What's in a name? A lot, actually. It's part of your identity. So when someone calls you one that isn't yours, you might feel hurt or disrespected. This is referred to as deadnaming.
This can be especially true for transgender or gender nonconforming people who've changed their name to better fit their identity. The name they were given at birth might not reflect their true self. But a new name can give a person the power to be seen by others as they see themselves.
How Does Deadnaming Affect Well-Being?
A deadname can bring up tough emotions. It may lead someone to think you don't respect them. They may feel unseen and invalidated. And they may be reminded of a time when they weren't able to identify as who they really are.
Triggering past trauma can worsen gender dysphoria. That’s the discomfort someone feels between the sex they were assigned at birth and how it doesn't align with how they identify today. Gender dysphoria can lead to higher levels of depression and anxiety.
One study found that if transgender and gender nonconforming young people choose their own name, they're less likely to have symptoms of depression or other mental health issues. The study also found that these youths were less likely to think about suicide.
While it might not seem like a big deal to you, calling someone the right name can literally save a life.
What Are Some Examples of Deadnaming?
You may not deadname someone on purpose. In many cases, you may forget or not take time to get used to calling a loved one by a new name.
It may be especially difficult for parents to adjust to calling their child by a new name. They may have good intentions, but just simply forget. But there are times people deadname someone on purpose. You may notice deadnaming in other situations.
It may be more difficult to avoid deadnaming in some situations, including on:
- Birth certificates
- Diplomas and other education records
- Government IDs
- Badges at a job
- Email address at work
California is one state that’s taken steps to avoid this. A bill was passed in 2021 that requires the state's public colleges to update their records if a student legally changed their name. Graduates can also get a free updated version of their diploma with their new name.
They also plan to allow students to change their name on school records, even if they haven't legally changed their name.
What to Do if You Accidentally Deadname Someone
If you call someone the wrong name, it's important to apologize and fix your mistake. Let them know you're truly sorry, and make the effort to try harder next time. If you're sincere, the other person is more likely to feel respected and seen.
If you notice that someone called another person by their deadname, it's important to step in as an ally and correct them politely. If someone deadnames another person on purpose, it's also important to speak up for your peer. It can be difficult for a transgender or gender nonconforming person to be in these situations. If you're able to offer support and back them up, your peer is more likely to feel respected and understood.