No one likes being called the wrong name. Whether it’s a substitute teacher mispronouncing kids’ names or a boss mixing up their employees’ names, it’s irritating to be addressed incorrectly. But for those who are transgender, gender-nonconforming, or nonbinary, being called the wrong name — known as deadnaming — can be a lot more damaging than a simple eyeroll.
When you deadname someone, you’re calling them by a name they no longer use. In the cases of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, deadnaming occurs when a person calls them by their birth name, which typically no longer matches the gender with which they identify now. The noun version of deadnaming is deadname (also dead name), as in “Don’t call me by my deadname.”
Changing one’s name is an important moment for those who are transitioning from the gender they were assigned at birth to their identified gender. That’s why deadnaming is especially painful: Just like misusing a person’s chosen pronouns, deadnaming is a passive-aggressive way to misgender a person and deny their true identity.
Reasons for deadnaming can range from unintentional (they didn’t know a trans person was transitioning) to malicious (they don’t support the person’s transition, or they only believe in binary genders). It’s tempting to say that only the malicious type of deadnaming hurts people, but both can be painful, as unintentional deadnaming reveals a lack of effort to remember one’s name and identity. It’s why deadnaming is a verb — it’s something that is done to a person who has transitioned from their birth identity.
Part of being a good friend or loving family member is making your loved one comfortable. While remembering someone’s preferred name and pronouns can be tricky, there’s one surefire way to make sure you don’t get it wrong — ask, and have a real conversation about it. You can also:
write them a letter or email in which you use their preferred pronouns and name often
always use their preferred pronouns and name when discussing them with others
shut down unsupportive opinions or discussions surrounding them
change their name in your phone and add their pronouns if applicable
check in with them often with kind or funny texts
make a craft with their preferred name on it, such as an embroidery project or painting
If you do accidentally deadname someone, don’t ignore your mistake. Apologize and promise to get it right next time. It’s not their fault that you misspoke, so don’t make them feel awkward about it.
Using the correct language when discussing the LGBTQIA+ community can make you an encouraging ally. For more resources, check out: