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An Excerpt from Miss Vera's Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls by Veronica Vera
The Name Game
What's in a name? At the academy, a Rose is a Rose or a Robert. Most of our students arrive with names for their alter egos that are the feminization of their male names. Presumably so that they get full value from one set of monogrammed his and her towels. Joseph becomes JoAnn, Steve becomes Stephanie, Don becomes Danielle. If a girl has some familiarity with her name, she is more likely to come when called. Our students' choices also reflect the popularity of certain names from their boyhoods. Themost popular girl's name of the past thirty years, by this count, has been Jennifer. We have had so many enrolled at one time that I thought I might call this academy the School for Jennifers. Of course, that also means that the "J" names -- James, Joe, John -- have been popular boys' names. I guess in years to come, we can look for lots more Samanthas and Katies and Chers among the academy's ranks.
The choice of a name is important. It is the reference point. It is a way to be free. It is a way to connect with a role model or an idea. A student is encouraged to put some thought into the choice of his nom de femme. Names have a powerful allure. They are invested with magic.
When I entered the world of sexually explicit media as a writer and then as a performer, I felt the need to choose another name. My new name would help me to maintain my independence -- I was named Mary for my mother and she was named for her mother and we were all named for Mary the Mother of God. The new name must also be easy to remember and pronounce. I had already chosen a new first name. "Veronica" was the name I took at age twelve when I was confirmed. My acquaintance with "Veronica" came from the Archie comic books. She was the girl who got the hero; she was rich, though a bit spoiled by Daddy. "Veronica" had it all. The name also satisfied the requirements of the Catholic Church, which demanded that all confirmation names must be the names of saints. Veronica was she of the famed Veil, who wiped the sweat from Christ's brow as he carried his cross up to Calvary. So I dropped my given name,"Mary" (God, how could a blue movie star be named Mary --), and used Veronica. I planned to carry my new name for a long time, so I wanted it to be a reminder to me and to others too, ofwhat I considered important.Truth is important to me, telling the truth as I understand it. My family surname is Antonakos, and we come from a proud Greek heritage that can be traced back to the warriors of Sparta, to Helen of Troy, even Leda and the Swan. The Greek word for truth is "Alethea" but I had grown up with one tongue twister last name and that was enough. My friends, sex magazine pioneer Max Leblovic and Fluxus artist Willem de Ridder, suggested the Italian word for true or real, which is vera. "Veronica Vera." I liked the sound of it. V.V. The name seemed to fit like a glove, which Veronica Vera enjoys wearing.
Choosing a new name is a lot of fun, no matter what the reason for doing so. Names given at birth are often burdened with unwanted significance. Many a student found himself in the predicament of being named after his father when he felt more like his mother. This became a cross to bear and in the true spirit of Veronica, I have helped many bear it, wiping the sweat from their brows with the swish of a powder puff.
Pick a name that you fantasize yourself to be and, little by little, you begin to see ways in which you have become that fantasy. Change your outfit, change your name, change your life -- here we do it all. Sometimes a student will arrive whose femmeself has no name, poor darling. I might refer to him as "Bill soon to be Barbara," or the generic "Missy" or "Dolly." After the student is transformed with makeup, the naming process becomes easy. If she has not completed the herstory assignment, we will ask questions for a clue into our girl's personality. We also rely on whom she resembles. We might name her after a movie star or celebrity. We have named girls after Debra Winger, Meg Ryan, Loretta Young...I told one student that he looked like a Jacqueline to me (in this case, I meant a tough gum-chewing Jackie, like the Rizzo character in Grease, a Jackie more Stallone than Kennedy Onassis). The student looked at me in amazement and told me that was his mother's name. How did I know that?
We named one dark, voluptuous student Erica Fellini because she looked like an Italian movie star, especially around the eyeliner. Student Ed was creative and calculating when he chose the name June G. Edwards. Since Ed's first visit to the academy coincided with his birthday, he celebrated his femmeself by naming her after that month in which he had been born and was now reborn. The name also alerted friends when it was time to send cards and presents. Jack aka Sally Sissyribbons took his last name from the cult magazine the Sissy Times, published by male to female cross-dresser Sharon Stuart aka Susie Sissyribbons. Jack chose Sally in honor of the family patriarch, his grandfather, big Sal. As Sally's personality evolved, this sobriquet, which began as an attempt at self-mockery, became more and more a method of self-acceptance, a reclamation of the word sissy as the international organizations of sex workers who call themselves the Whores' movement or gays and lesbians who have organized as Queer Nation.
A student needs a name, and that name needs a personality. By answering the questions in the homework assignment "Create a Herstory" the student is encouraged to see his femmeself not simply as his own Barbie, but as a human with talents, characteristics, and potential. Our girls sometimes have difficulty answering these questions -- but some answers they know by heart. They may not know one perfume from another, but our ladies-in-waiting all know what kind of car they drive. Most of the time it's a cherry red Mustang convertible.
Copyright ©1997 by Veronica Vera. Excerpted by permission of Bantam Books, a division of the Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.