What Is Dead-Naming and How to Avoid It

Earlier this week, Elliot Page tweeted a statement claiming to be trans . In the same sentence, he told us his name and pronouns (he / they). However, within minutes, many social media and traditional news outlets opened up and discussed the news using his dead name and former pronouns.

While transgender people have become more prominent in the media and entertainment industry over the past few years, the reaction to Page’s announcement was a reminder that we all still have a lot of work to do together. While some reactions were downright hateful (and not worth discussing here), others appeared to be well-intentioned but misguided attempts to talk about trans identities and communities.

In addition, many people first learned about the term and concept of “dead naming” this week. While this is just one of the many nuances of this discourse, it needs to be understood more broadly. Here’s what a dumb cry means, why it’s harmful, and how to be empathetic, supportive, and respectful when discussing and speaking with transgender people.

What is Dead Naming?

Before we get into definitions, now is a good time to mention the work of the Transjournalism Association (TJA), which not only supports transjournalists in their workplaces and careers, but also provides media guidance on how to ensure coverage of transjournalists. communities are accurate and sensitive. But even if you are not a journalist, their resources – in particular their Style Guide – offer clear and understandable information about the language and terminology. The glossary, like the rest of the document, was written by transjournalists, and this fact coincides with lesson number one: Listen to transgender people.

Okay, back to the dead end naming. Here is part of the definition of TJA :

The transgender person’s real or former name, which they no longer use, is also often referred to as “real name” or “legal name”. … Although deadname is usually a noun, it is also used as a verb to indicate the act of using an incorrect name for a transgender person.

TJA informs reporters and other members of the media that “there is never any reason to publish someone’s dead name in history” [emphasis mine] – something that has happened repeatedly this week regarding Page.

Why is deadnaming harmful?

Deadnaming is much more than just calling someone the wrong name. It can also have a significant impact on the well-being of a transgender person. “We choose names that suit us. And often our official name, the dead name, the former name is not suitable for transgender people, ”said Lifehacker Oliver-Ash Klein , journalist and co- founder of TJA . “This takes away our autonomy. This deprives us of our right to self-determination and often undermines our gender and our identity. It’s really disappointing and it can be very frustrating. “

Unsurprisingly, dead names can have a significant impact on the mental health of a transgender person, while using a suitable name can have the opposite effect. For example, a widely cited 2018 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that transgender use of a chosen name was associated with a lower risk of depression and suicidal ideation.

This is what Jack Turban, M.D., Research Fellow in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine, saw in his own study on the mental health of transgender youth. “For many transgender people and people of different genders, especially the children I have worked with, using this name from the past can trigger painful emotions and memories of having to hide their true selves,” he tells Lifehacker.

In addition, Turban says that when someone uses the wrong name or pronouns when talking to a transgender person, it may remind them of people in the past who did not accept them for being trans, such as children who were bullied. them at school, or maybe even a parent who kicked them out of the house. “They might assume that the person using the wrong name or pronoun is going to similarly reject or attack them,” he explains. “Using a person’s [chosen] name and pronouns is a simple sign of respect and a way to communicate that you accept the person as they are.” All this data and expert opinion aside, we also don’t need to spell why you shouldn’t kill someone. You should use the person’s chosen name because that name that they chose is the least you can do to show them respect. If that helps, think of it this way: If a friend marries and changes their last name, you won’t be stubbornly insisting on using the one you are more familiar with.

How to show support and respect when talking to or about a transgender person

It goes without saying here that you shouldn’t call someone a dead name. But that’s not all. Here are some ways to show support and respect in all your conversations.

Call someone by name

When talking to or about a transgender person, use their first name. If you don’t know what their suitable name is, ask them.

Talk (if necessary)

If someone close to you looks like a trance, and you are not sure of his name and / or pronouns, Kleine suggests talking to him about it, and not just asking how you can support him. “This is a conversation you can have with your friends to make sure you use the pronouns that work best for them,” they explain.

In situations where someone tells you that they are using multiple pronouns such as “he / they” and you don’t understand what that really means or how to use them correctly, again, Klein says that the best way to understand this is to ask the person. They explain. Also keep in mind that this can be an ongoing conversation because, as Klein points out, someone’s pronouns can change over time.

If you screw up, fix yourself and move on

Often in situations like this, our automatic reaction is to apologize, but Klein advises against this. “Don’t say ‘oh, I’m so sorry.’ Try not to let transgender people take responsibility for their emotions about this. Just get better and move on, ”they explain. “This is really the best thing you can do, and just try to get it right.”

Practice (in free time)

If you find it difficult to remember how to use a transgender person’s name or pronouns, Klein suggests putting the time and effort into changing that. “Sometimes that means you have to practice when they’re not around, just get used to new pronouns to make sure you get it right when you’re around this person you care about,” they said. What would it look like? Perhaps just repeat the name while thinking of the person’s face and say it out loud along with the pronouns.


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