I once knew a man named Basil, who was neither Italian like the herb nor Swiss like the city. He was gay and of Indian decent. He had fantastic shiny, black curls that touched his shoulders when he showered and big brown eyes -- the type that looked good with his intermittent heavy eyeliner and lavender eyeshadow. Basil was not his given name. It was Sanjay, he whispered in my ear so closely that I could feel his breath and smell his cologne as we waited in the theater for Thelma and Louise to start.
It was the first time I realized, as a gay person, that my name -- my given name -- might be such an essential part of my personal brand that I should consider changing it to something more fitting, like Lady Gaga. The name Sarah, as far as I know, has never been particularly gay. I have never really liked how ubiquitous it is, but my parents have suffered enough with all of my gay marrying and procreating with anonymous men that I thought I would spare them the further embarrassment of forcing them to address me as Randy or Shane.
Sarah is a relatively plain name, but not as plain as Jane, apparently. And in the twenty years since I held Basil while he wept because suicide was the only option for Thelma and Louise, I have noted that Jane is a particularly problematic name for lesbians. To clarify, the Janes seem to have the problem, not me.
The first lesbian Jane that I met solved this problem by adding an extra letter to her name, something that she freely admitted and even marketed (Free gift with every order!) to me the first time I met her.
"My name is Jane with a y," she said, yelling into my ear on the dance floor of tragically underpopulated gay bar in the shopping mall on the east side of town.
"'Where is the y, I asked?"
"Where is the y? At the end?"
"No, in the middle."
She spelled her name Jayne. I didn't mind it. It seemed faintly Swedish, but the "y" alone could not help me overcome the absence of my attraction to her nor the hoop earrings that she had added to the button fly of her jeans. She loved dancing, and after our first date, she did handstands in my ex-boyfriend's bedroom to try to impress him and then wanted to "talk about our relationship." These were confusing times that could not simply be fixed by adding a "y."
The next lesbian Jane that I met was not a Jane at all. She used to be, but after she came out of the closet and alongside shedding her fake heterosexual identity, she got rid of all the unnecessary letters in her name except the first one and became J. I never actually clarified the spelling, but I assumed that she must have added an "a" and a "y" for the benefit of U.S. Department of State and Starbuck's baristas. I was completely comfortable with the moniker, but less comfortable with the explanation that she insisted on providing. It seemed extraneous.
"I just didn't like being called Jane," she said. "My parents were a bit disappointed, but they got used to it."
"Yes, that's usually why people change their name. Because they don't like it," I said, trying to be supportive, and then backed slowly out of her office.
The last group of lesbian Janes don't feel the need to explain their name changes, but I tend to ask them anyway out of habit. These are the Janes for whom the most-unfit-lesbian-name-ever is their middle name and whose mothers' insist on calling them by their full name. They are the Mary Janes, Laura Janes, Sarah Janes and so on. They inevitably become MJ, LJ and SJ. These ladies are the kings of lesbian naming conventions. They have both been able to legitimately keep their given names, while simultaneously becoming an acronym that is both masculine and modern. They have also saved themselves a lot of time typing out all those letters, and can speak in CAPS LOCK without offending anyone.
"Hi, I'm MJ." This comes with a strong hand shake and eye contact.
"Nice to meet you. Is that short for Mary Jane?"
"Yes, but no one calls me that. Not even my mother."
"My mother calls me Lady Gaga. But only when I insist."