Transgender activist Elle Moxley took a different surname after transitioning, and it had a powerful effect. (Courtesy Irvin Rivera)

Transgender activist Elle Moxley took a different surname after transitioning, and it had a powerful effect. (Courtesy Irvin Rivera)

Changing my name after my transition may seem like a simple act—it was anything but

By Elle Moxley

This spring, as new life began to emerge and the hopes of the pandemic’s end glimmered on the horizon, I had a rebirth of my own.

After a period of deliberate quiet and contemplation, I changed my last name. A simple thing, you might think. And it was, but the symbolism behind it was anything but.

At the start of a transgender person’s journey, the decision on a name is a deeply personal, yet pivotal part of the evolution into becoming our true selves. My birth name started with the letter L, as it did for each of my siblings. ‘Elle’ came naturally to me, as both a metaphorical and true feminine expansion of my old name. My last name stayed the same, as it is the name my family carried, despite it having varying connotations across members.

I always said, and always knew in my heart, that when I had the opportunity and means to change my name, I would. The choice for a new surname wasn’t obvious.

My father has never accepted me as his child and with that, the use of his last name. It wasn’t about my gender; it was more about origins and who my mother was. Although it wasn’t about me, the lack of that recognition left a gaping wound in my psyche. I spent my whole life being denied an opportunity to be full in my whole understanding of who I was. Decades spent waiting for that approval that would never come.

This past March I decided it was time. Time to reclaim what has always been mine, time to stop seeking approval anyplace other than with God and my heart. My name would be Elle Moxley.

It had previously carried the shame of my deepest fears of not being worthy of love, not being enough to be fully accepted. In order to let that go, I had to truly baptize myself, to be reborn anew.

Taking it as my own enabled me to redefine what it meant; to cast out the baggage. That’s how I knew it was the name that God wanted me to have. Metaphorically, I sat right up into it; it felt good and right and true. It was my name all along; I had just not known my power and that I could take it all along. It didn’t mean shame over my worth or belonging anymore. It meant I belonged to myself and could come home to myself, giving me a sense of freedom I didn’t feel before. I didn’t realize the incredible power that your name has on your life; I am my own.

Pride is a special month of rebirth, emergence and celebration, made even more sweet and succulent this year due to our collective trauma of 2020. This month, as Pride activities continue, I invite you to find something that seems out of reach or not-necessarily yours, and reclaim it. Take it and make it your own.

Elle Moxley is the founder and executive director of the Marsha P. Johnson Institute. Her first film and directorial debut “Black Beauty” will be released this summer. For more information, go to


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