gender identity

What should I do if I deadname someone?

What deadnaming is, why it's important to avoid.
Boris Shoalwise (they/them)
May 1, 2023

What is a deadname?

For those unaware, a deadname is a name (either given by parents or a nickname) which the person no longer wishes to associate with. This term is specific to the trans community, and selecting a new name can be an important step for an individual who is transitioning.

When someone doesn’t acknowledge a person’s affirmed name, or actively refuses to use it, this is called deadnaming. It is inconsiderate at best, and actively harmful at worst.

Hence why it’s called a dead name. It’s dead. Stop trying to bring it back. It is never okay to ask someone for their deadname. That information is not yours to know, and quite frankly it’s none of your business.

What should I do if I deadname someone?

Now, accidents do happen, they happen every day but supporting your trans friends is extremely important, and you can take steps to help those who don’t wish to be deadnamed. The best option is to ask them how they would like to be addressed in future, that way it prevents any potential awkwardness. If you do slip up and deadname someone, and they correct you, apologise and move on. We cannot stress this enough.

Moving on is the best way that you can show support as an ally, or help a friend feel more comfortable. There is a misconception that when you accidentally deadname someone, or get their pronouns wrong, that the conversation must stop for the person who caused the offence to talk about it at length. This usually takes the form of “oh my god, I’m so sorry” or “oh I forgot, you must think I’m the worst” and my personal bugbear “I’m sorry, I try to be a supportive person, but I forget sometimes”.

From a certain perspective, we can absolutely understand the want to apologise, to show support and to try and address any potential harm it may have caused. There are two things wrong with this:

 The idea of pronouns and names is that they are used on a regular basis, so highlighting the fact that the person in question has decided to use something different goes against this. The person’s affirmed name should be something that is normalised, not highlighted as something different and difficult to adjust to.  
 By apologising profusely, you are actually shifting the focus from the individual who was wronged (even if accidentally) to yourself. How you are trying hard to get it right. How it makes you feel that you got it wrong. This then forces the person with an affirmed name to say “no no, it’s okay”, which is not the attitude we should have.  

Why is using an affirmed name so important?

When someone has an affirmed name, which is different from their previous one, they have made a choice in their life to alter the way that they are perceived by people around them. More importantly, this change is a reflection of how they see themselves. Some names have meaning to the individual, some don’t.

Using a person’s affirmed name is a way of showing solidarity, admittedly in a very basic human way. It doesn’t require that much commitment to change the way that you address someone. It may take adjustment, but it doesn’t take a huge amount of effort.

On top of this, it’s a way of keeping you (the person who is interacting with someone with an affirmed name) involved in their life.

Deadnames are more common than you think

Did you have a nickname when you were a kid? Maybe “little johnny” or “the baby”?

Well, that’s a name that you no longer go by, and for people to bring it up as an adult would be pretty weird. People change their names or how they want to be addressed every day. Change is the only constant thing in this life, and change happens on an individual level, and the way that that person feels about themselves and how they are addressed by others may also change, it may not.

Fundamentally, it’s about respect, and respecting one another. If you truly respect someone, I think it’s an important show of that respect if you use the name that they give you. Here’s an important thing to remember, if someone is using a new name and they correct you, it means that they want to keep you abreast of changes in their life. Which means they’ll probably want to keep you in their life.

Some people are only able to respect people that they can fully understand, identify and categorise. What I mean by that, is that people will try and get as much information out of you as possible before filling the rest of your personality in themselves, and make assumptions about you.

Quite frankly, those people are not worth your time. Have a great day.

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