Would You Change Your Child’s Name If They Wanted You To?

Over the last few years there have been many stories that have gone viral and shared on many media sites around the world about children who have made up their minds at extremely young ages that they aren’t exactly the gender that everyone thinks they are. Kids as young as three or four are informing their parents that they aren’t their little boy or girl, but are the opposite of the gender that was written on their birth certificates. These young children are joining a growing number of older children who are identifying as the other sex. These children are transgender, and even though the world is growing more tolerant and compassionate towards transgender, we still have a long way to go.

Back in May 2014, the Whittington family shared the story of their first born child who was born a girl but who identified at a very young age that “she” was in fact a he. Their now son Ryland’s story was shared via a YouTube clip that to date has been watched 7,356,640 times and has been embedded in media sites and personal blogs retelling his story to the masses. While many of the stories of transgender people talk of how they were born a boy named Michael but changed their name to Michelle, the story of Ryland was a little different in the fact that Ryland the girl is still Ryland the boy. Some might suggest that it stands for reason that Ryland and his parents didn’t change he name seeing that according to four websites I visited in research for this story suggested that Ryland is first and foremost a masculine name.

Ryland Whittington - same name, different gender.
different gender, same name

Fast forward to the end of 2014, and the famous Jolie-Pitt family confirmed that their oldest biological daughter Shiloh preferred to be a boy and only wants to be known as John. Although I found that many of the origins of baby names websites select Shiloh as a female name first, many suggest it suits both genders. So technically, Shiloh could have done what Ryland did and keep his name, but it would seem that Shiloh really needs to tell the would he is definitely a boy, and John seems to seal the deal for him.

By now you’re most probably a little confused because the title of this story suggests it’s merely about changing your child’s name at their request and that has nothing to do with them being transgender. I’m sorry for that confusion, but I wanted to relay that story to show that the dilemma that I am putting forward for discussion pales by comparison to what those children and their parents must go through.

Shiloh "John" Jolie-Pitt - different gender, different name.
different gender, different name.

To put it simply, our 3-year-old son wants a different name. That is all. He wants to be named Kyu. That is Ky as in sky, and u as in the abbreviation of the word you. His birth name is Keanu. Let’s get it out of the way; yes, like Keanu Reeves. When asked about why we gave him that name I tell people that he was named by our obstetrician. Recently when I wrote that in a discussion on Facebook, someone in the conversation responded with;

“You let your obstetrician name your son?! Mind officially blown.”

Well, sort of. Let me tell you the story. We had a list of names but hadn’t chosen one yet. Our obstetrician went away to the Blue Mountains for the weekend and got the call early on the Monday morning that we needed him for the birth. He told us a story about his 16-year-old daughter who was “too cool for school.” She didn’t want to go away for the weekend with her family any more but she said that she’d go this time only if they could have breakfast in a cafe that her friend told her about because one of the waiters looked like a young Keanu Reeves. At that moment my wife looked at me and I looked at her and she said “what about Keanu?” I told her I was thinking the same thing. About a minute later his head popped out and I said “hello Keanu” and that’s how he got his name.

When we told my mother-in-law his name she didn’t like it, but then again, she wasn’t a fan of the name we gave our first born son, Cadel, but she grew to love his name. Now you look at him six years later and he could only ever be a Cadel. And even though it took me a whole five minutes to convince her Cadel was a great name (the details of which I’m not going into), she took a lot longer for Keanu’s name to grow on her.

“It sounds like koala or canoe…” she said. “I’ll call him Koala.”

When I announced his name to the world on Facebook at 11:07am on the day of his birth, four hours and five minutes after he arrived, we were greeted with many congratulatory responses and no one commenting on his name; not positively, nor negatively. Generally speaking though, our friends and (most of) our family accepted that my wife and I would pick a name that wouldn’t be in the top ten names, let alone the top 1000 names.

Since he was able to make proper sounds, since his talking was beyond babbling to saying actual words and sounding out syllables, we tried to teach him to say his name.

“Say Keanu. Key – Are – Noo… Key – Are – Noo…”

And always he replied;


We thought it was a phase. It’s not. When told we are doing something as a family he will tell us who is going…

“Mummy and Daddy and Cadel and Kyu…”

same gender, different name
same gender, different name

And if we try to correct him he tells us that his name is Kyu, and he won’t have it any other way. Both my wife and I have successfully had him say Keanu a couple of times when teaching him to talk, but his defiance has gotten the better of him and he won’t call himself anything but Kyu. We often point out his name written on books and other objects. We sound it out as we point to the letters. I bought him a wooden name train on a business trip back in May 2014 with the little wooden engine followed by five carriages spelling out his name, and a little wooden caboose at the end. But when he plays with it he’ll tell us;

“Look, it says Kyu.”

So I wonder if we should just give in and call him that. Now at three years and five months old there is a good chance that he could grow out of this. And it’s not like we are faced with him taking on another gender. It’s not like we have to visit the Department of Births, Deaths and Marriages to get his name legally changed. But I think, to him, Kyu is more than just a nickname that he wants to be called. I truly feel that he has found his own name.

So what would you do? Would you let your child change their name if they wanted to?

11 thoughts on “Would You Change Your Child’s Name If They Wanted You To?

  1. That’s a strange one Darrell, and I don’t quite know how I’d respond. I suppose you’ve got to call him something. I get that a name is something you get invested in, so I understand that it might be hard. But on the other hand, do you think it’s that different to shortening Michael to Mike (for example). Or Seamus to Shamo (that’s what I get everywhere I go). There’s also a chance that it stops being an act of defiance, it will lose its lustre and he’ll forget about it.

    My dad always went by his middle name – which was Anthony. Everyone called him “Tony” although his first name was John. He never explained why that was, but he was really irritated in hospital when new doctors would come to see him and call him “John” because they were simply reading off the chart. He did once once mutter angrily “Only my father called me John” after the 5th doctor he’d seen that day used his “official” name.

    My son meanwhile is currently slightly obsessed with middle names (his middle name happens to be Anthony too, after dad). So sometimes the family names are “Patrick” (me), “Mary” (my wife), “Anthony” (him) and “Rose” (our little girl). Kids like to play around with names I suppose.

    Anyway, not rock solid advice there, just a lot of rambling. Good luck!

    1. Yes I absolutely do. And I love the name Keanu and I love the name Kyu even more. I’d say call him Kyu and if he insists when he is a bit older and you see it’s not a phase, just change it. I love it and him for choosing his own name!

  2. You don’t have to change it. Why can’t Kyu be a cute nickname? Kind of like kids name Tyler James (my son) who only go by the name TJ. My son only goes by Tyler, but I think you get my point. Also when you get really mad at him you can call him Keanu… that way he knows you mean business.

  3. This is an interesting discussion… my son, Benjamin, 9 years old, asked that we start calling him Sage. He said he’s still Ben, but he feels like Sage fits him better. When I remember to call him Sage, it’s like his body suddenly fills up, sort of like blowing up a deflated balloon. And now he wants to grow his hair long.

  4. Am I the only one not seeing the obvious here — Kyu is nearly a contraction & certainly a plausible nickname for Keanu. He can still be Keanu on paper, but tell everyone that he prefers Kyu. This about it — “Peggy” is a nickname for “Elizabeth” — Kyu is much closer to Keanu than that example!

    I hate my official first name and always go by my nickname. To avoid confusion, I tell people what I prefer the moment I meet them. I do run into trouble sometimes with the spelling, as my nickname begins with a J but my real name starts with a G. Same phonetic sound, though. Small price to pay to be known by a more fitting name.

    The one gripe I have is that if I heard Kyu, I’d spell it as “Caillou” (like the boy in the children’s TV show). But overall, I really think you have nothing to worry about here.

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