“Are you Marty?”
A common piece of advice given to trans people trying out new names is to go to a coffee shop and order something under the name that they’re thinking of going by. When the barista calls it out, this name either sounds right or wrong. Based on that, they can choose to either keep the name or find something that fits them better.
I’d done the rideshare equivalent, changing my first name from “Mimi” to “Marty” in the Uber app just minutes before the car had pulled up next to where I was standing. Adrenaline rushed into my system as I heard my new name being used for the first time.
Marty. It sounded playful, boyish in an unpretentious manner. It sounded like my name, only with a masculine connotation. Marty.
Marty was just what I was going for.
“Yup, that’s me,” I said with a grin that was probably too wide for someone to be sporting on a Monday afternoon. “I’m Marty.”
As I climbed into the car, the driver leaned back to assess me. “You know, when I first saw your name pop up, I assumed you were a guy.”
“You assumed correctly,” I told him. “I am a guy. I’m currently in transition, actually.”
For the rest of the ride, we talked about how I came to realize that I was trans, transition logistics, and my coming-out story. My driver was someone who liked to use names a lot in conversation. By the time he dropped me off, I’d heard myself referred to as “Marty” dozens of times. Each time, it felt more and more right.
Sweet, I thought to myself. Marty Chenyao it is.
Fun fact: My original legal name was Vivian, like the protagonist from Pretty Woman. My mother gave me this name after seeing the film. However, I grew up in a Chinese American household and was called “Mimi” all throughout childhood — I didn’t even know that my “real” name was Vivian until I started going to school! I tried to go by “Vivian” at first, but the name never seemed to fit me. In the seventh grade, I switched to “Mimi.” At the end of my last year of college, I went to court and legally changed my name to Mimi Nadia Chenyao.
When I first started thinking about transitioning, I didn’t want to change my name at all. “Mimi Nadia Chenyao” was so pretty that I insisted on using it in its entirety, shoehorning the “Nadia” part in with my first name on all forms that only had spaces for first and last names. I loved the collective meaning of my name just as much as I did the sound of it. “Mimi” means “bitter” and “Nadia” means “hope.” Together, “Mimi Nadia” means “bitter hope.”
It was ironic. It was poetic. It was perfect for my sardonic sadboy self.
What it was not, unfortunately, was indicative of my gender identity.
After I started using he/him pronouns, introducing myself as “Mimi” started to feel awkward. I know that names shouldn’t be gendered, but “Mimi Nadia” and “he/him” just didn’t fit together. My friend Mimi left his backpack at my house. This is Mimi; he likes to get up early to write.
It was the word equivalent of myself at sixteen, trying to wear men’s clothes that only made me look more like a little girl playing dress-up.
Something about the name was just too feminine. The more I existed in public as a he/him, the more I felt this disconnect, until one day I realized that I did in fact want to change my name. I loved Mimi Nadia, but Mimi Nadia no longer fit the person I was becoming.
I wanted to keep my initials and monogram, so I limited myself to first names starting with M and middle names starting with N. Ideally, I wanted a first name that started with M and also had an –ee ending, like Mimi. There weren’t many guy names fitting that criteria that I liked except for “Marty,” and the name sounded right for me, so “Marty” became the name I chose in the end.
Basic, I know. You would think that I, He Who Loves Stories and Hidden Meanings, would have a better origin story for why I picked this name. I wish I did, to be honest. Sadly, I don’t.
I will say, though, that the first time I considered using this name for myself was when I read Love and Ruin by Paula McLain. Love and Ruin is a fictionalized account of Martha “Marty” Gellhorn, an accomplished, ambitious writer, and her failed marriage to Ernest Hemingway. It’s one of my favorite books, and Marty was one of those characters who I could immediately relate to.
Yes, it’s a bit ironic that this Marty is a cis woman, but this fact actually made me like the name a lot more, as it didn’t feel like I was forcing masculinity upon myself — I could be a femme Marty if I wanted to be.
Once I had the name “Marty Chenyao” in my head, I was committed to finding a middle name that would fit. I’ve used three names for so long, both personally and professionally, that it was strange to only have two names all of a sudden.
I scoured baby name websites (just like I did when I needed names for new RPG characters in middle school — ah, what a flashback!). I also asked trans guys on Reddit and Facebook for their opinions. Eventually, I narrowed my choices down to “Noel” and “Nadir”.
I liked “Noel” because I found it fascinating that the pronunciation changed depending on the person’s sex — nole for men, no-ELLE for women.  I liked “Nadir” because it looked similar in spelling to “Nadia,” and I wanted to stay as close to my old name as possible.
In the end, “Noel” won out. “Nadir” actually does not sound like “Nadia” (it’s pronounced NAY-deer). Also, as a name it means “dearly loved” or “rare,” but as a word, “Nadir” means “the lowest point in the fortunes of a person or organization.” I’m not a superstitious person, but I didn’t want to bring that upon myself!
My name is now Marty Noel Chenyao. Please call me that from now on, unless I give you specific permission to do so otherwise.
I will be keeping my old “Mimi” article signatures/self-references in order to keep a sense of my transition timeline. I’d prefer that you refer to my past self as “Marty,” though.
Although the vast majority of trans folks never want to be referred to by their former name (or “deadname”) ever again, I don’t mind being called “Mimi” by specific people, or under special circumstances. I will not declare “Mimi Nadia Chenyao” to be my deadname, mostly because I still love it so much. I don’t want Mimi to be dead. Right now, I consider “Mimi Nadia” to be an alternative name or a pet name for people in my family, like my mom and grandma, to use. My Chinese name will also remain “Mimi” for the time being. I have no qualms about people knowing that I used to be called Mimi, but I will be using the name Marty going forward.
With all that being said, I shall close off with a meme —
Absolutely no one:
Me: Hell yeah, I’m ready to join the Marty party! ♚