing that and

16:55 And I feel like having a name.

16:58 It's me. I'm just a tiny part of how that happens. But but an important one in terms of how how people

17:08 Perceive you and help people.

17:14 Expect you to be expected to act and

17:23 Not sure if I answered your question.

17:36 I mean in a way most people don't get the opportunity to make themselves and so we take it.

17:43 They take their names.

17:46 With a certain kind of distance. That's like that's about

17:51 Anyway, cuz if more information becomes parents themselves, I guess.

17:57 But I think that

17:59 The process of self naming

18:02 It's really part of everybody's life. You know, you choose to have nicknames you choose to use your middle initial you choose to you know, using the same Mister, you know, where go buy your first name you choose to there's tons of different ways that we do need more cells that are subtle In the Jungle the legal system we minded.

18:24 So I think that as we grow as we age our names do kind of meld with our personalities in a way.

18:32 And

18:36 It was the fact that I had to.

18:39 Pay the state of Rhode Island $15 for that privilege was just today.

18:46 I have said something then speeding up the process.

18:50 How do you feel about the way that names are used are given in general at least in our cultural context right now?

19:03 That's a huge question. How do I feel about names in the US right now?

19:10 I guess.

19:14 And when I think about the gender part of names a lot, I think that

19:21 Especially as our culture seems to be moving even as we are entering an age of much greater freedom and flexibility from gender, I think.

19:32 So obsessed with the the sex of babies have birthing of it that's like the biggest deal in all that everyone knows before before even born with the sex of their babies are and that they feel compelled to know if you know presumably just that they can paint their nurseries pink and time, you know, just like important to me. But so that part of it I feel

19:58 Make it so clearly limiting two kids, you know to choose names that are hyper gendered.

20:05 Can't that that there's a way that names to constrain what it is that you can be and that I feel like I found freedom in my name.

20:15 And my new name in a way that my old name made me like a fairly.

20:21 Uptight motivated mean I'm responsible Juju girl hanging out. Like I had that maybe no maybe that's not totally true. But it's partially true, you know, and I feel like you still have stereotypes associated with names in a lot of times they bear out, you know, and

20:41 I think that there's also obviously like tons of Trends towards gender-neutral names particular for girls more for girls and for boys a lot of names that have switched over in Sydney in whatever.

20:54 And then I think that there is tons of issues about cultural appropriation in naming.

21:05 And kind of endless attempts to create unique names which that end up being ridiculous. No one can spell them and can kids get stuck in his ridiculous names that they can't spell until they're 10.

21:18 And the people don't feel connected to again. I don't know. I mean there's so much like names that have meanings like Faith or something. Like I don't know how kids look at those kind of pressure is going to like someone named Prudence. I would be no having to have you deal with that and

21:36 I don't know. I heard a story from someone who was a kindergarten teacher who had two kids in their class names unique.

21:48 It's always going to be a tremendously flood process because we don't get to name ourselves.

21:54 And I don't know what a world would look like where there was some expectation that that would happen more.

22:01 More fully

22:02 If you had a child tomorrow is that an expectation you would put on them or what would your process be about naming? Well for a long time after I pick the way I still would think about names all the time because I was used to doing it. You know, I mean, I wouldn't I would run into them when I would say like that's a beautiful name and kind of collect them.

22:24 And it sort of shift into being a child naming process for a while in my head.

22:32 I don't know. What's up with me. What's like a character name in process in case I ever was going to write something or you know?

22:38 And I haven't been fixated on tile names that I do is for have one.

22:43 Which is Tilda?

22:46 Because I like the idea of being able to write a little squiggle and instead of your name and being named after that. I got to come back with me and you discussed my love for and

22:59 And I like it because it's sort of a name. I mean are people named it? I think it's like they do have a nickname being I bought other name being a shorter version of something where the the Fuller name could be a nickname like Matilda. I guess I'll give him maybe sometimes called him to tell him that you wouldn't have to and I think of it as being a name for a female body person, but I think it would work for a male person as well because it's not a name and

23:29 And I like it at the moment, but who knows if I'll still like it later. I mean, I guess that yeah, I would the other name that I really like is easy.

23:37 Would you raise your child pushing them or with an expectation that they would at some point change their name?

23:45 I don't think it would push them to do it and I I would encourage them to

23:51 Feel a sense of ownership over their name and if they didn't like the one I picked I would certainly want them to pick another one.

23:59 Thought I would try to pick one that I think they would like.

24:03 And how do you feel about the self naming process in general as it's practiced for the Hmong people that you know are in communities that you move in.

24:18 I think that there are several communities that I have some affiliation with my self naming a super common and those would include the punk Community activist community and the radical Faerie community.

24:34 And all three of them

24:40 There's there is a laboratory element and I think there's also a hiding element.

24:49 And so I think that that's confusing or no complicated. I think that

24:55 Particularly. Well, yeah and all three part of the part of the motivation is

25:02 And to not be recognizable during police action to end the end and that to a lake has the if you don't that's Liberatore in the sense that it means that people.

25:17 Develop the ability to

25:21 Separate himself from the system in a certain way and I'm tuned up to not be their social security card. And and so that's something you know a powerful thing, but it's also a man also creates this destruction, you know, I mean that you have a cell through the state recognizes and this other self, you know and for me

25:40 A big part of my process of naming has been about achieving a coherence, you know, what a coherent self and not not scattered self.

25:55 I think that.

26:02 A lot of it

26:05 And people pick ridiculous names. They just fixed totally absurd things that aren't there not sustainable at all names, you know, they're like, please call me feta today and like whatever we're going to

26:20 You know, it means that it's a certain kind of notoriety is the name for notoriety.

26:26 And not fur

26:28 Solid life to me, you know some people some people do minutes to integrate the most ridiculous names and their lives. You know, I have a close friend who literally goes by camel on Fort Worth chemical on based on a totally off-the-cuff joke, you know 12 years ago and it just lasted 2 just replaced her name.

26:49 And I think that that's totally fine are some people can integrate.

26:53 Something totally absurd into their lives, but I think on the other hand like there's some sort of this.

27:01 Semi DP

27:03 Need to take on link the names of flowers or plants or Foods or whatever that

27:11 Doesn't mean I think for some people it is like a genuine connection to a thing and for some people it's just like oh that's kind of a cool word or whatever and I guess you know, I'm Not Who Am I disable someone's taking the wrong name? I don't I don't mean to be judgmental about it. I think that if people do feel a real affinity for something and it becomes who they are or is

27:32 Somehow evocative of a

27:36 Characteristic that they want to take on then hopefully that helps them to do that and I think that I've seen that happen for people.

27:44 But I guess that the people that I respect to do that are people who manage to make that who they are all the time and not just when they're in those communities. Do you know?

27:55 You mentioned not wanting to feel like a scattered self versus an integrated self. Can you just say a little bit more about what you mean by that special in reference to names?

28:05 I think we were just talking about me then and it sort of what it goes back to that thing that my you know, my great-uncle was saying that there's this.

28:13 The most people do actually and have it many names, you know that they someone calls them dad and someone calls them, you know Mister somebody and you know that different people have different igneous lemon for people who are in these communities. I'm talking about, you know, you'll have your you know, you're beautiful. Name but chances are your parents. Don't call you that chances are you're not called that it work or you know what maybe one of those groups tells me other one doesn't

28:39 Actually, like I mean, I was just staying at a Meditation Retreat Center where a lot of people have these Sanskrit names that have been given to them by their Guru, but they don't use them on you know, they still get mail to their American names.

28:54 And to me that

28:57 That level of having to be different people in different contexts this something that I'm always.

29:03 Resisted and I think it's an easy. It's an easy thing to do, but it it's and it's something that is something that I think our culture encourages, even you know that we

29:13 Set aside our true selves in some way to.

29:19 To be able to set it. That's all day long too bad to do things that we don't want to do. Basically we have these mask and and that's certainly something that I'm attempting to resist in all aspects of my life. And I feel like my name has been

29:35 A way of doing that for me a way of

29:40 The process of changing my name and making everyone respond to it. You know that.

29:48 Was really one of the inactive consensual identity, you know of a really seeing the way that that functions and that

29:59 Being able to yet. So it hold the line of me feeling like I'm able to be myself with people, you know.

30:05 Is there anything else about your name or names in general that you would want people to know?

30:11 What do you think about?

30:19 And

30:23 I think what I was just saying made me think of something which is that.

30:31 The fact that

30:34 When exiting the bear that this idea

30:38 Of

30:44 Of having

30:48 Having the ability to get other people to respond to your name of asking other people to change with you. I mean, this is like the big part of

30:57 The process for transexuals in general amount this idea of of needing other people to acknowledge that and you know, it's not so that I can make it ain't like that function like other people need to go along with it and I think that

31:13 What's interesting to me about that is?

31:17 Kind of Vanessa insensitive dialogue, you know what the fact that it? You just can't is not something that happens in a bubble naming isn't and

31:29 And that's true in all that and all this up communities we talked about to just the way is that we

31:35 Subtly influence each other's identity and then we can enable each other to growing in directions that we

31:44 Desire

31:47 Thank you. Thank you. I think that's one of the questions I had.

31:57 Did people react differently when you chose to identify as a man then when you changed your name?

32:03 That's a good question.

32:06 And

32:09 There was definitely similarities especially with my family and sort of initial.

32:17 Not getting it in then I talked him through it and getting it and a very similar interaction of my cousin to reinforce the pronoun change as well as the is the name change who instantly or Unborn.

32:34 And I think that there isn't there a real similar parallel in terms of getting people to to do a pronoun shift as to do a name shift.

32:44 I think is pretty equally difficult, but

32:49 Certainly in The Wider culture

32:53 Name change was not nearly as significant or drastic the people I think for me it almost has a similar weight in terms of my personal development like when I think about stages of my own process, but I think for most people it seems so much more huge.

33:18 To change gender

33:22 Text me to say because during both of those transitions.

33:28 I was in a

33:31 Pretty small bubble, you know, I was living at Brown University has a pretty accepting place of all such things and so I wasn't exposed.

33:43 The world in my most vulnerable moments around it and I think when I change my name it was in a moment where people didn't know me and so it was relatively easy.

33:56 That wasn't people. O many people didn't even know that I had done it and those that did thought it was just kind of funny and when I turned my gender, I was just a really long slow process. So it didn't have the same kind of

34:12 Impact in that way now. I think that

34:17 There's sort of comprable in terms of when I meet people feeling the same sense of

34:27 Possibly lying to them without going into the details of it, you know, whether it's clear that sometimes are made and where

34:37 It's not likely to immediately come up.

34:40 Unless I bring it up.

34:46 I don't.

34:49 I mean if it does come up though, I speak freely about both. I think I speak more freely about gender than I am. Actually I think that I

34:57 There's something a little bit.

35:02 Talismanic about the name Mara Lake once you put it out there. It's there. It's part of you who you are to them. It's so being someone who change their name as part of the end of the day. I want to have been unnecessarily that I was this person and now in this person so I mean most people were close to me. Now, Everybody was supposed to mean I was but there are a lot of people that I know who know that I pick my name, but who don't know what it was because once they know if they're like this they have the ability to use it.

35:31 And whereas, I think that I feel a much bigger.

35:37 Compulsion to be totally honest about gender

35:41 Because I want people to

35:44 Start to think about it and get it and I think that's the way that that happen.

35:55 So I guess both are sort of teaching tools.

35:58 Did you see now or did you see that you're changing your name as a political or cultural act as well as a personal one?

36:09 I don't think that I had a consciousness of it as being a political act I think.

36:16 I felt like changing my name.

36:23 It just seemed obvious to me. It seemed like a minute needed to happen.

36:29 I felt like I felt a sense of Liberation around it.

36:33 And it was part of a greater sense that people to make their own choices and do their own thing in that.

36:40 And now I recognize that as our freedom. Electrical don't have and so in a way that makes it a plug like because it means that

36:50 And I think that any exercise of our freedoms.

36:55 It is what allows them to not be taken away from us, you know, and I think that we live in a world where we need to.

37:03 Play sometimes we forget about freedoms that aren't spelled out for us, you know.

37:11 But I think it would be a stretch also just say that it was political. I think I think it was supposed to say that now I think that

37:18 It's

37:20 The personal is political in a way. It's not in a way in a way there. So many more devastatingly horrific things going on in the world that this is not solving and I went and I don't think of it as part of my more important works in the morgue.

37:39 Thank you. Thank you.