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Image by Johnny Mcclung

By CL Bledsoe

My daughter used to always use the name Shadow, for video games, as characters in stories. I thought it was a pretty decent “cool” name for a kid. Even though Neil Gaiman used it for a character name in American Gods, it sounds like something I would’ve come up with when I was younger.

My daughter’s name is Elizabeth, but she has always had multiple names. When we first saw her photo from the sonogram, we would call her Lenny, after lentil, because she was about the size of a lentil. When she was born, she was Elizabeth, but that quickly morphed into Ellie (even though that’s usually short for Eleanor). I called her Little, for obvious reasons. Then Bug. I still call her that, because, similarly, she’s as small as a bug.

The other day, she was on speakerphone with a friend who was locked out of her house. The friend called my daughter Liz. I asked her about it afterward, and she said she definitely preferred Ellie, but there was another Ellie in her class, so everyone started calling her Liz. Not that long ago, she’d told me she didn’t like Ellie anymore, but I guess she’s come back around on it. I told her I liked Lizzie, and I called her that for a few weeks, until she came back around to Ellie.

Similarly, I have multiple names. I publish as CL. Writers call me that. It’s also on my social media. At work, and in my personal life, some, they call me Cort. People who’ve known me a long time call me by my full first name, Cortney. My sister calls me by my childhood nickname, Corty. I’ve been in situations where someone asked what to call me, and I gave them multiple options before I realized how frustrating that must be.

No one in my family went by their real name, when I was growing up. In addition to my nickname, my sister’s was Boo, which we still use. My brother’s was Burr, which came from one of us trying to say brother but it coming out Bubber. That was shortened to Burr. All the people on my father’s farms had nicknames, also. Some of them derogatory, like the guy named Doing Good who backed a truck of rice down a hill and turned it over. Or Round Boy, a family friend who was rather large. There was Wild Man and Cowboy. Redman. My father was Billy, which is the closest to a Christian name of the lot.

For me, my different names mark slightly different identities. My daughter said she didn’t like Liz as much as Ellie, because Liz sounds like a business person, and she’s only 12. Cort sounds the same way to me. It sounds like business casual, partly because it’s a much more palatable name than Cortney. All my life, people have heard my name and thought I was female. I also have a high voice, so on the phone, sometimes, they hear my name and my voice and think I’m female. They’ve also frequently misspelled it. Even on official documents, my name is frequently misspelled, which always causes me a slight sense of panic. The name Cortney sounds like a secret only close friends can share. And Corty, well no one can call me that but family, because I don’t actually like it, but family don’t care what I like.

I publish as CL because my name is weird. When I first started sending work out, editors would frequently call me Ms. Bledsoe. One editor called, excited, I imagine, to have a woman writer writing about farming and fairly masculine things, as I did in those days. He was audibly disappointed to learn I was male. This made me wary that I might be treated differently because they thought I was a woman. Maybe it’s paranoia, but when I was younger, I hated the idea that someone might judge my work differently because they thought I was a woman breaking gender stereotypes. I’d hate to get an unfair advantage. Or vice versa, of course. Maybe I’d get rejected due to sexism. I don’t know what the gender version of “black face” is called, but I didn’t want to do it. So I started publishing by my initials. The fact that many women did this to appear masculine isn’t lost on me.

I’m fine with my daughter calling herself whatever she likes. She’s at the age where she’s really starting to develop her own sense of self, in terms of her tastes, her gender identity, and the ways she presents herself. If she wants me to call her something else, I’ll try to do it. Whether it’s a name or a gender or whatever. It’s all how she identifies. I spent a childhood being called by a nickname I didn’t like, so I get it. Life is so hard, and if little things make it a little less hard, then great. And I recognize that this is much more meaningful for some people than it is for me. I honestly don’t care a ton, at this point, what anyone calls me.

And what I call my daughter has had as much to do with how I feel about her as how she identifies. When she was little, I called her Little or Bean or Bug, but now that she’s not as little, it’s time for her name to fit how she sees herself a little more closely. In the same way that my childhood nickname no longer really fits me, hers have gotten stale.

My daughter claiming her own name is a wonderful step in her journey to creating and claiming her own identity. And a big part of my job as a parent is to help her and support her in that journey however I can. It takes a little mental energy to remember changes, but honestly, I’m delighted to help her on her way.

CL Bledsoe is the author of sixteen books, most recently the poetry collection Trashcans in Love and the flash fiction collection Ray’s Sea World. His poems, stories, and nonfiction have been published in hundreds of journals and anthologies including New York Quarterly, The Cimarron Review, Contrary, Story South, and The Arkansas Review. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart Prize fifteen times, Best of the Net three times, and has had two stories selected as Notable Stories of the Year by Story South‘s Million Writers Award. Originally from a rice and catfish farm in the Mississippi River Delta area of Arkansas, Bledsoe lives with his daughter in northern Virginia. He blogs at


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